Monday, June 30, 2014

Pro-Tip #18: Selecting a Photo Workshop

Santa Monica Mountains High Tide & Sea Stacks Workshop, © Greg Clure
 Just because a photographer can take awesome photos does not mean he/she will be an awesome instructor. What the photos do tell you is the kinds of subjects you'll be shooting and the style in which they are captured.  So if you like the style and subject matter of a particular workshop photographer than you will likely be happy with your workshop leader.  Hopefully, this leader has had some formal photography education in the past and is not one of the many self-taught gurus just gunning for your wallet.  Easy enough to check into, if this information is not already prominent on their website, then simply ask them about their credentials. Those with formal photography educations are more likely to be more knowledgeable  instructors and can draw upon that knowledge at any moment during your workshop to solve issues that are sure to come up during most any photo shoot.

Consider the workshop format, typically there are three major types here, 1) Image capture centric, 2) Post-processing centric, and; 3) A combination of both.  If you have assessed your own objectives for taking a workshop than this is generally a straight forward decision.  If you are traveling to a far away location than most likely a image capture centric workshop is best because you could likely find a local post-processing workshop near your home, or purchase classes from one of the many on-line education services such as CreativeLive, KelbyOne, or  Why travel to a far away exotic location to sit in a classroom? Combination workshops are also a good local option if you are looking for help from capture to print, but again; why travel to an exotic location to spend time in a classroom, find one locally and save some money.

How much physical effort will be required? Some workshop may require considerable hiking to shoot locations while others may only require short walks from the parking lot. If you do take a workshop that requires hiking than you should find out the distances involved and determine if that is something you are capable of doing or at least do a little training at home prior to the workshop so you are in-shape for the workshop hikes. You'll enjoy the hikes a lot more if you're prepared and in shape and not struggling to keep up with the pace of the group. Another consideration is the shoot schedule, shooting from before sunrise to well after sunset requires a different physical stamina than one that may fore-go a sunrise shoot or have scheduled breaks.

While every workshop will be different, even those lead by the same instructor, you should expect to learn a few things you didn't know before the workshop even if your objective is just to be in a location at the right time and place, with the right light to increase your odds of capturing stunning images.  While no instructor can control the quality of light provided by mother nature, he/she should know the best times and locations for the area to increase your odds of success. The best workshops time their arrival at the most opportune part of the calendar to coincide with the show mother nature is putting on, for example; spring wildflowers or fall color.  Stay away for ill-timed workshops, for example; a desert workshop in August, the 100+ degree temperatures will not make for an ideal environment for you or your subject matter.  Another example may be a summer workshop in Yosemite, while it may seem an ideal time, this is the time of the year the park receives the bulk of its 6 million annual visitors not to mention many of the waterfalls could have low water flow or even be dried up.

Workshop vary in length and cost and if you are wondering if the $4000 invested in a 10-day sojourn through the American Southwest or $5000 trip to Iceland or $8000 African Safari will be worth the investment you should probably take a shorter trip with the same instructor/workshop company. Chances are if you receive good value for your dollar on a short workshop you'll likely receive a similar value for the longer trips they offer. Some large tour outfitters who employ many workshop leaders may make this impossible, so you are likely better off sticking to a smaller operator with just a one or two workshop leaders. Does the price include lodging, transportation and meals? Most will not include transportation/airfare to and from the workshop location, some or all meals and any souvenirs or incidentals along the way. Don't forget to include those costs into your value assessment.  If the workshop includes lodging, is the style of accommodations they've chosen up to your standards.  In my experience, lodging tastes and budget vary widely, while some prefer to camp in their RVs others want 5-star accommodations or something in between. It may be convenient to have the workshop company select your accommodations but the trade-off may be a room that does not meet your budget and/or expectation.  If that's the case, choose a workshop where you are not obligated to a particular facility but can choose from a number of nearby accommodations.

Finally, does the planned itinerary have a high shoot to travel time ratio.  After all, you are there to capture amazing images and the bulk of your time should be spent shooting pictures not traveling vast distances.  Look for workshops specializing in areas where travel from one shoot location to next is minimal, you also may not want to get up at 3AM to be at your sunrise shoot because of the travel time required or get back after midnight from your sunset shoot leaving you less than a full nights rest. While it is nice to know where you'll be going and what you'll be shooting from day to day you should not be locked-in to a set itinerary, your workshop itinerary should be flexible enough to be rearranged by your instructor to best take advantage of the light and prevailing weather conditions.  Like the rule of thirds, its a good guideline to follow but strict adherence may not always produce the best composition.  You need to recognize when to break this rule to get a better image just like any workshop leader needs to know the better location to take you for the prevailing conditions even if it means not following the itinerary.

The common goal of any workshop attendee is to come home with stunning images, that's a given, but understanding why you got them could be more valuable and can be applied to future outings when there is no instructor. Transferring your workshop leanings to future shoots will be the proof of the value of the photography eduction you received at your workshop. You can direct a persons camera to the perfect composition and have them snap the shutter or you can teach the person what makes up a well composed image so they can find a beautiful photo where ever they may be shooting. Hopefully, you are a better photographer after the workshop and can see the results in your images taken well after the workshop has ended.

I offer a limited number of workshops in the Southern California area and I have recently announced my 2015 workshops dates, get all the details by clicking HERE!


  1. You have done a tremendous job.Thanks for the post.

  2. It was certainly interesting for me to read that article. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.really good job .... Hats off mann
    clipping path