Discovering A Workshop

Improve your photography in the classroom and in the field

Discovering A WorkshopPhotography is always a work in progress. Whether you’re a serious hobbyist or a working professional, you’re learning new things, from discovering the features of the latest camera to finding another way of looking at light. There’s so much to learn that it seems impossible to absorb all the information out there.

Luckily, photography is best learned by doing, which also makes it the most fun. While books and magazines play a role, there’s no replacement for going out and creating images. That experience can be made all the better when you’re shooting with others. A workshop provides the perfect setting to learn and enjoy photography.

Workshops are an investment in time—time dedicated exclusively to creating and learning to make the best images of which you’re capable. In a world that makes nearly unmerciful demands on your time, a workshop provides a chance to focus entirely on the outdoors and photography.

Day Workshops
Experience and technical knowledge are needed to consistently make superior images. Just as musicians spend hours practicing the fundamentals of their instruments, photographers must be knowledgeable of the tools of their craft: camera, lenses and, most importantly, light.

Short-term workshops, such as those offered by the Nikon School and Olympus School of Digital Photography, often run one day. These intensive sessions can focus not only on fundamentals, but also advanced techniques that serve as an introduction or a refresher course. Even photographers who have been shooting for years can benefit from such programs. “A program that focuses on the fundamentals can help the photographer regroup, shoring up the foundation they’ve built on their own,” says Tim Grey, a writer and workshop leader with the Lepp Institute, which offers a series of workshops in both traditional and digital photography. “Often, it can show the participants better ways to approach the problems they deal with in the field, making them better photographers.”

For example, photographers may have a sense of what depth of field is when they see it. Yet, they can learn how aperture, camera-to-subject distance and focal length impact depth of field and provide greater control. They can then apply this knowledge to their photography. Although such workshops may not offer much actual shooting time, the wealth of new information can take your photography to new levels.

Some programs offer a combination of classroom time and fieldwork. Often held at a specific location, you may spend dawn and dusk taking photographs and then middays attending lectures.

Such programs can emphasize a particular aspect or field of photography: landscape, wildlife, close-up or sports. What excites participants the most during these programs is their ability to immediately put into practice what they’ve learned. Under the guidance of a seasoned photographer, you put your new methods to the test. A morning spent learning fill-flash techniques for macro photography can lead to a couple of hours spent applying these tools in the field in proximity to the lecture space.

shot, they can come to learn things that will impact their photography long after the workshop has ended. Depending on the program, you may have several hours of shooting in the immediate area where the workshop is based. Though this may not allow for extended time at a location, the opportunity to try newly learned techniques can help solidify and reinforce new skills. “Ask yourself what you hope to learn before heading out,” says John Herbst, a workshop leader based in the Midwest. He explains that while photographers often hope to come home with at least one “trophy” “Everyone wants to go to the exotic area, but when you learn things like evaluating light, you’re able to discover remarkable things around you, back home.”

The number of participants in field workshops varies. While you can expect more one-on-one time in a small group, larger groups have their advantages. “There can be such a variance in skill level,” says Don Gale, a photographer who leads landscape workshops throughout the West’s most spectacular locations. “Yet, I often find that there’s a synergistic effect that happens. Those with more experience are very happy to share their knowledge with a novice. In some ways, a workshop can be most beneficial for a novice because of that.”

Ready to plan your next workshop destination?
Click here for a list of experienced workshop providers and tour operators.

Extended Programs
Some workshops put less emphasis on lecture and more on being in the field. From sunrise to sunset, the majority of your time can be spent photographing and moving from one picturesque location to another. A small group of photographers is led by the instructor and possibly some assistants. Although open to all experience levels, intermediate to advanced photographers prefer these programs, as they ensure that shooters will be arriving at a location with a greater chance of getting quality images.” I take my students to locations where I have already been, locations that are so special that you just have to go back,” says Rick Hobbs, who leads workshops on wildlife photography. An instructor’s familiarity with a location allows him or her to provide essential information beyond camera settings. The background research has been done already, leaving the student more time and energy devoted to shooting. “Some of the locations are pretty remote, so it pays to have someone who knows the area and the subject.”

