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There is a modern day aphorism: Those that can – do. Those that can’t – teach. I believe, however, the later part of the phrase should be amended to read “Those who can’t – shouldn’t.”
A majority of photographers working today as professionals ply their trade in the commercial, wedding and portrait disciplines. There are also countless photographers who have historically made images of landscape and nature pictures – the kind of stuff we all love to do. These image makers would typically place their material with a stock photo agency to license their work on their behalf. Unfortunately this business model has been collapsing over the past five, or so, years and will likely continue.
The by-product of this collapse in landscape and nature picture sales has translated to a deluge of photography workshops, tours and seminars. Many of these instructor-photographers bring impeccable skills and talents to the table; unfortunately an even greater number bring little more than platitudes and promises.
The novice photographer will have to do some research to learn what firm offers something worthy of your hard earned cash. You will have to sift through a lot of chafe to find the nice gems, fortunately they do exist.
Is the intensity of a workshop what you seek, or perhaps the enjoyment of a tour or the diversity of a seminar? Hopefully this little primer will help steer you in the right direction by explaining the differences and offering some suggestions to ensure you get the right fit for what you are seeking, and at the right skill level.
A workshop is first and foremost a teaching venue. It will in all likelihood be based from a single location where you will eat, live and breathe photography. A secondary consideration is the actual location, the physical presence to facilitate the theme of the workshop.
The better workshops usually come with a systematic structure: early morning shoot, late morning lecture, early afternoon lecture or critique session and late evening shoot. The shooting sessions will usually always concentrate on the topic presented at the day’s lecture session(s). By the end of the workshop you should have received sufficient lectures, personal evaluation of your efforts, and an overdose of encouragement to meet the objectives outlined. The course syllabus should be available for your study in advance of enrolment.
Before you do enrol, research to see who the lead instructor will be as well as the supporting teachers, and whether that lead is on site or just loaning their name. Does that leader come with a pedigree that includes accomplishment in their chosen field through innovative techniques, or writing of their findings in books or magazine articles? Are they continuously exploring their own vision, and what is their reputation from previous students? Contact those testimonial writers personally – they could be just friends of the workshop leader.
One of the very first clues you might have whether the workshop is for you is by asking the question: “Will the instructor be making photographs during the workshop?” If the answer is yes, you might want to consider moving to another workshop that interests you. The logic being, how is it possible for the instructor to teach and offer guidance if they are concentrating on looking through their own viewfinder? You, the student, should have their attention; the instructor can take pictures on their time – you have already bought and paid for that time.
Most importantly, is the lead instructor an instructor or a teacher? As ridiculous as this might sound, almost anyone can stand in front of a small audience and regurgitate from a prepared lesson plan. A teacher, on the other hand, has that inner quality of being able to instil a desire to learn, of generating an excitement enabling students to be part of a process, promoting confidence and self-esteem all while offering constructive criticism without the student ever knowing. A teacher has a true passion in their chosen art, the art of sharing. Their enthusiasm is contagious.
Next up: What is the photo tour?