As you get better at photography, it’s tempting to think you don’t need to go on courses or workshops any more. You’ve mastered your camera controls, you’re happy with your work – so what is there left to learn?
I try and go on at least one, preferably more, workshops or courses on photography each year. I tend to choose locations that are interesting, then look at who’s doing what there and really try and pick someone whose work is not like mine at all to go and learn from. This does several things;
- If I’ve booked a day course, it allows me to carve out a whole day just for photography. I can’t be side-tracked into random household tasks or persuaded to go visit someone or help with something – I’m expected at the course and that’s that!
- Regardless of the weather I’ll still be going – so I’ve ended up out in conditions I never would have chosen and as a result I’ve learnt a lot about how to find great images regardless of fog, grey skies, damp or even ridiculously bright sunshine.
- There’s always something to learn from someone else – you might not agree with how they do things, but I figure it’s better to be informed about the alternatives to your own way of working. Sometimes your way won’t work and it’s helpful to have other options up your sleeve.
- Local photographers know their home turf in a way that no amount of Google Earth research can replicate. If you’re visiting a new area, get someone to guide you for a day and you’ll be set with places to visit for the future.
- The photographers I’ve met on workshops, pros and amateurs alike are usually top people who are fun to be with. Ok so you get the odd ‘character’ but that could happen anywhere! Photography is normally quite a solitary pursuit – at least for me and I like it that way – but sometimes it’s good to get out there and enjoy the fact there are a bunch of other people who love this game as much as I do.
I have this theory though, which is that as it gets harder to make money as a professional photographer (great article on Myths of Becoming a Pro from improvephotography.com) more photographers are turning to running workshops as an income stream. This leads to great choice for consumers like me, but being an awesome photographer is not the same thing as being a good teacher or a good workshop leader. Being able to communicate about photography, being able to share knowledge and inspire creativity are not skills that always accompany a highly developed photographic talent.
So if you’re looking for a course or workshop be sure to ask around for recommendations. Don’t rely on testimonials on the photographer’s website, they will only post the good stuff there (although if there are not testimonials at all that might be a bad sign!). Similarly reviews online can be misleading as we are a nation of complainers and usually you’ll find many more reviews that are negative than that are positive and that may not be a fair assessment. For example I’ve seen reviews that complain about the weather (hardly the workshop’s fault!), that the course was too technical (should really have checked this before signing up!) etc etc.
Ask people you trust for their recommendations and always be sure to contact the photographer beforehand to check that the content, level, pace and locations are what you want. If they send you a pre-course questionnaire fill it out honestly and provide as much information as you can about what you’re looking to learn, improve or photograph and be honest about your abilities (both photographically and physically) otherwise you’ll be hampering the photographer from the start. If you have questions during the workshop then ask them. If you’re not comfortable asking questions in a group situation then it may be worth considering booking a 1:1 session rather than a group workshop – I’ve done both and found them equally rewarding!
Over the new few weeks I’ll be blogging about the courses and workshops I’ve done over the last couple of years with a few recommendations. Stay tuned!