Some of these programs, which can last from a weekend to an entire week, can be very demanding, as participants will often arrive at a location well before the sun has risen to take advantage of the morning light. After a noon break for a meal or discussion, it’s off to shoot again during the late afternoon and early evening. This can be an exciting time because you rarely have the opportunity to dedicate such time to your craft.

It’s important to make sure that you have more than enough film, battery power and memory cards. Since you may be in a location that doesn’t offer a convenient power outlet for recharging your camera battery or laptop, it’s better to overestimate your needs so you don’t end up missing a timely shot.

You also should determine what physical demands are required. If you require special assistance or medication, discuss this with the instructor well before you arrive at your destination. “Be realistic about what you can do,” says Joe Englander, an instructor who leads workshops and tours in the U.S. and abroad. He provides students with an itinerary before the trip so they can be aware of what to expect.”Some locations may require you to be out all day, so in my itinerary, I break down what they may need, like clothing, shoes and sunscreen,” says Englander.

Available in practically any location worldwide, photo tours promise to combine a great vacation with the best photo opportunities. Rather than being relegated to typical tourist stops, you have the chance to photograph some of the more interesting and photogenic locations available.

Many tours are all-inclusive, so lodging, food and translation are handled for you, giving you the leisure of focusing more on photography than the details of moving about a foreign country.

Digital And Film
As digital cameras become more affordable, an increasing number of photographers are using the new technology for image-making. Workshops held at a dedicated site may offer workstations to download and edit images, while programs spent predominantly in the field may require that you bring your own laptop. While workshops may be dedicated to learning image editing with programs such as Photoshop, most can accommodate both film and digital shooters. While digital creates new technical issues to consider, it’s simply another tool toward creating a strong and successful image.
It’s still about the photography,” says Hobbs. “As a teacher, it’s about sharing my creativity and creating photographic opportunities for my students.”

Workshop Gear…
To make the most of your photo excursion
By Ibarionex R. Perello

You signed up for a workshop and you’re just itching to get out, learn and create beautiful photographs. You’re eager to be surrounded by others who share a passion for photography and to be inspired by stunning and exceptional images. Before you step out of the house, make sure you have everything you need to make the most of your adventure.

The most important items you can take with you are likely the least expensive part of your inventory: a pen and a small notebook. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people arrive ready to absorb a wealth of knowledge, but have nothing with which to jot it down. We recommend that you bring a notebook that’s small enough to fit in your camera bag. Having such notes available is helpful when you return to photographing back home.

Cameras And Lenses
You certainly can take every piece of photo gear you own, but that may not be necessary. Most instructors provide an itinerary and a list of recommendations for their programs, which you should consider. Make sure to clean and thoroughly test your equipment before you pack. This is especially important if you’ve just made a new purchase. A problem camera or lens can prove disastrous. “Include a lens shade with all your lenses,” says photographer Don Gale. He sees many photographers with high-quality and expensive lenses without this accessory, and it’s too easy for flare to adversely impact color and contrast.”It will help prevent any stray light from ruining your images.”

Take along more than one camera bag. Include a compact bag that will accommodate a smaller selection of gear. Although you may arrive with your entire inventory, on some days you may choose to venture out with only a single camera body and lens. A smaller bag will eliminate the need to carry a heavy pack with gear that you have no intention of using.

Bring more batteries, film and memory cards than you expect to you use on a trip; it’s always best to overestimate. Having to find and purchase such items once you’ve arrived at your destination can be problematic or expensive, or both.

Proper clothing is a must. You won’t be thinking of taking great images if you’re freezing from cold or sweating from heat. Clothing appropriate to the climate and terrain is required in order to make your time in the field both safe and comfortable. Again, your workshop leader can recommend types of clothing that you should bring along. “You should dress in layers,” says Rick Hobbs, who explains that photographers should anticipate changes in temperature and climate during the course of a shooting day. While it may be cool in the mornings, it will become warmer, especially after the photographer exerts himself. “For those cold mornings, having several chemical heat packs in your coat pockets is good for keeping your hands warm.”

