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Author Topic: Is there any value in photography workshops?  (Read 3020 times)
michswiss
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« on: December 22, 2010, 10:17:32 PM »
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Jenn, why does this remind me of the saying that, in order to end up with a small fortune from photography, you usually have to start with a large one?

You were right, I did hate the idea, but that's just moi! Why not just go and see news agencies?

Rob C

I figured I would start a separate thread on this.

I'm considering joining a two week program in South Africa that's focused on documentary work for NGOs.  It's targeted at experienced photographers and is really as much about the business of documentary photography as it is about images, building narratives and portfolios.  It would be as much a "working holiday" as anything and I figure it's a good way to network and learn to work to a deadline as well as improve my editing skills.  I could easily spend as much organising my own travel and accommodation and not end up with as good access to organisations or people.

That said, running workshops seems to be the way most established photogs supplement their incomes these days.  There are many 1-3 day events that seem to be more about portfolio reviews and discussion groups (more like glorified camera clubs).  I'm definitely not interested in those.  Still I'm curious about others thoughts on the value of a workshop.

ps, Rob, wouldn't just going to the news agencies be the same as dumping my stuff into Getty or the like?  Are there any good resources for networking into this community?
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #1 on: December 23, 2010, 01:06:39 AM »
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I can give you a strong "maybe," and even an unequivocal "perhaps."

From my limited experience a good workshop does a number of things (not in any special order)

1. It has set goals in mind for teaching its participants.
2. It immerses you all day, every day in whatever it is you're photographing - street, landscape, documentary, sports, etc.
3. It frees you from having to deal with logistics - transportation, lodging, etc.
4. It gives you access - to locations, people, equipment, etc.
5. It is well organized with a set agenda and schedule, but flexible enough to react to changing situations.
6. It makes you up your game to a higher level.

A couple of ways I've found to help decide whether I want to take a workshop. Talk to the workshop leader beforehand, if possible.  I once had a year-long e-mail correspondence with one person before deciding to attend one of his 5 day workshops.  Another way, if possible, is to talk with former participants or look for other forms of reviews.

Paul
« Last Edit: December 23, 2010, 11:13:40 AM by Paul Sumi » Logged

langier
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« Reply #2 on: December 23, 2010, 09:50:12 AM »
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Speaking as both a student and an instructor, workshops *are* a great value in your vision.

Immersion with your colleagues and idea exchange in an environment where you may never have photographed before--the synergy of the people, place, photography to shoot great images at great times for when I was a student. They are both instructive and inspiring and can get your career going for some and move others to a higher level of the craft.

The joy of sharing your wealth of knowledge with others and ideas you learn from your students as an instructor in addition to seeing the *aha* moments on their faces when they get new concepts they can apply to their work.
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2010, 10:44:01 AM »
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Both Paul and Larry have given you good advice, IMHO.

I have taken four workshops, all of which have been enormously stimulating to me. Back in the '60s I took two workshops with Minor White and one with Paul Caponigro, and those three have strongly influenced my work for some fifty years. Then last Spring I took another workshop with two photographers, Karin Rosenthal and Fran Forman, both of whom do superb, very imaginative work that is very different from my own.

With a good workshop you will find that immersion with a like-minded group of students will likely be as valuable as guidance from the teacher.

It sounds to me as if the African workshop could be just the thing you need to build some confidence and make good networking connections. Good luck with it!

Eric
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2010, 11:13:13 AM »
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Immersion with your colleagues and idea exchange in an environment where you may never have photographed before--the synergy of the people, place, photography to shoot great images at great times for when I was a student.

With a good workshop you will find that immersion with a like-minded group of students will likely be as valuable as guidance from the teacher.

Larry and Eric make an important point and I have found the same to be true.  The actual act of photography tends to be a solitary pursuit, so sharing information and experiences with others has been a valuable part of the workshops I have attended.
« Last Edit: December 23, 2010, 11:17:06 AM by Paul Sumi » Logged

JeffKohn
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« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2010, 11:32:36 AM »
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Having attended a few as well as getting reports from attendees of others, I have mixed feelings about workshops. I do agree that the motivation, inspiration, and camaraderie from the other attendees is arguably the most valuable part. But as the original post mentioned you can get that from a local camera club.

