There are quite a few photography workshops out there and it can be a challenge sorting through them all to find the one that is right for you! Photography workshops are an investment of your time, money and energy, so a little bit of research before making your choice can go far. I often see lots of money spent on photography equipment in an effort to improve photography skills. For better results, take that same amount of money, invest it in a photography workshop and learn how to use the equipment you have. But first you need to choose the right workshop for your interest, needs and experience. Here are a few things to consider:
Cancelation Policy - Plans can change. Life happens. If your plans change, will you get a refund? Does the photography workshop offer a full refund if they can rebook your space? Photography workshops can't make money if last minute cancelations and refunds leave open spaces that could have been filled, but if the company can rebook the space, that should be a win-win.
Experience + Local Knowledge - Get to know the instructor. In today's era of social media, there should be an abundance of online information about the instructor detailing their experience and knowledge of the workshop locations. How long have they been teaching? Having an instructor who knows the best angles and lighting at a location is one of the key benefits of a photography workshop. Your instructor should be thoroughly familiar with the location and have insight to where the best shots are and when to get them.
Photo Examples - What kind of images should you expect to take? I'm often surprised by the limited number of photos shown on a photography workshop website. It's photography you want to learn after all, so it helps to see plenty of images! Do you like the style of images shown? Are the images shot under different conditions? What can you expect on a cloudy, rainy or sunny day?
Reviews - Personally, I read the reviews on everything nowadays and a photography workshop would be no different. You don't have to agree with each individual's opinion, but you can pick up on a trend in the reviews. If everyone is saying they went to nice places, but didn't learn much and you are hoping to pick up some new skills, this might not be the workshop for you.
Time of Year and Time of Day - Photography workshops should be taking advantage of great light, so it would make sense that most would be scheduled at sunset or sunrise. Sunrise might not be everyone's favorite time of day, but for the best images this is the time to be out there. Also, different times of year can lead to different seasonal occurrences. There could be weather, tides, moon phases and an increase in tourism to consider. Is the workshop scheduled at a time of year that will set you up with the best chance of taking great images?
Syllabus - What do you want to learn? What are your photography interests and goals? A workshop should have a syllabus detailing techniques, tips and lessons you will be reviewing. Does it align with your photographic aspirations? Some workshops focus more on shooting, some on post production. Are you hoping to improve your composition skills, capturing a moment, dealing with high contrast situations or recognizing good light? The syllabus will help you narrow in on the focus of the workshop.
Requirements - Some workshops can be very physically demanding. Others are aimed at those with a higher photographic skill set. When selecting a photo workshop, you should review the skill, gear and physical requirements to be sure they line up with your abilities.
Group Size - Individual attention is significant during a photo workshop. Everyone has different equipment and different goals. There needs to be enough time for the instructor to visit each person in a workshop multiple times on each outing. Keeping the class size small will allow for the instructor to address your unique concerns.
Workshop or Guided Tour - A workshop is not the same as a guided tour. A workshop is a learning experience. A guided tour may just involve the leader bringing you to places of interest without any direction. You'll need to decide whether you are interested in gaining photographic knowledge or just want to be taken to the local hotspots.
What's Included - Does the workshop include accommodations, transportation, food and admission fees? If you are wanting all the details taken care of for you, an all inclusive workshop may be what you need. These tend to be higher in cost to cover the overhead. Workshops that don't include accommodations and other additional costs could potentially allow you to save money by selecting less expensive lodging, staying with a friend, camping, etc. Also, it can allow you some extra time to go to your hotel or drive in your car and recharge.
Preparation Material - Is anything provided ahead of time to help prepare you for optimal time in the field? I like to send my clients example images of each location for inspiration and suggested camera settings before the workshop. This allows them to have a more concise plan of action going into the workshop. Lighting can change quickly at sunrise and sunset. It helps to have a plan in place before you arrive.
Will the Instructor Be Shooting - Honestly, I don't see how it is possible to shoot and teach a group of people effectively at the same time. If it's a one-on-one workshop, I actually find it helpful for the instructor to shoot. You can be side by side and learn from what the instructor is capturing. When there is a group, I believe the instructor's time is best spent going to each participant and addressing their individual needs.
Follow Up - What happens at the end of the workshop? Is there an opportunity for the instructor to review your images and give feedback? Feedback, both positive and critical, can help us grow and improve our skills. No photographer is ever done learning!
~ Jennifer Costello