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My Guide for Attending Your First Photography Workshop

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I have been a model for 1 to 1 workshops that last half a day, full day, two days. I have been a model also for a 3-day long workshop with over 50 photographers. Working on both sides of the camera I can get incredibly passionate about being part of workshops, but I can get equally distraught because when you deal with people in such close proximity and so intensively, emotions and feelings are bound to be stirred in every single direction.

So, you’re thinking of attending a workshop? Here’s a brief guide (there must be something I have forgotten, though!):

Research

Have a good think about what you like, what you would like to develop more in your photography or what you’d like to learn about, and based on these three questions decide on the type of workshop you want to go on. There is something for everyone, but just because there is such a vast number of different workshops available, do not blindly pick one without actually researching what it’s about!

Knowing what the workshop is about, what is expected of you as a ‘student’ and what the workshop leader offers you, will help you pick the right workshop for yourself. If you like landscape photography but are not keen on walking or hiking, a landscape photography workshop might not be for you because travel on foot will be most definitely included!

Attending a course, where you know you definitely will not like a part of it will not only put you in a bad mood and make you less likely to engage but it will also put a downer on the workshop leader, who will pick up on the negative vibes. I am not talking about taking on courses where you genuinely wish to challenge yourself, however!

For example, I have had some photographers who very well knew what the theme and location was set for the day and in one occasion they said ‘I’ve shot at X plenty of times, I don’t want to do it again’, even though the style he was used to shooting was completely different to what we taught. In another occasion someone else said, ‘this is not my cup of tea’, even though they very well knew what the plan was for shooting seeing as we e-mailed it to them when they enquired about our workshop before they paid for it.

Knowing exactly what you’re throwing yourself into will not only ensure you are thoroughly enjoying yourself and are able to focus on the workshop schedule, but it will make life a lot easier for those organising the workshop as well as your fellow attendees!

This is not to say that you should only sign up for courses that are ‘safe’, no! Go immerse yourself in something new, try different things, but go in this endeavour with a positive and open mind!

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Prepare

OK, so you picked the workshop you wish to attend? Again, it’s crucial that you read through everything your workshop leader sends you, whether it is a brief information pack in a PDF form or whether it is a few lines on the website. If they haven’t said anything to you before the shoot, are you sure you have enough information about the workshop before the day?

Do not hesitate to ask any questions, your workshop leader will be pleased you’re looking ahead and preparing for it.

If you know what’s required of you, have you got everything to be able to attend the workshop? Certain day or few day courses only require you to bring your general digital camera kit (body, few lenses, batteries, memory cards), but others might be focusing on using flash equipment. Is that something you need to purchase beforehand or will it be provided on the day?

If it is landscape photography workshop, have a good think about what you might require on the day, starting from comfortable outfit and shoes that are waterproof (unless you are shooting somewhere nice and warm…), to all your camera equipment, most likely also including a tripod, to any food or drink that you might need during the shooting period. Again, make sure you know what’s provided for you and what isn’t. Don’t be shy asking the workshop leader for a list of items to bring.

OK, so now you’re all packed and ready to go. Wait, do you know how you’re getting to the location? Make sure you know where you’re meeting up. If it’s a rather wild area, do your research and check for any pointers to look out for on the day to lead you to the right place, e.g. local pubs, national park information centres, hotels, or anything else. This is where having a fully charged mobile phone always comes in handy, just in case you need to rely on Google Maps!

If your workshop is abroad, are the flights included? Is any transport from the airport included, too? If the flights are included, do not necessarily rely on someone else to pick you up from the airport. Ensure you know any other transport you need to use after your flight, whether it is a local taxi, public transport or a car hire.

Also, do not forget to obtain some local currency before leaving your home country. You might be required to pay in cash for transport on arrival, so it’s better to be prepared than not. Also, if you don’t use that cash for transport, it’ll certainly find its use, especially if the workshop is lead near small villages where debit and credit cards might be frowned upon.

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Mingle

You’ve arrived. You’ve met your workshop leader and any other attendees (if there are any, 1 to 1 workshops are just as popular as group ones).

