Enrolling in a Photography Workshop can impact your creative photography in very positive ways, but how do you choose a workshop or class that’s right for you?
After 15 years as a photography and post-production teacher, with thousands of hours teaching field workshops, classroom sessions, and online tutor training, I understand what to consider when making this decision. It starts with some crucial questions to ask yourself before choosing a photography workshop:
What Do You Want to Learn?
The answer may seem obvious— choose a photography workshop that teaches your area of interest, but the decision may need to be more nuanced. For example, maybe you are interested in landscape photography, but at what level?
For example, some landscape workshops are photo tours that will position you in front of ‘trophy image’ locations when the time of year and light is favorable. They offer location shooting tips but little else. Thus, if a guided trip to great places is what you want, then a photo travel tour could be perfect.
Other landscape photography workshops have extensive learning goals designed to improve your ability to interpret what you see and to advance your camera and composition skills over 3-5 days with hands-on instructions and exploration of subjects such as visualization and post-production training.
Learning the art of portrait photography is similar. There are one-day headshot workshops, and there are multi-session portrait studio workshops that teach creative lighting and posing to extend the emotional range of the portrait. Similarly, street photography workshops range from a few hours of street walkabouts to time-specific multi-sessions that explore timing, mood, and message.
Do You Know What You Don’t Know?
Where do you feel you are inadequate, and where are you proficient? Do you need to spend more time on camera skills and post-production tools, or do you think your work requires more imagination, message, and interest? Thus, you want to find a workshop, class, or tutor system to address your weakest skill sets and support your strengths.
Why Are You Pursuing a Photography Workshop?
Your Why you want to learn is just as critical— maybe more so, than your What you want to learn. Sometimes, your why could be as simple as wanting to get away for a couple of days and put your camera to work within the safety and camaraderie of like-minded photographers.
But if your why is more specific, then write down the specifics. For example, you want to study landscape photography, but why? Tripping through the countryside with your camera is no doubt fun and challenging, but it is not a why. You need to question yourself. Are you trying to learn how to express yourself in ways that will help viewers understand and develop a new way of seeing a landscape? Or you are a portraitist, and you see the portraits as characterizations representing a lifestyle, or your interest in studio lighting is part of your development as a commercial product photographer? Whatever your theme, genre, or subject identifying you’re why will help you select the photography workshop that meets your goals.
Study the Workshop Website
Studying the workshop’s websites will help you choose your workshop or class. Here are some facts and circumstances to examine before going with some example workshops.
- Is this workshop one that presents a masterwho can help you learn, create, and achieve your goals? Is the instructor(s) teaching or just presenting?
- Do they outline the curriculum and learning path?
- What is the teacher-to-student ratio? The ideal number depends on the subject matter and type of class. In the field, 1:4is an ideal ratio, but if you are in a studio or classroom workshop, the ratio could be higher.
- If you are learning in the field, are the teachers’ safety certified, carry first aid supplies, and are knowledgeable about the photographic locations?
- Does the workshop carry commercial liability insurance, and if required, do they have the permits to teach in given locations?
- Check out any available reviews and testimonials. Professional-level teachers or instructors will also provide a contact e-mail link for questions and a phone number to speak with the workshop instructor. Ask specific questions that relate to your photography goals.
- Check out their cancellation policy.
- If the workshop requires travel, check to see if they have arrangements for your lodging.
- If the workshop takes place in multiple locations, as many landscape workshops do, then determine if the workshop team provides local transportation or if you will need to provide a vehicle.
- Visit the Instructor’s websites and review their work. Is this photography you admire and find interesting, professional, and inspirational? Read the instructor’s ‘About’ page or Bio, checking for awards and professional recognition. See who their clients have been in the past, see what they specialize in, and don’t hesitate to contact them to discuss your goals, aspirations, fears, and concerns.
Here are some great examples:
When and where is the workshop?
This seems obvious, but time and place can affect your learning path. Some landscape workshops can be weather-sensitive, and travel access may influence your choice. More importantly, choose a workshop wherein you can arrive a day early and decompress from your other activities.
Great Photographers Are Not Necessarily Great Teachers
Teaching is an equal part of science and art. You want to find instructors who know their stuff but are also dedicated to teaching and who will encourage you with patience, accept your work for where it is today, and understand your future goals. Check their references and reviews on Google and other resources, and don’t panic if you find one or two negative comments that may not be the instructor’s fault. Instead of focusing on one, or two bad reviews, check all the comments in totality and see what is common through all the reviews.
Some Concluding Thoughts
Photography Workshops have a long tradition of master photographers sharing experience, skills, insights, and influences with their student photographers. Participation will renew you renew your passion and help you meet others who share your passion. A great teacher will help you master skills, support your Why and What with encouragement, and coach you to develop a personal vision.
And finally, in every workshop I have taught, I’ve been blessed to see a special camaraderie develop between learners that blossom into new lifelong friendships.
Bob Killen is a Landscape Art Photography Teacher, Mentor Instructor, artist, and writer. He specializes in content related to art photography and online art marketing with an emphasis on SEO, SMM, and eCommerce. He is a National Park Service Artists in Residence alum, and collectors own his desert artwork in the US and Europe. You can find him teaching Masterclasses for National Park Photography Expeditions LLC in the field as well as coaching successful art photographers via his online classes.