Regardless of where or when you’re traveling, comfortable foot gear is essential. Invest in
a good pair of hiking shoes.”There’s nothing that will ruin a trip faster than bad choice in shoes,” says John Herbst. “If your feet are uncomfortable, you’re dead in the water.”

A variety of shoes are made of natural and synthetic materials that promote comfort, breathability and water resistance. As you’ll be spending a lot of time on your feet carrying pounds of camera gear, keeping your dogs happy is of the utmost importance.

When it comes to socks, invest in wool or synthetic socks. Cotton socks should be avoided since they absorb moisture and put you at great risk of chafing and irritation. Wool and synthetic socks wick moisture away from your feet and ensure comfort.

Herbst also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Whether it’s summer or winter, continued exposure to the sun can be harmful. A wide-brimmed hat helps protect your
eyes and skin from harmful UV radiation.

Small Items
Small items to stow in your camera bag include sunscreen, nutrition bars, a compact field knife and a small first-aid kit. If you require special medication, make sure to include it in your camera bag. Pills can be safely and conveniently stored in film canisters.

Taking the time to care for all of your needs will allow you to make the most of your workshop experience.


With sales of digital SLRs now reaching 50 percent of all SLR sales and climbing rapidly, we’ve truly entered the digital age for photographers. What does this mean to anyone interested in attending a photo workshop?

First, it doesn’t mean you have to shoot digital. Most workshops and tours welcome all types of photographers, and some still emphasize film. Workshops are about learning to be a better photographer, no matter what level of photographer you are or what kind of technology you use.

It’s true that digital technologies allow for new learning possibilities, however. For example, many instructors are finding that digital projectors offer new ways of presenting material. A photographer can quickly add images to instructional slideshows that feature the location the group is visiting.

The fully integrated digital experience in a workshop or tour takes learning to a whole new level. When most students are shooting with digital cameras, some interesting opportunities arise:
•Students see each other’s work in the field, even while shooting the scene. You can expect lively interaction with the photography, students and subjects that simply isn’t possible with film.
•Images can be seen in any location (provided you have fully charged batteries) because no lab is needed for processing.
•Instructors can see and comment on technique while the subject is still in front of the camera. They can see students’ exposure or composition problems, then quickly view their next photo to gauge improvement.
•Lightweight laptops allow photographers to immediately download images so more people can see the shots, enlarged, while still photographing. The potential for discussion and critique on the spot is endless.
•Photos can be projected with a digital projector when the group returns to a meeting place with available electricity.
•Groups of images can be seen from all photographers. With software, the class can see an entire morning’s shoot. Small thumbnails reveal trends, and dynamic photos jump out at the group. Individual shots can be enlarged as needed.
•Photos can be shared. Shots from the whole group can be pooled and burned to a CD so the learning experience can be continued back at home.

Another type of digital workshop integrates computer training on Photoshop or other image-processing programs. This intensive instruction can be a valuable way of learning to deal with images in the computer. However, these workshops should get you on the field shooting, at least part of the time, to synthesize the photography with the digital.

A real danger comes from a workshop that stays totally tied to the computer. It’s too easy to lose sight of the real goal of a digital workshop—to become a better photographer. If sitting at the computer is essential to a particular class, great! But you need some time integrating photographic and digital thoughts, which can only come if you get outside and photograph.

There are also field classes where you can learn digital-processing tools and be in a wonderful photographic setting not tied to a workshop facility. The downside is that you aren’t going to have much hands-on experience, since supplying computers for everyone usually isn’t possible. On the other hand, you’ll gain knowledge about working on photos in the computer while experiencing both mediums—the camera and the computer—at the same time. These workshops are a bridge between the photography and computer classes.

Don’t be afraid of seeing varied approaches to the digital arena. There’s a joke about Photoshop teachers: How many Photoshop gurus does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, plus a hundred more to tell the first another way to do it. You may find it interesting and intellectually stimulating to take courses from different photographers working in digital. Take what works for you from all of them, ignore the contradictions and have fun.

That’s the bottom line: Keep an open mind and learn from the instructor, the setting, the students and the experience. Come with an expectation of gaining something new and helpful for your photography, and you’re sure to be satisfied.