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The lines seem to crossing between the terms workshop and photo tours. When they do participants may be confused or have false expectations. The most common mistake is signing up for a photo tour and expecting a teaching workshop. One reason for this is that there is many tours offered that are incorrectly labeled as workshops.
A workshop is an educational experience to help you improve your craft. A workshop is design to teach you new techniques in the field, teach you new techniques in a studio or teach you post-production and business skills. A photo tour is designed to take you to a great location at the best time of year and get you to the right places for the best light. A photo tour is designed to maximize the photographic opportunities with minimal or casual instruction along the way. Taking a workshop is a great way to prepare for a photo tour and will increase your chances of bringing home extraordinary images.
The best way to avoid being disappointed is to be honest with yourself about what your real goals are and carefully read through the itinerary. Do you want to focus on a something specific, such as lighting, flash, macro, people, etc? Do you want to spend time with a top pro that you admire and do not care so much about the itinerary? Do you want a portfolio review or to learn about a new location? Full details of what is offered in the workshop should be clearly written in the itinerary. If it is not written in the itinerary do not assume it will be offered or taught during the workshop. Participants will all have different goals and reasons for taking a workshop but a good leader will adhere to the itinerary unless unforeseeable circumstances cause changes.
A good workshop leader will keep the group small or have a co-leader. They will offer some one-on-one time with you and review your work so you receive feed back while learning. They will glance over your shoulder to offer suggestions to improve your skills. During a workshop a leader should be teaching you and not shooting unless stated in the itinerary and because it is part of the training.
When deciding on taking a workshop, consider all the variables. Deciding to go with a big name pro generally means they are well qualified to teach but does their style and itinerary fit your needs and is your expectations realistic? Often a student signs up to take a workshop with a top professional photographer with the expectations that it will instantly jumpstart their own photography career. A workshop is a great place to network and establish relationships but do not base your decision to pay the price for a workshop with big name based on what they can do for your career. Go with them because it fits your learning goals.
In this new social media/internet era you have a lot more access to less known professional photographers whose workshop may offer great value and is more inline with your goals. A less known photographer can be just as talented but their workshop maybe 25%-50% less. Many of them will work hard to add value missing from a more known photographer and they usually give more personal attention. Don’t rate a workshop only by a photographer’s status but also by the style of their work. If you are not impressed and inspired by their work it does not make sense to take a workshop with them.
Once you have made your decision on which workshop to take it is good to make contact with the photographer by email or phone. Let them know that you are excited to participate in the workshop and you want to make sure your goals line up with what is being offered. This is a great time to ask questions and inquire about something that is not on the itinerary that you are interested in learning. The photographer should be happy to explore the suitability of his or her workshop with you and lead you in the right direction. On the other hand, if they are not able to offer something that you think is important to have in the workshop, don’t become angry with them. Instead, thank them for their time as you are still building a relationship and contact.
Good luck and remember a workshop should be about improving your skills as a photographer.