This guest post is by photographer Martha Villada, who is also a long time student and friend. She shares some questions and answers you might have about photography workshops. Thanks Martha!
Are you wondering if a photography workshop is really worth the money?
A better question might be, “what are my goals for taking a photography workshop?” As there are so many to choose from, finding the right one for you can be overwhelming. One thing I have learned was to figure out my learning objectives then look for the workshop that best aligned with my criteria.
Research the photographer(s) leading the workshop
My introduction to my now mentor, Robert Rodriguez, Jr. (RRJ) was through a B&H video about the art and craft of photography. The narrative of his own journey and the information he shared energized my aspirations to learn more about photography. It was also the delivery and content of his presentation that spoke to me. After more research, I bought his e-book and in 2015 took the plunge into my first workshop with Robert in Maine.
I think it is important to have a connection with the photographer. By that I mean, you like the photographic work, you understand the teaching style, you relate to the instruction and premise of their photography principles. If they are generous and attentive with their online instruction, then you can feel comfortable that they will be that way in their workshop.
Subsequently, I have returned to Maine and have gone to two workshops in Moab, Utah with Robert. In addition, I participated in his intensive mentorship program. So, by researching information on landscape photography, I found a great video presentation, an excellent workshop(s), and an incredible mentor.
Size can matter
The number of participants in a workshop can be a significant factor. In smaller groups, the experience is more intimate and allows for more individualized attention. I have seen “small groups” announced with a maximum number of participants in a range of 6-15 people. As a note, the risk with smaller groups is that the dynamics of the group may not always click and if you are on a 4-7 day workshop, that could be something to consider.
(RRjr- I would add that this emphasizes the importance of the instructor’s philosophical approach as well as his reputation. The stronger these are to your own preferences, the more likely a workshop is to attract like minded people, greatly reducing the possibility of incompatible group dynamics.)
Larger groups can be interesting as well, as in conference workshops. In this setting, the workshops are more “presentation” style. There tends to be a variety of different photographers (landscape, portrait, street, etc.) to learn from and meet in person. Field work is limited here but there could be photo-walks that are offered.
An advantage to larger groups is the possibility of meeting a variety of like minded people which can then lead to great networking opportunities.
There are advantages and disadvantages to either when it comes to workshops.
“Walking a mile or more…” Yes, terrain matters.
Being in the high desert and going out before dawn to capture a beautiful sunrise sounds wonderful, but hiking out in the dark at 4:30 – 5 o’clock in the morning and carrying a load of camera gear can be challenging. Going back out in the afternoon is ok, but when it gets dark the return hike might turn into yet another challenge.
Even in a city workshop, there can be miles of walking involved. Knowing your limitations are important not only for you, but for the group dynamics as well. Something else to consider is your own medical health. If in doubt discuss with your doctor to see if you are fit enough to participate fully.
What kind of opportunities and instruction will be offered during the workshop?
For me, I enjoy didactics, practice, and critiques of my work (gulp) and I look for that in a workshop description. Will the instructor be in the field the whole time to answer questions and guide you or will you be left on your own to practice what you learned in class and then reconvene later in the day.
Knowing what teaching and learning styles work best for you is essential to know before you sign up.
Read the reviews/FAQs but most importantly email your questions to the instructor
Reading the reviews can give you an idea of how the workshop is run and what kind of opportunities you will have to learn and practice. How do participants describe their experience? Email the organizer or the host of the workshop and get your specific questions answered.
Ask if you can contact previous participants who might have had similar questions or trepidations to yours.
Details, Details &, Details
Read the fine print about dates ( European vs. US date format), rental equipment (if the location is remote), travel/transportation, lodging, payment (USD vs. Euros), cancellation policy, physical requirements for the workshop, what is included and excluded in the cost of the workshop.
If you have any restrictions or special accommodations then ask in advance but never assume the host will know about your particular needs. If you have more specific questions find out before you sign up!
Hope that this was helpful…if you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask!