This is the age of the ‘yearning for learning’ and photography workshops have never been more popular. From street photography to fashion, landscapes to astrophotography, weddings to boudoir, everyone wants to do a workshop – and there’s no shortage of people wanting to provide them.
Setting yourself up as a workshop provider would seem to be easy: you need to know your subject, be a reasonable communicator and know how to market your services. You build a website and advertise in a few magazines and the customers will come. In other words, the barriers to entry into this growing sector are low which, in in almost every way, is a bad thing.
A simple trawl through Google will uncover dozens of workshop providers, all after your money and promising great things. Some have been around for years and really know their stuff. Others have invested their redundancy payout in setting up as a trainer, with little to back up their claims and promises. And there’s lots in between.
Take street photography, for example. Almost every week I see new people setting out their stall to offer workshops, with no track record in photography education and, to be honest, with not much of a CV as a street photographer either. Perhaps they think that running workshops is a breeze. Maybe they see a quick buck to be made. Some are professional photographers in other genres who are perhaps not good enough to make it pay as a full-time occupation and need something on the side. Some have even been on one of my workshops, thinking to themselves “I can do that”, assuming that it’s easy. It’s not.
Does any of this bother me? No, not really, but I do feel for the poor souls who part with their hard-earned cash for a very superficial learning experience which is never going to upgrade their skills in any meaningful way.
So how do you find the right workshop for you? Will you be wasting your money or investing it wisely in learning new skills and being inspired by a true professional? Here’s a checklist of some of the factors you should consider and questions you should ask to help you make an informed decision . . .
How much ‘me time’ will you get?
This is probably the most important question you should be asking. Workshops are so much more effective and you will learn more if you are part of a small group (a small group in this context means single figures – anything more than that and you could be taking part in a photo walk, not a workshop). A good workshop leader will ensure he/she spends a proportionate amount of time with each participant, with plenty of individual coaching when and where it’s needed.
Can the teacher teach?
Not always! – but the answer to this question really has to be ‘yes’. No matter how good (or famous) they are, a workshop leader who can’t get the messages across in an inspiring and articulate way is next to useless. A good workshop leader will be enthusiastic, inspiring, professional in approach, committed to the genre and, of course, be a good teacher.
Do they specialise?
Whatever you intend to learn, you really should be learning it with a specialist. A business which offers safari shooting in Kenya may not have the expertise to teach people shooting in Manchester. Sure, there are some large training companies out there who use specialist tutors across a range of genres, but take care to ensure that you’re getting the focused expertise you believe you are paying for.
Does the course leader have a track record as a photographer?
Look at their work. Do you like and admire it? Do you aspire to their style or particular range of skills? Have they written any books? Are they published in magazines and journals? Do they operate as a brand ambassador for any of the major manufacturers? Do they exhibit their work? Are they truly a ‘professional’ photographer?
How will the workshop meet your objectives?
Before you start looking at what’s available, work out what you want to achieve. A workshop is an educational exercise and should be well organised, with clearly communicated learning outcomes.
Does the itinerary work for you?
You should have a clear idea of the itinerary before you book. A vague approach to planning the day may mean a vague workshop. And, of course, you need to know what you’re getting before you part with any cash.
Are you dealing with an established business?
A ‘pukka’ business will have a business-like approach with an informative website, a business email address (rather than something like Hotmail), a fair cancellation policy, public liability insurance and a professional manner in dealing with customers. Also, do you like they way the business communicates with you? Is it’s approach articulate, helpful and friendly? The way businesses handle these initial customer interactions is usually an indication of how workshops are run.
Can you read reviews or testimonials from satisfied customers?
Testimonials on review site sites such as TripAdviser tend to be well regulated and therefore fair and accurate. Don’t be afraid to ask for contact details of satisfied customers and beware of a long list of glowing testimonials which are signed-off by the likes of “Dave from London”.
Do they offer a range of workshops?
In the likely event of you being hooked, can you do a follow-up workshop with them, maybe at an intermediate or advanced level? Can you do workshops in different locations and at different times of the year?
Is there any meaningful follow-up from the workshop?
A good workshop provider will follow-up after the workshop with additional information, advice and, ideally, critique. The latter is a crucial part of the learning process and should be a basic component of any workshop. Beware of the business which walks away, never to be heard from again.