If you are thinking about booking a workshop in the coming year, how do you choose what one to book, and what do you hope to get out of the workshop?
Firstly, I am going to say this is aimed at landscape photographers and not studio workshops. That is not to exclude these types of workshops, but as I am not experienced in them except delivering them at college, it would be unfair to claim any knowledge.
So, on with booking a landscape workshop. You've got plenty of options out there, so what one to choose? For yourself, they can be schedule-dependent, cost-dependent, experience-dependent, but the main thing is what do you hope to get out of one?
Ask Yourself a Few Questions
Primarily, people go on workshops to enhance their photography and practice. Others go for the aforementioned reasons but also to meet like-minded photographers and to enjoy the location. Whether that is a local area within a few hours driving distances or further afield in different countries, where they may be taken to locations that they would not have normally visited. These types of tours are a great way to see a country from another point of view, and to be honest, highly recommended. I can't count the times I've been in Iceland and wished I could've afforded to hire an off-road 4x4 to visit hard-to-reach locations. With these types of tours, it's all included in the price.
With that is the first question: How far can my finances take me?
Next, is: "What do I hope to get out of the workshop?" In truth, only you can answer that one. You know where you are on your photographic journey, so what extra knowledge are you hoping to gain? I think it's common practice for the delivering photographer to send out a quick questionnaire to ascertain your skill level so that they can plan accordingly or make note of it when they are delivering so that everyone is catered to. You'll also get the itinerary of what's involved on the days anyway, so you'll know from that the areas that will be most valuable to you. But I'm sure you'll always pick up something new, either from the photographers running it or the others in the course.
Why these photographers? Is it because you like their style? Their teaching methods? Their images? Their knowledge about the craft? I'd love to attend a workshop by Elia Locardi. I'm also very aware that even if I attend that workshop that I'm not going to produce images like him, as we all shoot differently, but instead gain some of his knowledge of the practice. Please note this article is not an advert, but just in case you haven't seen them, check out Photographing the World series, as you won't be disappointed.
Do you need top gear? The answer to that is a resounding no. It's the impetus to learn more about your photography that matters. Sure, I've had an attendee with a basic point and shoot on a workshop, but I adapted the workshop to the camera and what they wanted to learn. Yes, there were camera limitations but none to such an extent that we couldn't work around them.
Finally, these workshops are aimed at the participants, and for a lot of photographers, one of their biggest sources of income, so they will go out of their way to ensure that your day, week, or fortnight is of value to you.
These can be days of hilarity, good vibes, a good gathering of people with the same common interest, which opens up new friendships, and a positive learning experience for all, whatever the weather. I enjoy these types of workshops for the above reasons, plus you can still tailor individual aspects of the workshop to each attendee.
Group workshops can span from one day to a week and beyond depending on the location and how many photographers are teaching. The longer workshops allow for downtime and to let everyone get to know each other better. Plus, they allow for editing instruction and shooting at all times day or night. This type of workshop will almost certainly include hotel stays, and although those are more expensive, they will give you the time as an attendee to learn and understand better what you are seeking.
Depending on how many photographers are teaching, the participant amount could be in double figures, but at least you will get individual advice from each of the photographers while at the same time getting to know the others on the course.
In the last year, these have grown and grown to a point where they have overtaken the bookings of the group workshops. Mostly, however, I think that is down to time constraints, where the attendee has only a few dates available in their calendar that don't coincide with the scheduled workshop dates.
I also enjoy these workshops for a couple of reasons. You can get to know more about the person and their photographic interests and tailor the workshop to their individual needs. You can also adapt the workshop schedule and locations to what they want to shoot and to gain more experience.
So, I would consider this option from your chosen photographer if it's available. If you would prefer a more tailored experience, the value in these is there.
From personal experience, I once completed a workshop where the attendees were not limited, and although it was a short four-hour workshop I learned so much in those four hours about engagement, attendee numbers, and vast landscapes. It was a positive one for myself, which enabled me to fully understand how much time you could devote to individuals to provide them with a positive experience with their valuable time.
The workshop was a promotional experience arranged by the company. I was asked how many attendees would be manageable by one person, to which I replied a maximum of 12, hoping that it would be less than that. Mistake number one. The numbers rolled in: 39, 40, 41... This was not controlled by myself, and the company was quite happy at the time with the numbers. My heart sank, though. There was no way any valuable landscape photography experience could be provided to that amount of people individually in four hours.
I like to take the time to talk individually to the people attending the workshops, as we all shoot differently and are at different paths on our photographic journeys. So, "set your camera to this and use this lens" isn't the answer. The light and weather change constantly, so being able to adapt to that makes a massive difference.