On a workshop, you're usually paying a premium for instruction and expertise from the workshop instructor, and I'm just not sure the value proposition is there for experienced photographers. Beginners wanting to learn the mechanics of exposure and cameras, or the basics of composition, will probably have something to gain. Or maybe it covers a new/unfamiliar topic such as fine art printing, night photography, studio lighting, etc.

More advanced photographers striving to see creatively or develop more advanced compositional skills are probably not going to learn as much from a general workshop. These are skills that take experience, time and practice to develop, rather than classroom instruction. I'm just not sure how much you can expect from 3-day or even week-long workshop for this.

So I think once you reach a certain level, the general photography workshops lose some of their value, but more focused workshops such as the one mentioned in the original post can still be beneficial. It just comes down to weighing what you think you'll get out of the workshop versus the price. Workshops can vary quite a bit in price, and unfortunately there's no direct correlation between price and quality so you can't guarantee that picking the more expensive workshop will guarantee a better experience. Before committing to an expensive workshop I would want to talk to some of the past attendees to get a feel for what they thought of the experience.
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bjanes
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« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2010, 11:48:23 AM »
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For many photographers who are seeking to improve their artistry, I'm sure that a good workshop would be helpful. PODAS is one of the better ones for present or future Phase One owners. Some of the instructors post on this forum and some of their expertise can be obtained here for free.  Smiley However, for the cost of such a workshop one could upgrade to the new Pentax MFDB, or nearly so. I'm sure the workshops are a good deal for the instructors.

Regards,

Bill
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Rob C
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« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2010, 01:13:30 PM »
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Jenn, as I said, and as you well know, you don't need anyone to tell you how to do it; I have never, in my life, met anyone sane willing to tell me how to sell within his own market.

There are no real magic bullets in the shops; you have to mould your own. And even then the powder may be damp when you choose to fire them. That's photography, the business.

Getty et al. If any of them can promote and sell your work, that's why they exist - they live from doing that kind of thing. Who would be better motivated?

Rob C
« Last Edit: December 23, 2010, 01:17:57 PM by Rob C » Logged

Paul Sumi
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« Reply #8 on: December 23, 2010, 02:38:37 PM »
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...I have never, in my life, met anyone sane willing to tell me how to sell within his own market.

Rob C makes an important distinction regarding the goals of a workshop.  To be clear, my comments were regarding workshops for photographers working on their art and craft, not with an eye to making it a business.

Paul
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Riaan van Wyk
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« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2010, 12:38:37 AM »
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If you need access to NGO's in South Africa I might be able to help, I'm involved with a few local ones who I can get some pointers from. Have a look at   http://www.zisize.org/index.html  and   http://www.orphancare.org.za/

I'm not sure how to answer the "workshop" question. You say they teach "presentation, building portfolios" etc..does that not prescribe as to what you "should" do and not what you "want" to do?

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feppe
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« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2010, 07:53:47 AM »
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So I think once you reach a certain level, the general photography workshops lose some of their value, but more focused workshops such as the one mentioned in the original post can still be beneficial. It just comes down to weighing what you think you'll get out of the workshop versus the price. Workshops can vary quite a bit in price, and unfortunately there's no direct correlation between price and quality so you can't guarantee that picking the more expensive workshop will guarantee a better experience. Before committing to an expensive workshop I would want to talk to some of the past attendees to get a feel for what they thought of the experience.

I was recently in Central America for over three weeks, and wanted to attend up to a week-long workshop. All the ones available were for very specific needs (just how many birders are there in the world?), beginners, or "for everyone." I understand limiting your participants to experienced photographers will also limit your potential customers - but this customer is not interested in wasting time and money on lessons on aperture.

The most interesting "workshop" seemed to amount to not much more than a photo tour with an experienced and excellent travel photographer. Meaning access to beautiful locations was its main allure. After returning from the trip, access to such locations didn't require a workshop as there's beauty everywhere in the region. The prices in the region seemed to have been tied to the location, Costa Rica being by far the most expensive.

I might reconsider my stance for some exotic photo tour, such as silk road (one day!) or the Antarctic, but for anywhere with basic tourism industry and public transportation, and decent safety record, the offerings to experienced amateurs are limited, and probably even less so for pros (unless you're ok paying for the networking and know there are other pros attending).

Note that workshops for very specific needs (lighting, fine art printing etc.) is another matter, and is something I'll probably attend sooner or later.

