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Photo workshops can be a productive way to learn more about photography. They offer an opportunity to try new things, gain the expertise of an experienced instructor and share ideas with students who have similar backgrounds and interests. There’s a wide variety of workshops available, and it can be challenging to know exactly which workshop to take and what you can expect from the workshop. So it’s important to take a look at what you need from the experience and how you can get the most from it.
What Are You Looking For?
Outdoor photographers enjoy photography and, sooner or later, believe that a workshop can help them get even more enjoyment from taking pictures. While that’s exactly what happens most of the time, there’s no question that the right workshop for one photographer can be the wrong one for another. Before you sign up for a particular workshop, think about why you want to take it. Here are some possibilities:
• For the location
• For the instructor
• For the topic
• To build knowledge in a specific area
• To connect with other photographers
• To learn more about your camera
• To learn more about working with images in the computer
These are valid reasons for taking a photo workshop, but to get the most success from the experience, make your choice based on key needs and not on trying to get everything. If you expect a workshop to be great because of the location and the topic and the instructor and more, you may be disappointed because it’s difficult to have one workshop do all of these things well.
Bottom line: Find a workshop that fits your specific needs, but prioritize your needs so you can choose the one most likely to meet your expectations. It might be fun to have a workshop with a famous photographer, but if the location or the topic is unappealing to you, you won’t enjoy the experience.
Bill Fortney, founder of the Great American Photography Workshops (www.gaphotoworks.com), says a workshop should have three key components: fieldwork with a caring and dedicated teacher, critiques of your work and instructional lectures to help you become a better photographer.
Jim Clark (www.jimclarkphotography.com) works with many different workshop organizations, and he likes a workshop where the leader is a naturalist who’s well versed in the area, in addition to being a photography expert. Clark suggests locations where participants have time to simply enjoy the environment beyond taking pictures and where the leader is excited and passionate about the area.
Kerry Drager (www.betterphoto.com) is the point person for BetterPhoto.com and suggests that you should look at course descriptions carefully in order to be sure you have the skills and knowledge to take full advantage of the instruction. If you aren’t sure, check with the instructor or the workshop program. For example, it can be especially frustrating to discover that you’ve enrolled in a program for computer neophytes if you’re an advanced Photoshop user.
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Length Of Workshop
You can go to a class or workshop that lasts a day or a weekend, or you can attend one that goes a week or longer in a specific area. Workshops of different lengths will have very different curriculums. Often, short workshops will deal with a specific topic that can be handled in that short time, while a longer workshop will go into more depth. Be wary of short workshops that promise to deliver too much. Even if the workshop is “successful” in presenting a great deal of material, you may find it overwhelming and very tiring.
Be wary of travel workshops that try to pack too many locations into a short time frame. It’s extremely difficult to photograph an area well if you’re spending most of your time traveling from place to place. It also can be frustrating to start relating to a location and then find you have to leave it to go to a new location.
With a longer workshop, you usually get the chance to spend some time at a location and really get to know it photographically. There also are longer workshops that are designed for an in-depth look at a particular topic or work with a specific instructor.
Preparing For Your Workshop
Preparation for a workshop is important to ensure that you can make the most of your experience right from the start. Here are some things to consider, and don’t write any of these off as being too simple because I’ve seen all of these areas as problems in workshops.
1 Know your camera. Don’t buy a camera just before the workshop and expect to learn it while in attendance. Spend time shooting with it so you’re at least comfortable with the basics.
2 Carry enough memory cards. It can be difficult and expensive to run out of memory card space and have to buy cards on location.
3 Carry enough batteries. One camera battery simply isn’t enough. Two batteries should be a minimum, and three is even better.
4 Take the gear most appropriate for the workshop. Usually, you can tell what you’ll need from the topic of the workshop or the location, but you always can query the instructor to see what would be most appropriate.
5 Wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Never buy new ones just before your trip.
6 Be prepared for the weather and changes in weather. Ask the instructor to give you some ideas as to what to wear, and check weather reports to see what’s most likely at your location. If you don’t have the right rain gear or cold-weather gear and you need it, you’ll become frustrated by the experience.
Says Kathy Adams Clark (www.kathyadamsclark.com), “Ask questions before the trip. Don’t assume anything. Ask what footwear and clothing will be needed. You want to be comfortable and well equipped to make the best of the workshop.”
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Maximizing Your Workshop Experience
There’s no question that you’ll get the most from a workshop if you go into it with the right attitude. Expect to learn, and let the leader know your needs before and during the workshop. Adds Adams Clark, “Is there a special shot you want? Do you want to return from the trip with a special skill? Do you have dietary or medical requirements that the leader should know about? Let the leader know your expectations ahead of time.”
Do a little homework before the workshop. Google the area prior to leaving and learn something about it. Go to your library or bookstore and learn more. Says Jim Clark, “If you’re going to a national park or national wildlife refuge, check out their websites to learn about the natural history of the land, to view a map of areas that you’ll visit and to receive updates on what’s happening there. You can also ask about specific locations you’ll be at during the workshop and for a list of optional locations to consider before and after.”
Ask questions. As a workshop leader, I get frustrated when I find out at the end of the class that people had questions that were unanswered because they never asked them. As my wife and I quickly discovered when we first got married, human beings aren’t very good at mind reading. Never be afraid to ask questions. A good workshop leader welcomes questions and wants to help you get answers to them.
Adams Clark agrees, “Engage the leader. You paid for the leader’s time and expertise, so make the most of the experience.”
Drager of BetterPhoto.com says, “Stay close to the workshop leader when you’re out in the field! Keep the instructor within easy access during field sessions, so you can ask questions, and also listen in on discussions between the instructor and other attendees. But for all workshops, ask questions.”
Drager also notes that when your workshop includes critiques, you can learn a lot from critiques of others’ work. “The natural tendency is to think only in terms of your own images,” he says. “You can often learn as much from the leader’s critiques of your classmates’ work as you can from feedback on your own.”
Finally, remember that a workshop is your time with photography and away from the stresses of everyday life. Says Fortney, “Come ready to learn, relax and have fun. Take a vacation from the responsibilities of home and work, so that you can soak in all the efforts to help you learn during the workshop.”
|Travel & Workshop Outfitters|
www.advenphoto.comAlaskan & Tuscany Photo Adventures
Bob Denny Photography
Charles Needle Photography
Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris
Chuck Haney Photography
Don Smith Photography
Gary Hart Photography
Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
|Jim Cline Photo Tours
www.JimCline.com Jon Sheppard Photography
Mountain High Workshops
Mountain Light Photography
Mountain Trail Photo Workshops
Mt. Rainier Institute of Photography
Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge
Phil Hawkins Photography
Photographer’s Alliance Workshops
Photography Workshops with Don Gale
|Rocky Mountain National Park Scenic and Wildlife Photo Workshop
www.rmowp.org/workshop/index.php Rocky Mountain School of Photography
Strabo Photo Tour Collection
The Barefoot Contessa
The Wildlife Photography Academy
Valdez Convention & Visitors Bureau
Wild India LLC