The takeaway from this was to limit the numbers so that the people who are paying for the experience are provided with value for their time, learning something new or gaining a better understanding of what they are doing, and hopefully taking some stunning images.
Get One Booked
Now that you have done all your research into where and who you want the workshop to be with, it's time to go ahead and book. Whether that's a 1-2-1 session or a group workshop, you'll certainly get your money's worth and perhaps make some lifelong friends along the way. Workshops are a great way of meeting similarly minded people who are there to learn and progress. Aren't we all looking for that extra knowledge to enhance our skills?
Most of the workshops I've been on have included folks of varying levels, and it's great to hear everyone interacting with each other, sharing knowledge and funny anecdotes about their photography. A group of like-minded people can make for a very interesting and educational day out.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on workshops and anything you think that enhances the experience for everyone involved.
Assessing the instructors teaching skills is key. My second very part-time career was teaching tennis, i played the game for 20+ years, but when i decided to think i would enjoy teaching others i enrolled in a specialized professional teaching course; paid huge dividends. Teaching is a very different skill set from that of being a proficient player. Ditto for photography, one does not need to be Ansel Adams caliber photographer to be a highly effective instructor.
Totally agree Bill, the ability to get the information across in an understandable and enjoyable way is key. Many thanks for your comment.
What is a 1-2-1 ?
The 1-2-1 sessions are just individual sessions instead of a group of attendees Keith. These allow the entire day to be tailored around an individuals requirements.
aka, "1 to 1".
Some very well known photographers are guilty of offering too many places on workshops - presumably to boost revenue. Having had my fingers burnt, I now always ask what the instructor /student ratio is going to be.
The other bugbear I have encountered is novice photographers signing up for a workshop and then struggling with camera settings etc. (I've seen students literally being unable to change shutter speed and aperture). Instructors need to be very clear what ability levels they are aiming their workshops at - otherwise they end up spending all their time showing the novices how to change camera settings etc.
Thanks for reading and commenting Bruce. I think most if not all photographers do say what level of knowledge is expected. Perhaps it's the case that photographers just starting out possibly think they'll gain a quicker understanding by participating in the workshop, I don't know.
The ratio is very important to provide value to all participants so that they get value from their day.
Always get confirmation in writing ahead of time about who will own the images produced at the workshop.
I once attended a weeklong workshop in Santorini, Greece. The first morning of the workshop the photographer running things handed out forms to be signed, stipulating that he owned all images produced at the workshop and that attendees were embargoed from putting any images from the workshop into their portfolios or posting online. I did not see anything about this before booking the workshop.
The photographer putting on the workshop wanted to produce commercial work and pictures for magazine publication during the workshop; he didn't want attendees devaluing his stuff by putting out similar images.
That doesn't sound ethical. After all, he/she wasn't taking the pictures.
Totally doesn't sound ethical Pete. As I'm sure you are aware there are only a few instances when the actual photographer taking the photograph doesn't own the shot and that's not one of them. Sorry to hear that happened to you. Thanks for reading.
"I can't count the times I've been in Iceland and wished I could've afforded to hire an off-road 4x4 to visit hard-to-reach locations. With these types of tours, it's all included in the price."
On a visit to New Mexico last year, I thought I could just drive around and shoot unaided to my heart's content. Big mistake. Not knowing the terrain, local ordinances and such was limiting and couldn't get to where I really wanted to be. One of my stops offered guides. But, I hadn't budgeted for one. I'll know better next trip. A local guide is almost a must.
I know the feeling all too well Robert. Got to admit I'm back in Iceland again in April and still, unfortunately, can't afford the 4x4 but we have coordinated it so that we can reach certain places we haven't in the past. Local guides are definitely the best though. Thanks for reading.
I've participated in many landscape workshops of varying lengths and size. The only two negative experiences I've had is where an experienced workshop photographer brought the class to a brand new location and it was bust and in another workshop a participant, an Emmy award winning cinematographer (which he announced several times), was an absolute unlikeable irritant the entire workshop..
Scouting beforehand for a new location is a must in these instances I'm sure you'll agree. You need to know the best vantage points to allow the participants to get the best value. As for the people in the workshops, well, everybody is different. Thanks for reading
I have had some great and not so great workshop experiences. One of the key things to understand is whether the instructor is there to help photographers improve their skills, ie teach more shoot less , or are they there to largely just bring you to a location and then shoot alongside you to enhance their own portfolios. I am not saying one is better or worse but knowing what you signed up for is important in managing your expectations and ultimate enjoyment.
A good point Lance. I know for myself I only tend to shoot after the participants have had their fill of a location and that's simply for the editing demonstration via zoom afterward, as I only do 1-day workshops. People are paying for your time and instruction so you have to value that for them. In saying that though if the light turns spectacular I will set up and shoot alongside. Thanks for reading.