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During the final week of August, I attended a very productive photographic workshop in northern Arizona.  Workshops and photo tours can be a great experience for photographers of varying levels of experience, but it’s important to do your homework to make sure the workshop—and its instructor—fit your goals and personality.

I have not been a big workshop guy, historically, having only attended four over the course of the past nine years.  There have been two principal issues that have led me to shy away from workshops.  One has been my concern about a “lowest common denominator” factor.  If, for instance, the workshop catered to individuals who were relatively immobile, or had little stamina for long days in the field it would limit photo opportunities—something I really dislike.  My other concern is that I have traditionally done my best shooting when I’m by myself and, by definition, workshops mean multiple participants.

Now, these are my concerns, they aren’t necessarily the issues of others, nor should they be.  But what I’ve found is that my worries about these matters can, in the right set of circumstances, be addressed.  And, what’s more, there are potential advantages, even to a photographer like myself, from participating in the right workshop.

My primary interest in a workshop is being introduced to new locations.  An experienced workshop leader knows where to go—and when—to obtain the best images at a given location.  Based on careful consideration and information gathering, I’ve been able to identify workshops that have been well-suited to my desires and I haven’t regretted signing up for any of the workshops I’ve attended over the years.  (I plucked out an image from each of the four workshops I’ve participated in to accompany this post.)

Here are some things to think about when considering a photo workshop.

  1. Make sure that the focal point of the workshop is in line with your goals.  It may seem trite, but if your interest is shooting landscapes, for instance, be sure that’s what the workshop’s emphasis is.  If you’re looking for classroom instruction, be sure that’s on the docket.  Different workshops run by different instructors often have very different agendas.  Make sure the one you select fits your goals.
  1. Be sure that the workshop fits in with your level of photographic experience.  If you’re a relatively inexperienced photographer, for example, and are interested in a degree of in-field instruction, best to look for a workshop that boasts a low participant-to-instructor ratio and emphasizes teaching.  If you’re a true novice and want some real handholding, you might want to look into a one-on-one arrangement.  If you’re like me, and your primary interest is in being taken to the right places at the right times in an unfamiliar location, you’ll want to find an offering that maximizes time in the field at specifically desired spots.

  1. Obtain insight into the workshop instructor to increase the likelihood of symbiosis.  There are plenty of resources online to obtain feedback about the wide variety of workshop instructors out there in terms of their personalities, proclivities for running a workshop and points of emphasis.  Some instructors are considered particularly good teachers; some are especially knowledgeable about locations and or different subjects; some are very high energy individuals who can be especially inspiring.  (Some are a combination of all of the above.)  Some workshop leaders shoot alongside participants in the field regularly; others do so rarely or never.  There can be advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, depending on what you’re looking for.  Consider these tendencies in terms of what you’re searching for in a workshop.
  1. Cost.  It probably goes without saying but be sure the overall cost of the workshop is within your budget.  Also be certain you fully understand what is—and is not—included in the cost.  My recent Arizona workshop seemed quite pricey until it was clear that lodging and the cost of an experienced guide for one full day of shooting was included in the price.  Suddenly things seemed a lot more reasonable.

Also keep in mind that if you sign up for a workshop led by a “big name” in the photography world you will almost certainly pay a significant premium.  Some of these individuals are excellent teachers and may be worth the additional cost.  Others…not so much.  Again, with a little bit of resourcefulness you can fairly easily determine who’s who.  You may also be able to discover less known—and less expensive—leaders who are every bit as good as, if not better than, the big names.

Do your due diligence and you’re much more likely to get what you’re looking for from a workshop.  The appropriate selection may turn out to be one of the best investments you’ll ever make in your quest to grow as a photographer.  The wrong choice may end up feeling like nothing more than a huge waste of money.  Be informed and choose wisely.

Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday.  To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog:  Lightscapes Nature Photography.