With so many beginner and amateur photographers who want to learn as much as they can from those who are the "experts," there has been a rise in the availability, medium and platform of photography workshops. But, with that rise, there are also pitfalls. Some of those teaching these workshops are doing so to supplement their income, but does that mean they're a worthy instructor? Let alone the right instructor for you? On top of that, there are a lot of variations when it comes to workshops: location (destination, internet, DVD, etc.), price, class size, genre, and the instructor themselves. To help fish out the right workshop for you, I waded through the tide and pulled up some oysters.
If you're new to the business and are still defining your genre and speciality, you'll want to choose a workshop that addresses your favorite genre and the one you think you'll build on. If you've already decided on your genre, be it landscape, weddings, babies, lifestyle, commercial, etc., then clearly you want to pick a workshop that falls into the realm of your business model and aspirations. If senior portraits are your thing, find a workshop that focuses on those rather than a wedding or landscape one. Yes, I know this seems obvious, but there are beginning photographers out there who will take any workshop they can just to do it. What I suggest is narrowing down your goals to a specific genre, dive into that and see if it works for you. A photographer who shoots a variety of genres and doesn't find a niche appears to be still "finding themselves" in their craft.
Since cost is a big factor in whether or not anyone can even attend a certain workshop, especially destination ones, I'm going to bundle a bunch of those oysters under this category.
Naturally there are workshops that range from free to thousands of dollars. The trick here, assuming you don't have unlimited resources, is to find the best workshop that will give you the most value in turn for money spent. Here are four possible platforms and how cost might impact your decision:
Destination: If you're having to travel to an in person workshop at a remote destination, your wallet is going to have to open pretty wide to cover not only the cost of the workshop, but also all the other costs that go along with travelling. Many workshops include the hotel room, some meals, and other items, but there are always additional costs to figure. That said, these destination workshops provide an experience in a location you might never have done alone, and local knowledge to help you know the best places to photograph. In terms of building your portfolio, you ought to be given the chance to work with models or with landscapes that you normally wouldn't have access to, and that's part of the price and value (often in the thousands of dollars).
Local: Check your community arts and humanities organization or local college. They're going to have the most reasonably priced workshops (classes). This is a good starting point for many photographers with a smaller budget who just want to whet their workshop whistle. You might also have a local photographic club with members who run very reasonably priced courses.
Online: The internet is where you're going to find free workshops, and there are some good ones out there. The downside, of course, is that these are not hands-on, but they can still be very informative.
Besides all the people who upload instructional videos to YouTube (usually to build their platform), there are some great resources for free workshops.
CreativeLive.com is an ever-growing and popular platform for workshops. They are both free and paid. How is that? If you watch their workshops while they're running live (or during the repeat shown at night), you can watch and interact for free. Often their workshops are three days and go from 10 a.m. (PST) till 4 p.m. (PST), so it's not always feasible to be online that long for that many days. However, they run specials during the live shows. For example, if a workshop is $149, they will offer it (as a free download) for $99 during the three days that it's live. After the last day, the price goes up to $149. It's a brilliant price structure, if you think about it. The quality of instructors they bring in ranges a bit, but for the most part, you won't be disappointed.
CreativeLive workshops cover all genres from wedding to senior portraits to boudoir to pets to babies. They have technical and instructional ones, such as lighting and how-to Photoshop workshops to straight up business concepts. Once they've aired, all of their workshops have some free downloads you can watch to get a sample of them before deciding to buy. Their attendees consist of photographers who send in videos to "apply" to attend a workshop live in Seattle, Washington (USA). There are usually about eight of them who are invited to participate. You, as the viewer, will see the attendees in action in most workshop styles. There are a lot of viewers who go on to attend the instructors' in person workshops around the world after seeing them teach on CreativeLive.
Another popular show is Chase Jarvis Live. Chase is a professional commercial photographer, but he has guests in other genres. His show is more of an interview than a workshop, but he does have a live audience of photographers. Again, it's free to watch his show, and be forewarned that he's a bit unconventional (i.e. he swears), but he is also a very popular resource.
A lot of photographers put emphasis on the instructor as their choice for a workshop, as they should. I can't stress enough how important it is to research an instructor ahead of time. Look for reviews from attendees of previous workshops. Check the instructors' credentials and experience. Sadly, a lot of photographers teach workshops to supplement their income, but that doesn't mean they're a good instructor. Spending some time surfing the web will get you the answers you need, but remember to take everything with a grain of salt. Most people post only when they're disappointed and not when they are happy with something, such as with car reviews. You'll have to balance reviews with the instructor's platform and decide what's right for you.
The best instructors are the ones who make a career with their craft. Their longevity and success as professionals are what you're looking to learn from in their workshops. What you don't want in an instructor is a weekend warrior out to make some extra cash to support his hobby. Use Google or Bing or whichever search engine you prefer and dig deep enough. You can also see if the workshop is posted on Facebook or if there's an email link if you have specific questions.
Realize, too, that many photographers learn just as much from their peers in a workshop as they do from the instructor. Class size should be reasonable so that everyone gets time to shoot, especially if models are brought in. You'll likely be teamed up during in person workshops, so be prepared to make the most out of the experience.
It's important to keep learning in this field. It's ever changing and there's no limit to how much you as a photographer can improve upon your past work. Workshops are a great way to continue your education and to connect with other photographers. Picking the right ones for you is what matters most.
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