Attending photographic workshops
Attending photographic workshops, even if you’re an experienced photographer, can be a great thing. A good friend of mine, Lee Herbet, is a contributor to the F-Stop Lounge website. His article Photo Workshops for Experienced Photographers was published recently and it got me re-thinking about a blog post I’ve been mulling over for a while.￼
Before I get started I want to point out that I’m running workshops in 2015 – the Explore London workshops in May and September. My views would be the same whether I was running workshops or not.
Why you should participate in a workshop
When you attend a workshop of any sort, whether it be photography related or not, you’re usually getting together with other people who are passionate about the same subject. You get the opportunity to interact with all manner of people – some you can learn from and some you can teach.
Workshop participants can be like family. You make new friendships that can last for a very long time. While you might not ‘click’ with everyone on the workshop, you can end up making good friends and form a bond that lasts a lifetime.￼
[tweet_dis]Workshop participants can be like family.
Of course you’re going to be learning from the workshop leader, or at least you should be! That doesn’t mean they’ll be spoon feeding you everything you need to know, but they should certainly be helping you along the way and facilitating your own discovery. They should be helping you find the answers to the questions you have. That might mean they ask you a lot of questions that make you think about your photography and dig deep to find the answer yourself. They should be guiding you in a way that enables you to learn and remember. Spoon feeding might give you the answer, but it won’t necessarily teach you what you need to know!
Remember that most, if not all of the other participants are there because they want to learn. You all have different levels of ability and if the workshop leader is doing a good job there will be a willingness among everyone to help one another out. Photography is a craft that requires both technical knowledge and artistic interpretation and everyone has something they can share with the group. It’s impossible for one person to know everything there is to know about photography… I might know things that you don’t, just like you will undoubtedly know things that I don’t. With the right learning environment everyone can share their knowledge and every participant, including the ‘teacher’ will come away richer and more knowledgeable than when they started.￼
There’s a lot to be said for being ‘in the zone’ too. In psychology terms, being in the zone is being in a state of flow – a state where you are completely immersed in the activity you’re undertaking; where you are so focused, involved and enjoying the experience that everything else in your world becomes irrelevant for a time. Being on a workshop can invoke that state of flow where you really do get in the zone together with your fellow participants and lose yourself temporarily in the world of photography.
Can’t I get the information from elsewhere?
When you choose a workshop to invest in you will quite often find the technical information such as what aperture or shutter speed to use or discussions on things like zone focusing on the workshop leader’s website. A quick search of Google will often turn up more than enough links to information you can use to answer your questions. What you won’t get with a Google search is interaction. You won’t get feedback from like-minded photographers, or the workshop leader. You won’t get daily inspiration or the extra encouragement to do something out of your comfort zone. Search engine results won’t encourage you to approach that stranger in the street and ask to do a street portrait. Without the group interaction you won’t build your confidence.
So the short answer is ‘Yes!’ You can get much of the information being taught on workshops straight from the Internet, but there is so much more you will get out of the workshop experience that you simply can’t get any other way!
What makes a good workshop?
[tweet_dis]There are many things that make a good workshop[/tweet_dis]. There is the interaction and peer learning that I’ve already written about. There’s the knowledge of the workshop leader; the environment; visiting new locations. There’s also the one to one reviews and instruction that many workshops offer. There are, quite simply many things that go together to make the workshop a good experience and good / great value for money.
Workshops that have small group numbers will often afford participants more of that one to one time with the instructor, or at least allow the instructor to interact with just one or two people at a time. Smaller groups tend to feel more like families too, which will often lead to a more pleasing experience.
The workshop leader needs to be passionate and focused on your learning. There’s nothing worse than spending a large sum of cash (or even worse, adding to your credit card bill) for a workshop and feeling like you’re just there to make the numbers up and make the instructor some money. There needs to be a true connection between ‘teacher’ and ‘student’. Sometimes workshop leaders need some ‘alone time’ in order to carry out logistical or other tasks related to the running of the workshop, however, those that disappear as soon as the instructional hours are over are not demonstrating a passion for their workshop or the participants. Their job is to help you learn and often the best learning experiences come ‘after hours’ when you’re sharing a meal together, talking and relaxing.
