There will come a point in your life as a photographer where you find yourself fantasizing about attending a workshop. You feel like you’ve hit a talent plateau and now you’re stuck. No amount of reading or shooting will make you feel like you are moving forward. This is probably the time for a workshop.
[While I offer an online workshop-style course in my Photography Dash, I realize it's not for everyone. So this article is aimed to those who want to look further afield than my offerings - David.]
Photography workshops are a great way to increase your knowledge and skills in a short period of time. Workshops differ depending on who is teaching and the goal of the workshop. Typically, they involve lectures, in class exercises, and one or more opportunities to test out your new skills by photographing models. Some have very specific goals while others are more generic and encompass multiple areas of study. Because photography workshops are readily available, it’s important to know how to choose the best one for your goals and the best way to really soak up all the information available during your workshop. Here are some tips and tricks to guide you to your perfect match.
Pick the right one. There are literally thousands of workshops available; the Google search results are overwhelming. Want to start your own photography business? There’s a workshop for that. Want to learn how to best photograph newborn babies? There’s a workshop for that too. Some of these workshops general learn to use your camera workshops. Others are highly specialized and focus on a single skill or component of photography. In a search, I found a workshop for photographers who specialize in glamour shots for women over the age of 60. Yes, they can be that specialized. Select a workshop that focuses on the skills you wish to bolster. Where are you stuck? What areas of your craft are you desperate to improve?
They also vary in length. Some workshops take place over a single work day while others require you to travel to a foreign country and dedicate a week or more to the endeavor. Only commit to a workshop you can attend from start to finish and legitimately give all your attention to. If your dream workshop will require you to travel or spend more than you can afford, look at the pros and cons of attending. Would a few less expensive local workshops be a better choice or is it in your best interest to save up for the ultimate workshop even if it means waiting until next year?
Take note of the number of participants allowed to sign up. If you are hoping for some one on one attention from your instructor and prime shooting opportunities opt into workshops with a limited amount of seats.
Do your homework and read the fine print
There are a ton of workshops to pick from and thus it’s important to ask all the necessary questions before clicking the “Sign up now” button. First of all, look for the when and where. I was sure a workshop I was interested in was in a city about two hours from home. It wasn’t until I was reading over the information one more time before committing that I realized it was actually on the other side of the country in a city of the same name.
Only attend workshops by people who are qualified to teach them. You don’t want to get to a workshop and realize you know more than the instructor - check the photographer’s portfolio and ask for references. If you can, talk to some people who have taken the workshop in the past, they will help you establish realistic expectations of what should happen during your session.
Look at the list of what you are required to know before you attend, most workshops ask that you meet a list of prerequisites before attending. For example, most intermediate sessions will require you to know how to shoot in manual so you can fully manipulate all the settings on your camera. Make sure you either a) know how to do everything before you sign up or b) learn it by the time you get there.
Check out what’s included with your ticket. Some workshops will cover food, accommodations, and all events. Some cover the bare bones. They may require you to opt into special sessions, book your own hotels, get yourself to all the locations, and feed yourself. Know what you are getting so you can budget for meals and any of the special offerings you want to attend.
Read through the terms and conditions of your attendance. While most workshops will allow you to use photos you take at the workshop for your portfolio others restrict what you can do with them. Some will allow you to use the shoots for your portfolio but not for marketing materials. Others won’t allow you to put any of the pictures on any social media outlets. If you are trying to build an online presence but won’t be able to use your shots on Facebook, it might not be a workshop match made in heaven.
Get your gear in prime condition
Now that you’ve booked the supreme learning experience, it’s time to grease the gears and make sure all the cogs are clicking into place appropriately. If you’ve been thinking about taking your camera body or lenses in to get them cleaned, the time is now. You’ve been having an autofocus issue with that 85mm prime you absolutely love? Have a professional take a look. You want all your gear to be in as close to perfect condition as possible when you show up for class.
Come prepared and ready to work
Bring your A game. Get enough sleep the week leading up to your workshop so you are well rested and able to concentrate. And if you are like me and can’t sleep the night before something exciting, have just enough coffee to keep you awake without giving you the jitters. Bring a notepad or a laptop and be primed to take notes. Turn off your cellphone. Bring a sweater in case it’s cold in the room you are in. Focus on the task at hand. You will take more home with you at the end of the day if you do.
Have extra batteries. I cannot say this enough. Seriously, bring more batteries than you think you will need. Does your flash need batteries? Bring those as well. And for good measure, bring your charger too. Before you head out every morning, make sure you have a battery in your camera and an extra in your camera bag. The same goes for memory cards, you really can’t have too many. Having an extra one easily accessible when yours fills up and starts giving you trouble means you don’t have to miss any of the action. I also bring a second camera body to workshops, in case heaven forbid, my regular one goes haywire while I’m there.
Be aware of important environmental factors
There are instances where a workshop will take you into territory you’ve yet to map. Often these conditions are environmental. Shooting in the rain or in less than ideal conditions might be part of the program. Often, it’s not intentional but because of the amount of planning required to put on a workshop, they are rain or shine. Bring a gallon Ziploc bag and some rubber bands, to protect your gear in the instance things get crazy, weather wise.
Everyone is self-conscious. Most people attend workshops because they feel they are lacking in some area of their craft. The best way to focus on what you’re doing is to leave the feelings about your shortcomings at home and work on overcoming them instead of dwelling on them.
While you are at the workshop, be active. Volunteer for special opportunities like a chance to be used as an example or try out some new techniques in front of everyone. Best case scenario you get feedback on your work, worst case scenario you do it wrong and get an extra chance to learn how to do it right.
Ask a lot of questions. Don’t understand something? Ask for clarification. Want more information? Pull the instructor aside at an appropriate moment and ask for some materials or resources to help you delve further into a topic. This may be one of just a few opportunities you have to converse with photographers with such vast knowledge of their craft. Utilize that time.
Be open to constructive criticism
This is probably the hardest thing to do at a workshop or in life. Our art is personal and putting it out there and knowing someone might not see the same value in it as we do is scary but it’s also necessary. The purpose of a workshop is to grow and learn as an artist and we can’t do that if we refuse to take the blinders off once in a while. Be ready to hear what others have to say about your photos and actively work to take what they say into consideration. Workshops are a safe space, no one is there with the intent to knock anyone down a peg. Instead, you might get some of the best, most qualified, and earnest feedback out there. Let that criticism move you in a direction you are eager to follow.
Don’t lose your voice
No, I’m not talking about literally losing your voice, although it can be a hazard when you are hanging out with people as passionate about photography as you are. I’m talking about your artistic voice. You are going to leave your workshop with a ton of new ideas and other people’s critiques fresh in your head. Still, it’s important to stay true to your artistic voice so find ways to make these new techniques part of the work you do if applicable. Don’t let the wealth of knowledge muddle your vision; instead use it to propel yourself towards better photography that separates you from the crowd.
Workshops are the perfect place to network so bring a big stack of business cards. Some people are terrified to become friends with people who work in their field and we all know the photography playing field can be cut-throat. Everyone is trying to protect their turf; but there are huge advantages to having friends who do what you do. Emergency situation arises? You have someone available to cover for you while you deal with a house full of kids with pink eye. Already booked? You have someone you trust to recommend to clients. It’s also a great way to get involved with projects in the future: You never know when someone is going to need some help on an awesome shoot or want some input on a book they are putting together. If you aren’t in business, workshops are a great opportunity to make friends who are interested in the same stuff you are.
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