Sorry, but it needed to be said

So why do MOST PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS SUCK? Let’s be sure we are on the same page about three really important points…

  1. I am talking about all kinds of photography workshops – that means the ones that are taught by some of the most famous and talented photographers in the world all the way down to the ones being taught by the guy who has only been shooting for three years and thinks he is an expert.
  2. To be clear, I am NOT trying to insult any photographers… well, except for maybe the guy who has only been shooting for three years.
  3. YES – I teach workshops

Now you should be asking – okay, Joe, how can you say that Photography Workshops suck and yet you aren’t insulting the instructors and you even teach them???

Certainly there are some bad instructors. Just because someone is an excellent photographer that doesn’t guarantee that they are automatically an excellent instructor. And certainly there are some photographers who teach workshops half-heartedly just to make a buck – but these are not the reasons why MOST PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS SUCK.

MOST PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS SUCK because of the people who pay to attend them. YEAH – many of you who are reading this – it’s your fault.

In short – people pay lots of money to go to photography workshops with the wrong expectations and they don’t follow through by practicing what they do learn after the workshop!

Now before I go any further… some of you are defensively gonna to say, “I know they are expensive, but I figure if I learn one little tidbit it was time well spent.” PLEASE don’t be that photographer and don’t use that excuse with me because I am going to point out to you that 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. I will also point out to you that if you went to the supermarket to buy apples – you would never agree to spending five dollars for a dozen apples knowing that probable 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 just 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.

And that sets up my point… photography workshops suck because people go to them with the wrong expectations.

It’s really no different than high school or college. Teachers will teach what they teach but you won’t learn it unless you are truly 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 with the goal of improving 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 get better. The problem is that adults are experiential learners. We learn by doing – not listening, not watching, but by doing. Which means that regardless of where you learn something – in a workshop for a lot of money or on Youtube for free – if you don’t actually put it to use, you aren’t really going to learn it.

What do I suggest?

So I have put together some tips to help you choose the right workshops to spend your money on and, more importantly, to help you make sure they are really worth the time and money that 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 are learning photography and collecting gear on a tight budget, YouTube and Google are your best teachers. Make sure you get lots of practice and save your hard earned money towards your next gear purchase.

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

Avoid large group workshops. In my opinion, a workshop with more than 10 attendees simply means you are not going to get much personal attention, and these workshops that are held in a convention hall with several hundred people are ridiculous. You are paying money for a few hours of razzle dazzle and NO personalized content or hands-on experience.

Whatever you do…. please , please, please do NOT attend a workshop with the idea of building your portfolio. This is the WORST idea ever!!!! When you are shooting at a workshop, you didn’t really do the work of finding and prepping the models, plus you have no control over the clothing the hair the makeup. More often than not you have no control over the lighting and when you are shooting you are trying to interact with a model while tons of other people are hanging around watching, talking, or worse yet telling jokes and distracting your model while you are shooting. Not to mention the jackasses who decide to shoot paparazzi style over your shoulder – which, by the way – is even more disrespectful to the model than it is to the photographer who is shooting at that moment. 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, same outfits, same makeup, same backgrounds, same lighting. You are not going o be able to set yourself apart with these images. Period.

Start your research on YouTube. Pretty much anyone who is anyone in the teaching world is on YouTube in some form or another. This gives you a chance to see if you like their teaching style and determine if you feel you can learn anything from this person.

Next – read the marketing material carefully. Photographers are not automatically good marketers and frequently the information that 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 be able to learn that to your satisfaction at this workshop, then you are a fool if you spend the money.

Better yet – email the photographer directly with specific questions about what they will be covering and also to inquire about how much if any one-on-one time you will have with them. Don’t assume that the instructor is one who will make him or herself available to chat with you, and 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?

Don’t think that a workshop with 6 models and “lots of opportunity” is the 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. This includes questions you want 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 that 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 but shoot photos 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 that you learned. This time spend reviewing and reflecting will really make the workshop pay off for you.

And that brings me to me last and most important tip: ALWAYS schedule a shoot to happen within 48 hours of attending a workshop. A shoot where you are going to spend time trying and practicing the techniques that 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. You need to pick up that camera and shoot. Fail. Shoot some more, fail some more and so on.

Thanks for listening.

As always – I hope you find this useful. You can watch the rest of Episode #75 of TogChat in the video below.

Watch the VIDEO…

Until next time, go pick up that camera and shoot something because your BEST shot!

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