I just finished a couple workshops in two very different places. I have found that whether I am teaching in places as far away as Greece or as nearby as Cape Cod, certain things are the same in all workshops. I was going to call this “ten commandments for those attending photography workshops,” buy I thought that such a title might be misconstrued as religious in nature.
Based on having taught hundreds of workshops and encountered thousands of students, here are, to steal a line from David Letterman, the top-ten things people attending photography workshops need to know and do.
1 – Learn as much as you can about your camera before the workshop.
Knowing the technical specifications of your camera can be fun, but at its core, a camera simply takes the pictures. Knowing how to actually operate the machine to make it do what you want is pivotal to your growth as a photographer. Study the manual (which are usually badly written, I know) or buy a more readable guidebook so you know which buttons do what, which buttons really matter and which settings are not important to you.
2 – A workshop is supposed to be fun and interesting, but it is not a holiday.
Good photography workshops usually require getting up early and staying out late to get the best light for photographing. The middle of the day is usually reserved for critiquing and class time, so the days are long and full. Your experience will be better if you plan accordingly, meaning if you are working hard, you will are unlikely to fully experience and enjoy the place where the workshop takes place. If you want to really enjoy the workshop’s location, come early or stay afterwards. If you are smart, you will book your travel so you stay a few more days in the area, ideally after the workshop. I suggest staying afterwards because that way you can explore the place based on what you learned during the class and practice your newly acquired skills.
3 – Ask a lot of questions but know when to ask those questions.
Every photographer learns differently, so a good teacher expects and even welcomes questions. Students phrase most of their questions to help them process and internalize what the teacher just said. The key is to know when to ask your question(s.) When the teacher solicits questions is obviously the best time. In the field, when the class gathers as a group is another good time. During meals and off hours may or may not be a good time depending on the teacher. (I take questions pretty much any time.) When the teacher is working closely with another student on a complex question, that is not a good time. The golden rule applies here. Before speaking up, ask yourself, “Would you like to be asked a question at that exact moment?”
4 – Be on time, if not early, even if that is NOT your usual strategy.
For the days of the class you are part of a team/community, no matter how much of an individual or solo practitioner you are in the rest of your life. To get the most out of the experience, show up on time or even early to classes, shoots, field trips, etc. Feel free to talk about how you are trying out new things in the class, such as being early rather than fashionably late, but for the few days of the class, be on time.
5 – Wait for you turn, respect lines and generally, “be nice.”
All workshop instructors are trying to convey a lot of information to a lot of different people with many different skill levels and learning strategies. Like most teachers, I do a combination of group teaching and one-one mentoring. I strive to make sure everyone is treated equally and gets their fair share of my time and attention. Some times that means people have to wait. If you are required to wait, please be patient and think again about the golden rule. On the other hand, if I forget to do something with you, do tell me, but do that as gently as possible. I am only human and I do make mistakes.
6 – Learn as much as you can about the workshop and the location beforehand.
Read everything you get in advance from the workshop organizers and instructor(s.) Read it more than once, because different things catch your attention at different points in time. Read as much as you can about the place too. You will be busy working in the class and since you are in the new location for such a short period of time, the more you know about the venue, the better. If you are not getting enough information from the workshop organizers and instructor(s,) do not be afraid to ask for more, but only do that after reading EVERYTHING they sent you.
7 – Come to the workshop with some kinds of clear goals for what you want to achieve.
Periodically during the class, pause and ask yourself why are you taking this class. Once in a while, share your thinking with the instructor so that both you and he or she are working to get you to where you want to go. Make sure your expectations are reasonable. At the same time, do not obsess about getting to your goals, since a attending a workshop is a process not just a destination. On any single day, changes in the weather, plans, light, etc., can throw you a curve ball. Use those as opportunities to grow and challenge yourself. Improvise based on the situation you are presented with and not the situation you wish you faced..
8 – Be sensitive to where you are culturally, linguistically, environmentally, etc.
Since many workshops are built around the opportunity to both see and photograph new places, there is a tendency to forget the manners you normally practice at home. The people you are seeing and the places you are visiting merit as much respect as you would expect to get if someone was photographing where you live and work. Speak softly, act politely and generally treat the people places and things you encounter the same way you would like to be treated.
9 – Play together well with your fellow photographers.
A workshop is a group learning experience and so getting along with others in the group is key to both enjoying the class AND growing as a photographer. Be respectful of other people’s personal space, moods and idiosyncrasies. Some people are morning people and some are not. Some people learn by talking through what they are experiencing while others process the same information in their heads. Others learn by writing it down or by making diagrams. No matter what your learning strategy or your personal perspective on time, be aware of and respect your classmate’s differences.
10 – ………………………..
Be open to everything that happens around you and to the input of others. With that in mind, I am going to be open and hope that some regular readers will write in with suggestions for the last of the “top-ten things people attending photography workshops need to do.”