How to Get the Most Out of Your Next Workshop


     Photography Workshops can be a big investment of both time and money, which may sometimes feel daunting. However, there are several simple things you can do, before and during your next workshop–should you decide to take one–that will help you to get the biggest possible return on your investment. Besides the obvious importance of choosing an experienced instructor and a location you are personally drawn to, these are some other things that will help you to get the most out of your next workshop as possible.

"Golden Dawn"

Ask A Lot of (Good) Questions

     One of the things us instructors wish our students would do more is ask questions. When you hire an instructor, or go on a group workshop, you have access to a whole wealth of knowledge for several days. While your instructor will try to share as much as possible with you, you can attain even more knowledge, perfectly worded and tailored for you, by asking them specific questions. I love when my students constantly ask me questions throughout the day, because many times they struggle with things that I can’t notice, especially when I am working with a group of several clients. My enjoyment of leading workshops comes from educating students that are eager to learn, and questions really help me to share more techniques. As an instructor, when I only have a few days with a student, it’s really difficult to gauge their level of expertise and knowledge right away, and sometimes it can feel like I am shooting in the dark. Questions make that process much quicker and help avoid wasting time explaining things you already know and cause the teaching to become much more effective and direct.

     Asking lots of questions is super important for the student and also what any passionate instructor prefers. The more precise you can make your questions, the more precisely they can be answered. The better your questions are, the more of your instructor’s knowledge you can attain during your time together. Some good questions to ask your instructor on your next workshop would be:

- What is your process of composing a scene?

- What kind of things do you look for in objects to photograph?

- What flaws do you see most beginners making?

- What mistakes did you make when starting out?

"Indian Summer"

Familiarize Yourself With Your Camera

     One of the most disappointing things I see as an instructor is when I have a student that invests all of this time and money to come on a workshop, then they show up unprepared. I genuinely enjoy teaching, and that’s what makes workshops worth doing for me. However, I enjoy teaching more theory, like composition, lighting, finding your personal vision, and having an artistic eye opposed to things like camera settings, manual focusing, and using a histogram. Learning technical things like these don’t require an experienced instructor, rather they can all be learned by reading your camera’s instruction manual, watching YouTube tutorials, and by putting in some time to play around with your gear and become proficient in changing the various settings and knowing where all the buttons are for each function you will most likely be using in the field.

     Coming prepared by knowing how to shoot in manual mode and adjust your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, will allow your instructor to focus more on the deeper aspects of photography that you can’t learn on your own by reading a manual. Take some time to be able to adjust your settings quickly, without having to waste time in the field scrolling through menus and browsing for functions. It’s always a shame when a student misses out on fleeting, dramatic light because they couldn’t dial in the correct settings in time to expose their shot in the crucial moment.


Simplify Your Gear

     A pet peeve of mine is when a student shows up with a huge camera bag containing even more lenses, filters, and spare camera bodies than my own. With so many options and such a cluttered bag, it’s hard to make quick decisions and time gets wasted looking for equipment, finding and switching to the right lens, and trying to use filters. Having a ton of stuff in your bag is going to cause you a lot more weight and unnecessary stress. For example, in my every day bag, I like to limit myself to just two lenses, my wide angle (16-35mm), and my telephoto (70-300mm), and I usually shoot all of my work on my telephoto. If I need to go wider, I can scoot back, if I need to go in closer, I can move forward or crop-in later on in post. Keeping it simple allows me to make quicker decisions and focus more on what I am shooting and getting it in the best light rather than waste time switching lenses and mounting plates around.

     If you are familiar with the photography of the instructor you are hiring, then you should have an idea of what kinds of lenses you will need. Having the right lenses is most important. Don’t show up with only a wide lense for a workshop with an instructor whose gallery is mostly created with a telephoto. If you enjoy their macro photography, then make sure you bring a macro lens–one that you have already used and tested in the field. If they tend to shoot more wide scenes, then make sure you have a good wide angle. Prime lenses are nice but zoom lenses will help you avoid having to change lenses all the time and carrying more gear. Buy spare mounting plates that you can have already attached to your telephoto lenses as well to avoid one more step and be able to switch lenses more readily.

     Another huge time waster is a crusty, crappy, floppy tripod. It’s so painful to watch a student struggle and wrestle with their tripod legs, clamps, and ballhead while epic light is slowly fading away in front of them. Investing in a good, reliable tripod that operates simply and smoothly is a great idea and will pay itself off tenfold. Being able to set up your shot quicker means you are less likely to miss out on great lighting opportunities and also be free to shoot more scenes. Having to struggle with your gear is a distraction, and can cause you to disconnect from the landscape or even feel lazy about trying to shoot scenes. Even a small inconvenience like that can be a huge killer of creativity and waste your precious time with your instructor.

"Southern Lord"

Always Keep Your Gear On You

     As I just mentioned, it’s important that you simplify your gear, mainly so that it isn’t cumbersome to carry around with you. While you are out in the field, the possibilities are endless, and amazing light or atmosphere can emerge out of nowhere, or you may find a scene that requires a different lens than the one you already have attached. In order to not miss out on any opportunities that arise, it is paramount that you have all of your equipment readily accessible at all times.

     On several workshops that I have led, I’ve been out with clients while we have found a cool intimate scene that required a telephoto lens, but they left their telephoto lens behind thinking we were going to be only shooting wide scenes that morning. Other times we have been shooting awesome light and then out of nowhere their SD card filled up, or their batteries died, but they didn’t have a spare SD card or battery on hand, since they left their stuff behind to not have to carry so much weight (another reason to keep your bag light). Don’t ever leave anything behind when you go shoot. You never know when you may need a lens cloth, a different focal length, a blower, etc. even if the plans you have don’t seem to call for it.

"Canyon In The Clouds"

Understand The Roles That Time and Luck Play

     Since most people can’t take more than a week off from their day job, photography workshops usually have a pretty jam packed schedule of shooting locations, in order to try and maximize on time. I would recommend doing several, multi day photography trips on your own before taking a workshop, that way you can get an idea of how often good light actually happens, and what a photographer’s shooting schedule usually looks like. Even though your instructor is probably taking you to a different spot each day to shoot, don’t expect to get great light every single time. Understand that professional photographers, like your instructor, wait around for days, and even weeks, in order to get the perfect lighting for many of the scenes in their portfolios and they didn’t just shoot all of their photos of a certain location over one weekend-long trip.

     Going out for 5-10 days and getting a stunning sunrise/sunset image every single day is not normal, nor should it be expected. Realize that a workshop is first and foremost a learning experience and it’s not necessarily about being taken around and getting perfect images. Shooting with your instructor each day allows them to show you in-the-field, real life examples of spotting unique subjects, capturing light, and organizing scenes. A workshop is more about teaching someone how to fish, not just catching awesome fish for them, so that after the workshop, they will know how to catch fish on their own and feed themselves without additional help. Of course some good images are likely to happen as a result of being in great locations with an experienced instructor, but realize that they are not the top priority nor should they be demanded. Paying an experienced photographer to just take you around to get trophy shots is a waste of time and money.


     In the end, only you know what it is you hope to get out of your next photography workshop. Maybe you just want a guide, or maybe you truly want to learn how to bring your images to the next level. Having this clear and preparing yourself beforehand to be able to receive as much information as possible will get you the most for your money.

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