What Photography Workshop is Right for You? – by Grant Collier

May 4th, 2011
Photographers shooting canyon

Grant Collier is a lifelong resident of Colorado and is the author of eight photography books, including Colorado’s National Parks & Monuments, Colorado: Moments in Time, and Colorado: Yesterday & Today. He produces a yearly Colorado calendar and his images have been published in magazines throughout the Unites States and Europe. He has also led numerous photography workshops in Colorado and Utah. We are fortunate to have Grant share with us his tips and advice for choosing the right photography instruction for you.

What Photography Workshop is Right for You? – by Grant Collier

If you’re thinking about attending a photography workshop, there are numerous options to choose from.  You may be a little overwhelmed with all the choices, so I’ve provided a few tips on how to sort through these options and find a workshop that is right for you.

The first thing you should decide is whether you want a photography workshop that provides a lot of instruction or a photography tour, where a guide shows you the best places to photograph with minimal or no instruction.  Usually a web site will make it clear whether there will be a lot of instruction or whether it will primarily be a tour, but if you are unsure, be sure to ask.

It is my opinion that, with the wealth of information on the internet and in guidebooks, you generally don’t need a guide or photo tour if you’re willing to do a little research beforehand.  However, there are places that are so remote and little-known that having a good guide can be useful.  Also, there are places where the best photo opportunities may change frequently, and having a local who knows the current conditions can be helpful.  For example, the location of the lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii can change throughout the year and having a guide who knows where to locate the lava and also knows where it may be unsafe to walk over the lava beds can be very valuable.

For photography workshops that include a lot of instruction, the first thing you should decide is if there is a specific geographic region where you want to attend a photo workshop and if there is a specific type of photography you’re looking to learn.  If you then do a search for, say, “Wisconsin Nature Photography Workshop,” this should narrow down your choices considerably.  If the location is not as important to you and you want the best possible instruction, you will have many more options to choose from.

The second thing I recommend is to look at the instructor’s photography web site.  If you’re not very impressed by his/her photos, then I would not attend the workshop.  This is just a way to narrow down your choices and is not meant to imply that a photographer with stunning photos will be a great instructor.  As an example, one of my workshop participants told me of another workshop he attended by a well-known photographer whose work he admired.  He told me he learned almost nothing and that the instructor kept using the analogy of a good photo being like a good pizza.  This style of teaching may work for some of his students, but the person I spoke to found it to be a little absurd.

Determining whether a talented photographer will also be a great instructor is difficult, unless you know someone who’s attended one of their workshops and you can get direct feedback from them.  One thing you can ask the instructor is how many years he/she has been teaching and how many workshops he/she has led.  There really is no substitute for experience.  I will confess that, during the first few workshops I taught, I didn’t quite know what I was doing.  I fully understood the material I was teaching, but it took me a while to learn how to best convey this information to the students.

Another thing you can do is search online for more information on the instructor at the photography workshop you are thinking of attending.  Oftentimes, you won’t find much information outside of the web page for the workshop.  But sometimes you will find information on the workshop or the instructor on photography forums or elsewhere on the web.  If you find negative or positive information on a workshop that is on a site unrelated to the workshop, this can be more valuable than information on the workshop’s web site.

While researching a workshop, a friend of mine discovered that an instructor had been arrested for using flares to illuminate a scene at Arches National Park during his workshop.  In the process, he wound up damaging Delicate Arch.  I won’t mention his name since he may have learned from this and may offer good workshops.  But this set off some red flags for my friend!

Despite the occasional horror story, I’ve found that most workshop instructors are very hard-working and do a very good job.  So while you should be careful before choosing a workshop, you can be pretty confident that you’ll learn quite a bit if you find a talented photographer with plenty of experience teaching.

Ultimately, it may be best to take workshops from several different instructors.  Some instructors may have a style of teaching that suits you more than others.  And if you find an instructor you really like, you can go back and take additional workshops from him/her.

Unfortunately, it can be rather expensive to take workshops from many different instructors.  So another option is to attend a photography festival, which offers instruction from a large number of different photographers.  The organizer of the festival will always try to get the best instructors, so he/she will have done some of the research on the instructors for you.  Also, the festivals are oftentimes more affordable than smaller workshops, and you can usually customize the itinerary to suit your needs.

There are several photography festivals held annually around the country, including New York, Palm Springs, and Denver.  You can do a search for photography festivals on the web to see if there is one that is best suited to you.  Most of the instructors at a festival also offer their own individual workshops outside of the festival.  So if there’s one instructor who you really like, you can later sign up to one of his/her workshops.

Grant Collier will be an instructor at the Colorado Photography Festival and you can view Grant Collier’s personal photography website here. If you are organizing or hosting a workshop, class or photography event Zenfolio would like to support you – fill out this short form and we’ll get back to you with details on what we can offer.