A mate of mine has started a new website, which is a pretty cool idea. It’s a central location where people can find and book photography workshops. Of course most of them are in amazing locations with amazing photographers. The site is www.fstoptours.com. This got me thinking about Photography workshops in general.
I haven’t been on many photography workshops, but those that I have been on have been really good. Here are some of the obvious and some not so obvious things that I’ve gained from them.
This one is kind of obvious, but will depend on the type of workshop you are going on. A travel workshop will generally involve maybe a day or more of classroom type training and then multiple days of hands-on experience. Others that I’ve been on have had about 30 minutes of classroom type training and then the rest was all practical. The way you prefer to learn will dictate which of these work best for you, but it’s worth looking at the itinerary of the workshop to see if there is enough, not enough, or too much classroom type training for the way you like to learn.
To be blunt, I’ve found the educational side of some workshops not the best. Training or educating itself is a skill. I’ve been on some workshops with some amazing photographers who are not the best teachers. It’s hard to tell what someone is going to be like before you actually go on the workshop, but you can get a bit of a feel of things from checking out their website and if you can find any articles or video tutorials they have online that can give you an indication if their teaching style is going to suit you. It may also be that the photographer running the workshop is not the best in a classroom-type environment but is amazing at giving out tips and tricks once you all get out with cameras and are doing the practical stuff.
The actual going out and taking photos is the reason most people go on a photography workshop. There are some basic skills that are the same that you’ll learn across all workshops, but there will also be very specific things you’ll learn depending on what kind of workshop it is.
For example, when my wife and I did a workshop with Valerie Jardin a few years ago, one of the things I really wanted to learn was some techniques for how to approach people for street photography. I have always really liked “candid” street portraits. But I was very nervous about approaching complete strangers in the street and asking if could take their photo. Valerié was great at not just giving me some advice on how to approach strangers to take their pictures, but she also did a lot for just giving me the confidence to go out and do it.
Most people learn best by doing, so it’s also great to get hands-on experience whatever the subject matter is. It’s like all those times that you’re out with your camera, you can’t quite work out how to do something and magically when you’re on a workshop, you’ve got an expert right there to talk you through what you need to do. Sure you could Google it, but there’s no substitute for actually having a living person right there that you can interact with.
If you can afford to do a workshop in some far fly corner of the world, that’s great. But it doesn’t have to be that exotic. Doing a workshop in your own city can introduce to areas that you never knew existed or can even give you a whole new perspective on an area you’ve walked through a thousand times. There is also the advantage of being able to sleep in your own bed and not having to deal with jet lag. Although if there are other participants in the workshop from out of town I’d suggest seeing if you can find out before the workshop and maybe make a holiday out of it and stay at the same hotel, which also helps build a sense of camaraderie. I’ve also found those late night random conversations with the other participants some of the best learnings I’ve had from workshops so if you go home every night, you could miss out on those.
Having said that, if I had the option of doing a workshop in my own city or Cuba, Japan, Namibia, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Vietnam or Hong Kong, well let’s just say that my own city would not be top of that list. 😉
Being with other like minded people
This brings us onto the third and possibly best advantage that you get from going on a photography workshop. Just spending a few hours or a few days with like minded photographers is priceless. My wife and I have made lifelong friends from the workshops we have been on. It’s amazing to spend so much time with people who have the same passion as you, learning how to improve you skills and having loads of fun along the way.
Something else that I’ve noticed when I go on a workshop, for about a week or two afterwards my photographic eye is IN. Because I have been so utterly immersed in the world of photography for 12-16 hours per day for multiple days my brain is totally in photo mode. So I notice angles, and light and patterns and shots that I may not notice when I am in my usual weekly grind.
I guess there are not prizes for guessing my thoughts on workshops. Even if you think you know just about everything there is to know about the subject matter, I can assure you there is always new tricks you can learn and use. I find a lot of those to be super practical, since most of the time on a workshop is spent doing as the way that you learn, instead of being a classroom the whole time.
Along with the learning, it’s the people and ideas that you come into contact to. Mostly everyone is there because they love the thing that you’re all learning about and doing, so everyone has the same passions and you have some amazing conversations and perspectives to see.
Finally, if the workshop is combined with a stunning new or even old location it’s another helpful way to get yourself out of your comfort zone.