Photography workshops shouldn’t just be about photography either. Of course, if you’re on a workshop that aims to teach you about using off-camera flash to make better portraits, then you need to be learning those technical details. However, you can also be learning about the location of the workshop; some of the history of the place. I did a workshop in Budapest in 2013 that was held in the Hotel Gellért. We learned about wedding and portrait photography, but also learned about the history of the hotel, which was used as a Nazi headquarters during World War II. History is fascinating and adds more interest to your workshops. That particular workshop also included meals and wine, so we got to experience Hungarian culture too. We moved around the city and explored different areas. It was a great workshop from a technical point of view, that was made even better by the addition of the cultural experiences. When you travel to different parts of the world, it’s great to have that ‘added value’.
The ability of the ‘teacher’ to personalise the workshop is also invaluable. Whenever a group of photographers get together, there are going to be different levels of experience. If the workshop content is rigid it might not be a good fit for you. It might be fantastic for someone with either more or less knowledge than you, but it could simply be a complete non-learning experience for you as an individual. The instructor needs to be aware of those differences and be able to tailor information and instruction to suit everyone’s level of experience by perhaps spending more or less one on one time with participants.
A good gauge of figuring out if students are having a good time or having fun is this: are they smiling, laughing, and is there a positive energy around? – Eric Kim
Workshops I’ve attended
In recent years I’ve attended a number of photography workshops. Each has been well presented and in my opinion were good value for money. Some were short, other’s spread over a week. I’ve travelled to the opposite side of the world to participate and have never felt like I’ve wasted my money. In short, I’ve never had a bad workshop experience. One of the reasons for this is that I did my research before signing up. These are the workshops I’ve done and highly recommend. Obviously there are others too, some of which I would love to do in the future. I don’t think you ever stop learning and no matter how much experience or knowledge you have, you can always learn something new!
[tweet_dis]I don’t think you ever stop learning…[/tweet_dis]
Budapest Masterclass (September 2013) – another workshop run by Jeff Medford of MZed Education for Creatives. The instructors for the 2013 Masterclass were Clay Blackmore and David Ziser again. I had such a good experience at the first one that I signed up for 2013 too. I highly recommend any of these workshops put on by Jeff and his team.￼
Normandy Photo Workshop (October 2013) – this was my first workshop hosted by Valerie Jardin, but it wasn’t my last! We spent a week travelling around and exploring Normandy, having a truly wonderful ‘French cultural experience’. Valerie was born and raised in Normandy and knows the area like the back of her hand. Her local knowledge really enhanced the workshop experience – photography, travel and vision. Although Valerie is not offering the Normandy workshop in 2015 I know she will be offering it again in the future. I highly recommend this workshop when it is back.
Paris Through Your Lens (October 2013) – As I had already travelled to France for Valerie’s Normandy workshop, I took the plunge and followed on with her Paris workshop the following week. Obviously doing two workshops back to back was expensive, both in money and time. I consider it to be a valuable investment though. Both workshops were well worth doing and I would have no hesitation in suggesting back to back workshops with Valerie if they’re offered. Both were quite different and provided two weeks full of learning, friendship and new experiences.￼
Melbourne Photo Workshop (February 2014) – This was another workshop by Valerie Jardin, this time held in Melbourne, Australia. Seeing Valerie experience Melbourne for the first time was a valuable experience. Her passion for photography and her ability to see photographically were really apparent. It’s pretty obvious that I like the way Valerie runs her workshops and there are still a few I’d like to do one day – particularly New York and Rome.
Lee Herbet Video Editing (June 2014) – This was a one day workshop hosted by SUNSTUDIOS Melbourne. The instructor on the day was Lee Herbet who is a font of knowledge when it comes to Apple products. The workshop focused on video editing for photographers, using Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. This was another well run and useful workshop. Lee also runs multi-day workshops along the same lines. I would recommend keeping an eye on his website and if you have an interest in learning about video, don’t hesitate to try one of his workshops. You should also check out Lee’s Capturing Passion website for more video tips and tricks.