As I write this, I am co-leading a photo workshop with my pal Arthur Morris. Sometimes the participants don’t seem to get the most out of the experience. The old adage you get out of it what you put into it is very true. But here are some additional suggestions for really getting the most out of these trips.
a. Understand what you’re signing up for. Most companies offer workshops or tours. Artie is a rare breed in that he offers instructional photo tours (IPT). The IPT is a hybrid. In the typical workshop, you are mostly paying for a teacher. You should be able to ask lots of questions and expect answers. On a tour, the leader’s primary job is to get you to the best places to shoot, at the best time of day, offering you the best chance to get the best subjects. Artie offers a mixture of the two.
Make sure you’re traveling with someone who can actually help you achieve YOUR goals. There are now so many workshops and tours that chances are even your grandma teaches one. Look at the trip leader’s work and compare it with other established pros. Find out whether the trip is something that you can benefit from or merely a way for the leader to get his own photography trip funded by others.
b. Before traveling to the workshop/tour, carefully read and re-read all the leader’s materials – website, email, brochure, etc. If you’re traveling with an established leader who knows what they’re doing, the answers to most of your questions about the trip should be available online. Be sure that you’re traveling with someone who is a match for you in skill, experience and personality. Don’t take on more than you can realistically handle. Don’t sign up for an advanced, large-format B&W workshop teaching previsualization and the zone system if you barely know how to operate your 35mm camera and only work in color.
c. Study your camera manual BEFORE the trip. Be familiar with the gear so it doesn’t get in the way of a successful experience. While many leaders will try to help you with any gear questions, please know that with the incredible variety of gear available, it’s impossible for the instructor to know the ins and outs of every camera make and model. It’s up to you to know your gear. Bring your manual to the workshop/tour. In case there is an emergency, it makes it much easier to solve your problem.
d. Decide what you want from the experience BEFORE you leave home. If you just want a vacation and want a restful trip with the opportunity to take a few snapshots. Don’t travel with me or with Artie. We’re putting in 12 and 15 hour days making sure the participants get the chance to make as many great images as possible. Also decide if you’re looking for a teacher or a friend. You won’t necessarily fall in love with every tour leader you meet. Some will be more friendly and approachable than others. Some will let their teaching do the talking while others will give you the personal edification you need to feel good about yourself and your photo skills. Know what you need in that department before you go and find out what people think about the leaders you’re about to travel with.
I’ll be the first to admit that Artie for instance has a reputation of being more difficult than he really is. (It’s truly undeserved.) But that’s because a few vocal people who came on his tours expecting a backrub found a drill sergeant who was only interested in making sure they became better photographers. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to come away from an experience like this having learned as much as possible. I had professors in college who I didn’t care for as human beings, but who I loved as teachers because they helped me become better. Know both what to expect and what you want to make sure there is a better chance for a good outcome. Oh yeah – Artie isn’t all that bad – he’s actually just a big kid having fun and one heck of a nice guy in addition to being one of the world’s foremost avian photographers!
e. If you’re going on a workshop where there will be a teacher instead of or in addition to a tour leader, then bring lots of questions. If you don’t ask questions on the workshop and then later complain that you didn’t learn anything, you have only yourself to blame. Come prepared to learn and you will.
f. Try to get along! In a workshop/tour environment, you’ll be traveling with other people so learn to cooperate with others. Your fellow participants will at least have a similar interest, i.e., photography, but their culture, religion, creed, personality, etc., will probably be different from yours. Don’t be rigid. Go with the flow. Allow for the fact that your needs aren’t the only needs that have to be met in a group dynamic. Allow other people their space, and don’t get angry if everything doesn’t go exactly the way YOU want it to be. If you’re a bitter and unhappy person before going to the workshop, don’t expect that to change at or after the workshop. YOU control your own attitude. Make sure to adjust that attitude before going on your photo tour. Relax, let it flow and be willing to encounter new people and new experiences with a positive mental state. This one tip is probably the single most important factor in helping you get the most out of your trip.
g. Have a personal goal in mind. Whether it’s a workshop or a tour, chances are you’ll be doing at least some shooting. If it’s a tour you’ll be doing lots of shooting. Decide upfront what you hope to achieve. When I co-led the Aperture Nature Photography Workshop at Yosemite last month, I challenged the participants to have a photographic goal in mind before entering the park. I asked them to select a theme rather than just willy-nilly point their cameras at every single Yosemite icon. If you do some research, look at your portfolio and spend some time contemplating your motives, you should be able to come up with a goal. Share that with the trip leader before you book the trip. Ask if this trip will put you in position to better achieve your goal. Then when you’re on the trip, be mindful of that goal and tailor your shooting and your actions to achieve the goal.
h. Remember to take pity on the poor trip leader! (Yes, this paragraph is self-serving but hey – it’s my blog so I am going to take advantage of it!) It is much harder than it looks to lead a photo trip. The leaders (If they’re good ones anyway) have to scout the locations in advance, arrange logistics like lodging, travel routes, bathroom breaks, meals, critiques, instruction, demonstrations, teaching sessions, etc. AND then they have to try to connect with all the various participants, answer questions, help overcome problems, etc.
Remember that it’s not the trip leader’s fault if the weather sucks. It’s not the trip leader’s fault if that eagle’s nest which was there yesterday, was blown down today by a gust of wind. Particularly when you travel on a nature trip, do be mindful that the trip leaders are mortal and cannot force that bear, or eagle or mountain to do just exactly what YOU want it to do for your picture.
i. After the fact, stay in touch. Send images you make on the trip to the leader so they can evaluate how well you did. Stay in touch with the other participants. You all had the same experience and can continue to learn from it with each other’s help. Give the leader constructive feedback on the trip. Let them know how you enjoyed (or didn’t) the overall experience.
j. Here are a couple of final thoughts and random trips. Follow the leader – literally. If you’re in a group making photos and you notice the leader is standing with his tripod 30 yards from you, guess what – you’re in the wrong place. When I first started learning bird photography from Artie, I quickly realized that wherever he was – the best shot was too. So stay close to the leader.
Take your time. When you get to a new place, with new people, new subjects and new opportunities – be sure to take a deep breath. Don’t just press the shutter button every time something moves. Relax, think, plan, contemplate and THEN make the picture. Spray and pray has no place on a workshop or tour.
Traveling on photo tours and workshops are probably the single best thing you can to advance your photography to the next level, especially if you’re at the beginner or intermediate level in your photography.
If you want info on Artie’s tours – go to www.birdsasart.com. I no longer teach many workshops. I do still teach with Artie once or twice a year and at the Aperture Nature Workshops. I also do a few private tours, but not many. There are other companies I can recommend such as the Santa Fe Workshops in the west and back east, The Palm Beach Photographic Center.
If you have a favorite workshop company or leader (other than your own – sorry no free ads) then let us know. Please only refer companies and leaders which you have personal experience with.
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