If you’re interested in improving your photography, in my opinion there are few things you can do that will help you as much as attending a photography workshop. Not only will you force yourself to get out and shoot, you’ll have a chance to do it with teachers and other photographers who can broaden your horizons.
But how do you select which one to attend? I’ve attended more than 150 photo workshops either as a student or a teacher and I really don’t think it’s that hard.
Search popular photography sites and Google for workshops. Then break down the basics.
1. Is the genre, specialty or style the kind of photography you’re interested in?
2. Is the location or are the models or subjects of value to you?
3. Who is instructing the workshop?
4. Do you like their work?
5. Either by talking to them on the phone, in person or via e-mail, figure out if they are someone you think you could get along with, listen to and learn from.
6. Does the workshop include shooting time for the students and if not will it still meet your needs?
7. Is the workshop within your budget?
8. Can you articulate with specificity what you hope to get out of the workshop and does the instructor think you will be successful in reaching that goal based on the course outline?
9. Do the workshop dates correspond well with your schedule?
10. What is expected of you as a student other than paying for the workshop and showing up?
These are all common sense questions. Some people will tell you that you should only attend workshops with instructors who have actually made a living at the specific type of photography involved in the workshop. That could certainly be a consideration in some circumstances, but just because someone has earned a living as a food photographer for instance, doesn’t mean he/she is a great teacher. They may be able to make great photos, but unable to show you how. Lots of outstanding photographers are poor teachers. Teaching is a separate skill which, in my experience has less to do with how much you’ve been paid for your photography and more to do with how well you can explain, demonstrate and reinforce the core concepts behind the style or type of photography you’re teaching.
I think you should get to know as much about your potential instructor’s personality, demeanor and teaching style as you can. These factors will have far greater impact on the likelihood you’ll enjoy the workshop than whether or not the person teaching the workshop has made a great deal of money taking pictures.
I say all this having been paid for my work as a photographer far more often than most of the people I see teaching today. It used to bother me that people with little or no professional photo experience could fill up a workshop. But then I sat in on some classes that were taught by really good teachers who never made the pro circuit. It changed my opinion.
I also want to note that the reason I mention teaching style and demeanor is that as a student myself, I found myself focusing on those areas in terms of how I felt about the workshops I attended. For instance, I studied some with my pal Artie Morris. Artie has a reputation for being a bit curmudgeonly, but he’s simply the best photography teacher I’ve ever seen. His instruction books are incredible and his workshops full of information. Some people are put off by Artie’s blunt, New York personality. But if you attend one of Artie’s workshops, you are going to learn a ton about photographing birds, like it or not. The question is, can you get past his demeanor and accept the fact that his teaching style yields results, even if it’s not your favorite teaching style? Sometimes the answer will be no, and in those cases, it’s best to move along and find someone more to your liking rather than complain about personality or style.
If you hear good things about a photo workshop, like the teacher’s style and more importantly his/her photographs, you should strongly consider attending the workshop. While there are no guarantees in life, your chances of success are improved once you embark on this course.
There is one other factor to consider – YOU. That’s right, you have a responsibility too. As a student, if you arrive at the workshop pissed off, in a bad mood, full of bitterness and unhappiness, chances are good you won’t enjoy the workshop no matter who’s teaching it. Only teachable people can be taught.
Ask the 10 questions I propose in this post and get them answered to your satisfaction. Then, have an open mind, a kind heart, a clear head, reasonable expectations and avoid buying into the bitterness, hate and cynicism that infects much of our lives these days. You’ll probably have the time of your life on your next workshop.