Get to know your workshop tutor as well as the models, and more importantly relax. This is not like attending school, where you will be told off by teachers who don’t let you express yourself outside of what’s accepted as the norm. Whilst a good workshop will generally follow a schedule, otherwise it becomes ‘a few days of shooting stuff’, generally your workshop tutor will work with you on a more personal level to see where your photography is at, because none of the attendees will be in the same exact place of their development.

If the workshop takes place over several days, it might not always be easy for adults from all walks of life to come together with possibly only one thing in common (photography), and try to remain friendly throughout the workshop. Friction and bad emotions might occur, but remember that at the end of the day you paid plenty of money to learn something new, to develop your photography, and that’s exactly what you should focus on. Do not let any bad feelings take over the reasons why you are here.

Worst comes to worst? Take your tutor aside and see if you can work 1 to 1 with them for a moment, instead of working in a group. Be the bigger person. And remember, this isn’t high school where people get bullied. Adults should treat one another with respect, and if they don’t, simply ignore them and focus on the positive aspects of your workshop.

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Focus

The first day of actual shooting arrives, and you’re ready to go. Wait, before you jump head first, remember that there is a backbone to the course, which is a schedule set by the tutor for a specific reason—it might be to develop certain technical skills in your work, or it might be teaching people how to feel at ease working with models. Whatever the ‘exercise’ is, try and follow it. Go with the flow, and trust your workshop leader that there is a genuine reason for doing this, not just a random activity that does not bring anything to you.

This is why it is important to research the workshop and the person leading it beforehand. Only then you can truly trust that they know what they are doing and why they ask you to do certain things. Try to get over laziness and get your focus on—you’re only here for a day, or a few days, and get all your money’s worth!

Is it a new style you haven’t shot before and feel quite anxious and out of your comfort zone? That’s great! Acknowledging that and expressing your concerns to the tutor will benefit you tremendously. People who come on workshops and do not try to push themselves will remain vanilla. Why be vanilla, when you can try all sorts of amazing flavours? Being stuck in your ways with no intention to change makes the workshop absolutely pointless for you.

Like I said, get your money’s worth: absorb the information, don’t blindly take everything away for yourself but extract the information that you feel really corresponds with you, and do not forget to use it in your own future work.

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Homework

Enjoyed your workshop and learned lots of new ways of shooting and seeing things? Great! But don’t let the brief after-workshop euphoria disappear so quickly. Put what you learned into practice before you forget it.

Some workshop leaders offer post-workshop guidance, whether it is done through e-mails or Skype. This is why I believe it is important to create a long lasting rapport with your tutor, because one day you might be stuck with something that you know they’d easily help you with, or you might want to hear some feedback from work you’ve produced after the workshop.

Geoff Powell and myself offer all this to every single ‘student’ who comes on our workshop. Hardly anyone takes up our offer, even though we’d do it for free. Geoff has also previously helped his ‘students’ prepare their work for exhibitions, advised on any printing and framing questions, as well as personally printed and framed 40 images for someone who had come on his workshop, just to help them with selling the work.

Do not be afraid to send follow-up emails, give your own feedback about the workshop or show your work to them. Yes, we all are busy but those who are genuinely passionate about teaching will get back to you when they can.

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Give something back

Do you feel like it was a good investment in your photography? Do you feel like you have elevated your development and have a clearer vision on where you wish to go with your photography?

If this is thanks to the workshop that you have attended, it’s always a good idea to spread the word. Positive feedback is always very welcomed, the same way wedding photographers often get new bookings through word of mouth. If you enjoyed yourself, why not tell others about it and give something back for what you learned on the course?

It’s such a small but kind gesture, but it goes a long way for those who rely on getting bookings from photographers just like yourself!

If anyone has had positive experiences on a workshop, I’d love to hear which workshops you have attended. It’s always pleasant to see positivity in the industry.


P.S. There are some bad apples that you might come across at some point. Some people are not meant to be leading workshops, but that’s the same with any industry where you might run into someone who’s incompetent or scams money from you, so be careful!


About the author: Anete Lusina is a wedding, commercial, and fine art photographer, a model, and a free spirit. The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To see more of Anete’s work, visit her website or give her photography page a follow on Facebook. This article was also published here.

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