Photography Advice

Reasons Why Most Photography Workshops Suck and How To Make Them Great

Sorry, but it needed to be said

I know what you are thinking. Doesn’t Joe teach at photography workshops? Why would he say most photography workshops suck?

Before I tell you why let’s be sure we are on the same page. Just because someone is an excellent photographer doesn’t guarantee an excellent instructor. Sadly, some great photographers also teach workshops half-heartedly to make a buck.

I am talking about photography workshops taught by some of the world’s most famous and talented photographers. I am also referring to photography workshops conducted by the photographer who has only been shooting for two years and thinks they are an expert. 

I am NOT talking trash about the people who teach workshops… well, except for maybe the shooter who has only been at it for two years.

Now you should be asking – How can you say that Photography Workshops suck and claim you aren’t insulting the instructors?

Most Photography Workshops SUCK Because…

People (photographers) pay lots of money to go to photography workshops with the wrong expectations. Many don’t follow through by practicing what they learn after the workshop!

Now before I go any further, some of you are defensively going to say, “I know they are expensive, but I figure if I learn one little tidbit, it was time well spent.” 

That defense talks about time spent – usually a few hours or maybe a day, and it ignores the money spent – often multiple hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you went to the supermarket to buy apples, you would never agree to pay five dollars for a dozen apples knowing that probably only one or two of them would be edible. So please, don’t kid yourself with the idea that spending a ton of time and money to get to hang out with a bunch of other people with cameras is worth it if all you come away with is one or two great new tips. That is a horrible return on your investment.

It’s no different than high school or college. Teachers teach what they teach, but you won’t learn it unless you are genuinely interested and, more importantly, take the time and effort to put it to use.

Millions of dollars are spent every year by people attending photography workshops to improve their photography knowledge and skills. Yet millions of dollars are wasted every year when these workshops don’t help people improve. So, where is the disconnect?

The disconnect is that people are lazy. They think that if they throw a bunch of money at it and show up for a few hours, they will improve their photography. The problem is that adults are experiential learners. We learn by doing – not listening, not watching, but by doing. 

Regardless of where you learn something – in a workshop for a lot of money or on Youtube for free – if you don’t put it to use, you will not understand it.

Do I Really Need To Take a Photography Workshop?

If you are learning photography and collecting gear on a tight budget, YouTube and Google can be your best teachers. Select ONE YouTube educator, watch their material, and practice it consistently. You will eventually outgrow that instructor, and that is okay. Jumping from one instructor to the next in the early stages of learning will only serve to confuse you by presenting conflicting opinions and techniques.

The best way to use YouTube and Google is not to turn to them for instruction but instead use them for reference. All great photography is the result of problem-solving. Teach yourself how to solve problems through trial and error, and you will become a stronger photographer much faster. Turn to the internet for help, only when you are stuck.  

Practical Tips for Finding the Right Photography Workshop

I have put together some tips to help you choose the best workshops to spend your money on and, more importantly, help you determine if they are worth the time and money you will invest in them.

If you are interested in taking a photography workshop, first things first: please be honest with yourself about your budget. Spending more doesn’t mean you will learn more

If you have disposable income to spend on workshops, please use your money wisely.

Model posing in front of multiple cameras
Photography by @katy89 via DepositPhotos.com

In my opinion, a workshop with more than ten attendees means you will not get much personal attention, and seminars held in a convention hall with several hundred people are ridiculous. You pay money for a few hours of razzle-dazzle and NO personalized content or hands-on experience.

Whatever you do, PLEASE do NOT attend a workshop with the idea of building your portfolio. That is the WORST idea ever!

At a workshop, you don’t find and prep the models. Plus, you have no control over the clothing, hair, or makeup. More often than not, you have no control over the lighting. When it is your turn to shoot, you are trying to interact with a model while tons of other people are hanging around watching, talking, or worse yet, telling jokes. All of this distracts your model while you are trying to create an image worthy of being in a portfolio. Not to mention the jackasses who decide to shoot paparazzi-style over your shoulder, which is even more disrespectful to the model. 

If all of that is not a good enough reason, the biggest reason for NOT trying to build your portfolio at a workshop: everyone else there has images that are very similar to yours! Same models, outfits, makeup, backgrounds, and lighting. You will not be able to set yourself apart with these images. A good portfolio should be unique to YOU! 

Do Your Research and Be Sure To Prep Before You Go

Once you find out about a workshop or seminar that interests you, start your research on YouTube. Pretty much anyone in the teaching world is on YouTube in some form or another. Their videos allow you to see if you like their teaching style and determine if you can learn anything from this person.

Next – read the marketing material carefully. Photographers are not automatically good marketers, and frequently, the information you read about photography workshops is vague and poorly written. Ask yourself – first and foremost – what do I want to learn from this photographer? If the workshop outline does not give you a clear sense of confidence that you will learn that to your satisfaction at this workshop, you are a fool if you spend the money.

Email the photographer directly with specific questions about what they will be covering and inquire about how much, if any, one-on-one time you will have with them. Please don’t assume that the instructor will make him or herself available to chat with you. If this person is so busy or famous that they can’t take the time to respond to your email – why would you think they will make time to chat with you at a workshop when there are tons of people fighting for their attention?

A workshop with six models and “lots of opportunities” is NOT the best way to build a portfolio.

After you have decided to attend and paid your money – write a bullet point outline of all the things you want to accomplish at this workshop. Your list should include questions you want to have answered, techniques you want to be sure to learn, etc. 

During the workshop, be sure to ask those questions, and when the instructor teaches the topics you are most interested in, and be sure to ask lots of follow-up questions if you are struggling with the lesson.

Shoot behind-the-scenes photos. You can even use your smartphone to shoot pictures that show the lighting set-ups so that you have a visual reference of how everything was arranged.

If it is a hands-on workshop and you have an opportunity to shoot, don’t shoot the way you always shoot – shoot the way the instructor is encouraging you to shoot. Step out of your box. It’s not about the instructor being better – it’s about you trying new and different things to grow as a photographer. 

Don’t delete those images as soon as you get home. Take the time to review them and ask yourself what you like and don’t like about the techniques you learned. This time spent reviewing and reflecting will make the workshop pay off for you.

And that brings me to my last and most important tip: ALWAYS schedule a shoot to happen within 48 hours of attending a workshop. This should be a photoshoot where you will spend time trying and practicing the techniques you learned at the workshop. 

As I mentioned earlier – adults are experiential learners. Just like watching a YouTube video won’t make you a better photographer, neither will attending a workshop. 

As soon as you get home, pick up that camera and shoot. Fail. Shoot some more, fail some more, and so on.

So, in short, please remember that excellent education requires a great instructor and a great student. Don’t be lazy with your time, money, or photography.

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

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