Invitations and advertisements for photography workshops are everywhere you look—on the street, on the web, on Facebook, in your mailbox… But how do you choose a good workshop, and what should you want out of it?
There has been major photo workshop boom in recent years. They’re very popular. That’s why we’ve decided to write about what to look for in a good workshop. (To jump ahead a bit: don’t go there seeking new photographs for your album or portfolio!)
How to Choose
Information is the key: if you have it and know how to use it, you’re all set. That’s as true here as everywhere. Photography workshops have a variety of orientations (portrait, fashion, nudes, flash, daylight, etc.). And also a variety of quality and difficulty levels. A cheap workshop may not give you what you need… but an expensive one may not either.
Start by being self-critical: be honest with yourself and think hard about your true level of photographic ability. Then seek workshops that match that. Don’t overestimate yourself—if you do, you might end up not understanding a word of the workshop. And if you underestimate yourself, you’ll understand, but won’t learn.
Also ask yourself: What do I most love to photograph? Where do I want to focus in photography in the future? Where exactly would I like to improve? Make your choice based on that.
Pay attention to who is leading the workshop as well. Are they a good photographer? How do their photos look? What’s their genre? Do I like their photographic style? Is their course on my level? (Check out their web page to see.) If you like the answers to these questions, then the workshop is probably right for you.
What’s Your Purpose?
You’re attending the workshop with a purpose. But if that purpose is to add photos to your portfolio, then you’re wasting your time. Both because most of the other attendees will have the same photos, and because a photo like this is a little bit not-really-your-work. After all, your mentor prepared the scene for you and told you how to set up your camera and/or what to avoid.
Also, if there are models at a workshop, you’re going to need a model release to publish their photos anywhere (unless you’re inconsiderate and a crook). And can you blame models for insisting on a release? They’re usually experienced, their experience has value, and they earn their living from that value. If an inexperienced photographer takes and publishes a bad picture of them, that reduces their value—their renown. And nobody wants that.
But the real problem is elsewhere. You’re at the workshop to learn and to apply that learning to your photography. And that’s how you should be thinking about it. Workshops aren’t made to help you snag a few new photographs. They’re made for you to learn something new and perfect your technique. Keep in mind that you paid your workshop fee to buy someone’s experience. That’s what you’re really paying for. And that’s what workshops are about.
Watch out for junk workshops! Steer clear of any workshop where they just put two models in front of you, turn on the lights—without telling you what lights those are or how to work with them—and help you take the first few pictures and set up your camera for you. You’re just throwing money away while learning nothing new. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just learn basics like these yourself at home via articles or web videos?
Travel photography workshops are their own chapter. For these, the teacher is also a tour guide. They should take care of accommodations, choose sites to visit, handle transport, and more. Travel workshops are unusual: you do attend them to take pictures.
The teacher shows you good spots for taking them. The teacher’s not there to tell you about, say, the ISO/time/aperture “exposure triangle”. These workshops tend to last multiple days, so for technical questions wait until the evening, when the guide has the time and the mood.
These “workshops” are also worth mentioning. They’re often led by experienced professional photographers who tell photography anecdotes or briefly describe how certain photos came to be. If you already know something about photography and can read between the lines, lectures like these can give you quite a lot. At minimum, they’ll provide you new horizons and positive energy.
When thinking about a workshop, think carefully. Look for customer reviews on the Internet or write to someone who took part in that workshop, to find out how much they got out of it. Or ask your friends and experienced photographers (or your experienced photographer friends!) if they would recommend a workshop, or a workshop-organizing company, themselves.