Finally, read the fine print before you commit. Especially cancellation terms are often ridiculous, meaning you have to pay the full amount if you cancel within 30 days of workshop start even if you are sick or injured, and even if your spot is filled! There appear to be companies offering cancellation insurance, but I never did research into that.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2010, 07:55:47 AM by feppe » Logged

Steve Weldon
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« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2010, 10:04:37 AM »
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I'm probably a bit biased because workshops are what I mostly do..

I think workshops can be either a great benefit to the individual, or a total waste of time.  I'll submit the following thoughts:

a.  Buyer beware.   It's the attendee's responsibility to ensure they research the workshop, the instructor, and ensure they're signing up for what they desire/need.  Make a list of what you want or hope to accomplish and ask pointed questions.

b.  The instructor has a secondary responsibility to ensure the attendee is being properly placed.  It hurts everyone to mis-match the client and the workshop.  Spend time interviewing the client and be 100% upfront on where they fit in.  Offer alternatives.

c.  I can see group workshops providing a tour w/friends type experience.  Still, objectives should be stated on both sides and matched/accepted.

d.  With individual workshops state your needs, ask the instructor to provide a list of objectives to meet your needs, and then 'use' the instructor as you would any other tool.  As a client keep your own list and ensure objectives are being met throughout the period of the workshop.

I find every student is different, but many are the same.  Each has their own needs and should be evaluated as you go.  I never assume they know anything, but in order to not be patronizing I attempt to assess their skills by less direct means if possible.

Many/most clients have no idea what their objectives should be.  I spend a lot of time helping them define goals and set objectives and we revisit them throughout the day.  I think many would be happy just hanging out and being shown the area and in fact hire me just for this.  I try to think long term though because I want them to improve and return for more.  I've had those who directly tell me they don't expect to learn a thing, but just want someone to hang out with in the nightlife areas and then offer to pay for all the entertainment/drinks while we do just that.  On the other hand I've had journalists hire me just to improve very specific areas in preparation for an upcoming assignment.

It's all about expectations and reality.  If you know what you want/need, then research the available workshops to see if you can find it.  If you're not sure, contact a few different instructors and ask their their help in determining what you need.  The interaction even via email can help you determine if the instructor is someone you get along with, how helpful they are, and if their way of answering questions melds with the way you prefer to learn.

Personally I'm not hot on group workshops.  I used to do a lot of them, but when the economy went sour there wasn't much business and I started doing a lot more individual workshops.. and discovered how useful they can be.  You make a lot less as an instructor, but its much more satisfying to work with an interested party 1:1 and really be able to help them meet their goals.  I'm finding my clients are returning for 3-4-5 different individual workshops because they feel they're getting something out of them.  Before, it was rare I'd get a return group workshop client.

And don't be afraid to turn down an instructor, or an instructor a client.  Ensure there's a good fit, otherwise it hurts everyone.
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« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2010, 03:44:16 PM »
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Finally, read the fine print before you commit. Especially cancellation terms are often ridiculous, meaning you have to pay the full amount if you cancel within 30 days of workshop start even if you are sick or injured, and even if your spot is filled! There appear to be companies offering cancellation insurance, but I never did research into that.

This is not unusual, and far from ridiculous. That's what travel insurance is for, which does cover you for having to cancel your trip due to unforeseen circumstances. Why should a workshop operator have to refund you the fee because of your changing circumstances? In many cases he or she will also have had to pay upfront for transport, accommodation etc.

We recommend to participants in our workshops that they take out travel insurance for this exact reason.

Having said that, it is good PR for an operator to refund a cancellation if the spot is filled but this is up to the individual and is often discretionary. We do this but I know some don't.
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davidewers
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« Reply #13 on: December 27, 2010, 01:36:25 AM »
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I don't know what the laws are in your country, but many states in the USA do not allow a tour guide or hotel to keep the money if the room or spot is fillled. If you were to bring this to small claims court the judge 9 times out of ten will make the business return your monies. Why should an operator make more money if the spot has been filled?
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Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: December 27, 2010, 02:38:53 PM »
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I don't know what the laws are in your country, but many states in the USA do not allow a tour guide or hotel to keep the money if the room or spot is fillled. If you were to bring this to small claims court the judge 9 times out of ten will make the business return your monies. Why should an operator make more money if the spot has been filled?


David, you are expecting fairness?

I wish.

