How to Get the Most Out of a Photography Workshop
Attending a photography workshop can be a great way to improve your photographic skills. Learning from an experienced professional can help take your images to the next level, and sharing ideas with other photographers is a great way to expand your photographic horizons.
However, many photography workshops are either quite expensive or require long distance travel, or both. In addition, attending a photography workshop requires a substantial amount of your time and effort. So, while attending a photography workshop may help you increase your photographic skills, it can be a big investment.
Luckily, you can make the most of your investment in a photography workshop by following these seven simple guidelines.
El Morro photographed from The Malécon — La Havana, Cuba — December 2014
1. Select Your Workshop Carefully
There are myriad workshops available today. If you can name a type of photography, there’s a workshop for it—anything from photographing newborns to shooting star trails and everything in between. Be sure to select a workshop that focuses on the skills you wish to improve.
Ask yourself some questions: What do you want to work on? Equipment? Post-processing skills? Composition? Printing? Do you want a classroom setting or to shoot in the field? Do you want to travel or want to find a workshop locally?
Read the workshop description carefully and choose wisely.
When selecting a workshop to attend, be sure to consider:
- Location: Where will the workshop be held? What are the photographic possibilities? Will you incur significant travel costs to attend the workshop?
- Dates: Is the workshop scheduled to coincide with any interesting events? For example, will there be a local holiday or festival, full moon, other natural occurrence, or some engaging situation for you to photograph?
- Instructor: What experience does the instructor have? How long has the instructor been running the workshop? Do you admire the instructor’s work? Be sure to read the instructor’s website and blog to get an idea of who they are as a person. You will be spending a lot of time with the workshop leader, so try to find out if they are fun and engaging and if they truly like helping others explore the world of photography. If possible, ask for referrals from former workshop participants.
- Group Size: Size matters, especially when selecting a workshop. Be sure to get an idea of how many students will attend, since the ratio of worship leaders to participants will determine how much individual attention you will get. A student to instructor ratio of more than about eight to one can potentially impact the amount you will learn.
- Workshop Type: Is the workshop an “access workshop” in which the leader simply gets you access to an interesting location and does not impart much photographic knowledge or is the workshop a “teaching workshop” where you can learn new photographic skills?
- Workshop Focus: Is the workshop aimed at beginners, intermediates, or aspiring professionals? Is it focused on landscape, street, fashion, or another type of photography?
- Itinerary: How long is the workshop? Will you be up early for sunrise shoots and out late to shoot the stars? Will there be strenuous hiking required?
Sunrise at Drake’s Beach — Point Reyes National Seashore — April 2015
2. Do Your Homework
Once you have selected your workshop, be sure to do your homework prior to its commencement:
Research the Location
Use Flickr, Google, 500px, Behance, or other photo sites to find images others have taken in the workshop location. Review travel guidebooks or Trip Advisor to get an idea of the sites worth photographing. What are the shots you don’t want to miss? As you review images online, develop a “shot list” so that you will be sure to get all the images you want.
If the workshop will be held in a location with which you are not familiar, study it on a map. You will then get an idea of how different places are situated in relation to one another. If you are interested in sunset, sunrise, of moonlight shots, you may want to use The Photographers’ Ephemeris, Photopills, or some other application to determine the direction and exact time of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, or moon set. If the workshop is near the ocean, consult tide charts to determine if there are any unusual high or low tides.
Prep Your Gear
To avoid forgetting any necessary items, make a list of the equipment you need to bring. Will the workshop require any specialized equipment you don’t already own? If so, be sure to purchase the items far enough in advance so they will arrive with enough time for you to have an opportunity to learn how to use them before the workshop.
Clean your lenses and filters. Consider having your sensor cleaned. If your workshop requires a laptop, be sure you have the latest versions of any post-processing software such as Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. Purchase and bring extra batteries for anything that requires a battery, such as your camera, strobe, and remote release. If the workshop is a “once in a lifetime” event, you may want to consider bringing an extra camera body in case of an unexpected equipment failure.
Learn how to use your gear. Seriously learn it. Learn your camera well enough that you can operate it in the dark. Read the manual. Yes, it’s boring, but by doing so you will get the most of your gear and your workshop. Do not be the guy on the night shoot that always has to use his headlamp and blinds everyone else because he cannot locate the buttons in the dark. Do not be the woman who holds up the entire class because she doesn’t know how to use Live View.
Determine Your Workshop Objectives
What do you want to get out of the workshop? By defining your objectives prior to your workshop, you have a better chance of meeting your goals. In addition, prepare a list of the most important questions you would like answered while you are at the workshop. It’s easy to forget things “in the heat of the moment.”
3. Have the Right Attitude
Approach your workshop with a positive attitude, a desire to learn, and an open mind. Get ready to be a sponge and soak in all the knowledge you can. While your attitude isn’t the only thing that will contribute to getting the most from your photography workshop, it plays a large part. If you have a negative attitude going in, you certainly won’t learn as much as possible. But if you have a positive attitude, you are more likely to take away the knowledge that you want.
Golden Gate Bridge photographed from Battery Spencer — San Francisco, CA — January 2014
4. Shoot with the Instructors in the Field
To maximize your learning opportunities, shoot alongside the instructor. Watch how he or she shoots. Learn how he “sees.” See how she sets up compositions. Look at how he uses his equipment. Observe her lens choices. Notice the instructor’s style or viewpoint.
Most importantly, by shooting with the instructor, you can ask questions—tons of questions. The more you ask, the more you will learn.
5. Be Part of the Group
In group workshops, there may be many types of photographers, each with varying levels of expertise and all with different experiences. By actively engaging with other participants, you may learn as much from them as from the instructor. By participating in discussions and sharing your information and experience, you will be helping others enjoy the wonders of photography.
Unlike many of the popular online photography classes, in-person workshops can also be a great chance for you to meet and develop friendships with other photographers. Get involved. Introduce yourself. Engage fellow participants in conversation. You will all have more fun and may even learn something additional.
Moonrise Over Half Dome — Yosemite National Park, California — April 2015
6. Share Images During Critique Sessions
While you may be uncomfortable sharing your images with the group, you will not make the most of your learning opportunities by keeping your work to yourself. Getting feedback on your work is a sure way to improve. Listen intently as the instructor comments on your work. Take notes. Ask questions. How can I improve this image? What would the instructor have done differently? Would you have shot this in a different manner or from a different perspective? What could I do to the image in post-processing to improve the image?
While your first reaction may be to only submit your “best” images for critique, it may be beneficial to submit a “problem” image as well. The instructor may be able to help you take an image from “so-so” to a “winner.”
In addition, be sure to pay attention when the instructor is critiquing others’ work. It is not only polite, but you may find the feedback on another participant’s image applicable to your work.
7. Follow Up After the Workshop
After the workshop, review your experience. Did you accomplish your goals? If not, why not? What would you do differently in the future? Make some notes so you will remember what you learned during your workshop.
Be sure to practice any new skills or techniques you learned during your workshop. Only by performing a technique again and again will you learn it well. The old adage “practice makes perfect” is actually true.
Don’t forget to keep in contact with the workshop leader and any participants whose company you enjoyed. Many a lifelong friendship has been forged during a photography workshop.
By following these seven simple tips, you can make the most of your investment in any photographic workshop.
Silicon Valley veteran CJ Glynn is an award-winning San Francisco-based photographer, author, and educator specializing in natural light travel, landscape, and fine art photography. When not teaching photography classes or leading workshops, he enjoys traveling and fitness. He shows his work online at www.CJGlynn.Photo.