As a veteran of several photographic workshops, I can say that the skills and benefits to be gleaned from these generally costly excursions have been pretty mixed. Most workshops are run by leaders in their field, which goes a long way to suggest that the photographs shot and the editing guidance received will help attendees (at least start) to emulate their chosen practitioners.
Well, no. Not really.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not a genius that needs no instruction. I knew how to bracket exposures early on and reconnoitering a location before shooting is second nature. But experience has shown that there’s not much more coming from these denizens of the photographic world. In fact, aside from the location, I’m increasingly of the opinion that the photo workshop should be re-cast and regarded more as a management how-to book; read it, find the nuggets useful to you and take those away. The rest is eminently forgettable. Discard as appropriate.
The inevitable lecture sessions set aside in your shooting schedule are usually for around the table instruction. In my experience, these amount to two hour marathons dedicated to a slide show of the photographic wünderkind’s own work, a Zen-like approach to pre-visualisation, or a melée of dozy questions from the workshop’s photo wannabees. Depending on your personal situation, that means two hours desperately trying to follow someone’s else’s twisted Photoshop logic, or two wasted hours in which I could have caught up on some sleep, edited images from earlier shoots, or just relaxed with a cold one or two.
Of the workshops I’ve attended, only one has delivered consistent and useful classroom input. So here’s a request to the workshop planners; do it right, or spare me. Please.
The other around-the-table exercise is the critique. Bring along some prints, or upload your own images from the workshop at hand and the maestro will opine (together with the other attendees) on your talent, or lack thereof. If there are awards for lens flare and HDR beyond its own excessive limits, you’ll find them here. ‘nuff said.
So, if crumbs of knowledge are all I got from these workshops, why go?
Because, those nuggets of knowledge can often be critically important and for me have helped shape the photographer I’ve become – good or bad. The real upside is that workshops are generally organised and run in fabulous places I wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit. Places which are often hard to get to, cost a lot and take too long to reconnoiter if you make the trip solo.
The workshop does all that for you, which brings me to the next point; lets stop calling them workshops. They aren’t. They could be trips, visits, or if we ratchet the hyperbole-o-meter up a bit, experiences. Yes, I like that. They are Experiences, with a capital E.
Now, the Antelope Canyons make more sense, the Okavango Delta is in context and Iceland given its rightful perspective. They are Experiences all.
And, if your Experience leader is honest, he (or she) will show you the secret places he’s found after years of visits. The view sites and places – including those thousands of other would-be Ansel Adamses – never see. He’ll help you make sense of what you’re seeing, not just the convenient area 100 metres around the car park.
Your shooting schedule must be sensible and not require two hour to and fro drives. Rather change hotel to suit the location. If sunrise and sunset shoots are planned, then between them you need time to charge batteries, upload memory cards, organise kit, clothing and your do your personal stuff.
Allow time in the middle of the day to unwind and edit. Those are the times you might need a classroom. Otherwise, don’t expect your attendees to exist on three or four hours sleep a night; the Experience will simply degenerate into a battle between those with the greatest tolerance for sleep deprivation and personal discomfort.
And, when it is time to be in the classroom, let it be indoors. One workshop leader of my experience was so cheap that he held all his meetings, “lectures” and critiques in the local park. Here, in addition to battling the chill and a strong Arizona desert breeze, the class was also outnumbered by winos and stray dogs. Attendees are expected to pay top dollar for their Experience. Please don’t bilk us just to maximise your own returns.
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