Rob C
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Steve Weldon
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« Reply #15 on: December 27, 2010, 03:30:37 PM »
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"Why should an operator make more money if the spot has been filled?"

There might be legitimate reasons if you understand business.  For instance the cost of advertising and filling a vacant spot.  Or maybe the operator is forced to give a reduced rate to fill the spot.  Or even administrative fees involved with issuing a refund.  And sometimes they're paying a commission to a booking agent.  There are probably more, but the point is we shouldn't assume it's a cost free event.  These costs are why many tour businesses who do offer a refund, only offer a reduced refund. 

Personally I eat the costs.  It builds good will and I've never had someone cancel and not rebook.  With the coups and other political turmoil in this country you need to be flexible.  I consider it a cost of doing business.  But I don't assume everyone runs their business the way I do.
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davidewers
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« Reply #16 on: December 27, 2010, 03:51:38 PM »
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I understand business quite well, I ran a very successful computer business for over 20 years. You are right that if they have to offer a reduced rate to fill the spot, but that does not still give anyone the right to keep the whole fee. The cost of advertising has nothing to do with the fee. The workshop has to advertise no matter what. And as everyone knows the best advertsing is word of mouth or websites such as this one.

Lets look at from the other side. I doubt there is any workshop that offers to cover the expenses of hotels or flights if the workshop has to cancel.

I have admit that in the two workshops I ever took from the same operator was not the greatest experince for me. The leaders of the workshops disapeared when we were out in the field. When I asked them about this on the second trip they told me that the education was in the lectures and critique and not field work.

To Rob C: I always expect fairness, but most of the time I am disapointed.
« Last Edit: December 27, 2010, 05:28:57 PM by davidewers » Logged
Nick Rains
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« Reply #17 on: December 27, 2010, 04:22:34 PM »
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More than any cancelation policies, which are usually made clear in the TnC anyway, having instructors run off out in the field is unacceptable. I hear this often and I think it's poor form.

Seminars are 'listen and take notes'. Workshops are hands on, no matter whether in the field or the classroom.

Instructors are paid to be there for the clients, and to help them get good images. I rarely take my camera out of its bag, preferring to use a Lumix LX5 to illustrate points. If there is a good shot happening and the light is right, it's still the instructors priority to make sure the paying clients get the shot.

Myself and my co-instructor charge good money for our weekend workshops and our customers get us for 12 hours per day, undivided attention. Unfortunately, like so many fields, photography has its share of cowboys too.
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #18 on: December 27, 2010, 06:28:00 PM »
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My view is that the most valuable aspect of a teaching could be found in the delivery of a highly relevant contextual reviews of images.

Now that is extremely difficult to do and I wonder if it is possible at all in the context of an isolated class - be it in a amazing locale.

For such advice to make sense, there would be a need for the teacher to understand the history and goals of the photographer, it would require an ability to find ways to grow a person along its own path (not the path of the teacher) which does IMHO take continued education over the course of months or years.

This being understood, WS can have value as well, but I believe that expectations should be kept under control.

Now, our world is such that people who can afford good WS are typically busy professionals serious about their hobby or looking for a possible escape path away from their current field of activity. For these people, dedicated time without an iPhone connection might in itself be good value. Smiley

Cheers,
Bernard
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« Reply #19 on: December 27, 2010, 09:49:56 PM »
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"I understand business quite well, I ran a very successful computer business for over 20 years."

These are different businesses with different requirements, but you seem more interested in trying to push your point across than trying to understand where the differences may be.

As you know "rights" are derived from contracts which hold up and can be enforced through local/state laws.  They are not what you personally feel is right.  Contracts and laws work both ways.  Buyer (and seller) beware with such things.

Yes, there can be additional advertising costs to fill an unexpected vacancy in a workshop.  Short term advertising often costs more than your regular long term advertising.  This is a legitimate cost.

You didn't address commissions paid to booking agents, administration fees, or other possible expenses you must be familiar with having run a business for 20 years.  Depending on the individual business model the expenses can be significant.  I would doubt they comprise the 'entire' fee, but isn't the business owners time worth something as well?

Anyone booking a workshop and paying money upfront, would do well to understand the local laws and read the contract carefully.  If they don't match perhaps that should tell you something about the instructor?  If they do match and you decide to book anyway, then accept the terms of the contract you signed and don't whine about it later.
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