Ways not to ruin your photography workshop experience

I love teaching photography workshops. I get to help others improve their photography. I get to see the world through their eyes. I get to see new and interesting ways to see and photograph the world. I get to go all sorts of interesting places. I even get paid to do all that. Along the way though, I see people make the same mistakes over and over which ruin their workshop experience.

Having taught hundreds of workshops, overseas and domestically, I have seen the same mistakes made over and over. So, I decided to sit down and write this blog. Before you take a workshop with me, or anyone else, I encourage you to read this carefully.

You MUST bring a backup camera to your workshops. It may be a low end “point and shoot” but you must have plan B, just in case. In almost every class so far, one or two students have had technical issues, gear failures, dropped cameras, etc. such that a back up camera is almost a requirement. I always travel with two cameras (ideally three.). Early on in the digital age I had two cameras (the same exact model) fail on the same day. The third back up camera that I often carry with me saved me that time!

Speaking of risk mitigation, you similarly should have filters over ALL your lenses. Yes, a filter microscopically reduces your image quality, but you will never see that. If your lens gets scratched or finger printed, or worse, you will notice that and that will ruin your images (and your workshop experience.)

You must reset the clocks on your cameras to reflect the local time and date. When you look at the images later, having that information correct will make things much, much better.

Try to clear a lot of space on your laptop. At home, the system you probably use, that of working on a laptop with an external HD makes sense. When moving as much as we do during workshops, especially internationally, those HDs frequently become unplugged and the connection between computer and images/image libraries can be lost. I download images directly to my laptop, then import them into my organizing software and THEN, after making my selections, corrections and dumping all the junk, I then back that up on HDs.

Moving HDs around while warm/while the drives are actually spinning is the surest way to make them fail, despite the manufacturers claims about their sturdiness. Electronics of any kind which are warm and/or with parts moving are always more fragile.

Nearly every class, at least one student who “does not like straps” drops a camera. If you do not like neck straps (like me) then get a wrist strap or some other solution so you will not drop, smash, trip over, etc., your camera. I have seen cameras destroyed by operator failure in dozens of different creative ways. Each time it happens I am saddened, since it reduces the student’s workshop experience and it costs them real money to repair.

Make sure you know how to use your laptop, your downloading system, your image archiving software and your backing up system well before any class (unless you are explicitly taking a workflow workshop.) I am, like most teachers, happy to help you with any or all of those but time spent on your computer addressing image organizational issues is time that you can not be out photographing and learning during the workshops. Do not try to “learn that on the plane” since by then it is too late.

I routinely carry a a flashlight and a headlight for lighting the dramatically dark rooms we often seem to end up in, plus the are good for light painting.

Invest time in learning situational awareness. A little practice, as explained in my blog entry, “Situational awareness is the key to better photography” will go a LONG way towards making you a better photographer.

Once you improve your situational awareness you can use that to practice good group photography etiquette. A workshop, by definition, is when multiple photographers work together to expand their skills and grow their portfolios. Workshops offer the opportunity to access places and subjects that would be difficult to get to on your own. The trade off is that you need to work with the group and that requires certain compromises. While every group member will encounter the same subject, how each person interprets that same subject will be unique. Creating that unique image from a common subject is the challenge.

As far as the how to best practice the etiquette of group shoots of one subject, agree amongst the group, in advance or at the start of a given session, to all start photographing at a distance and all work your way in slowly, keeping roughly the same distance so no one person messes up the shot. If the space is too small for this then, obviously, take turns (and do so politely.) Use your brief time wisely by figuring out, IN ADVANCE, your rough composition, your orientation of horizontal or vertical and your exposure BEFORE you get to the prime position. Those choices may change slightly when you are in position but if you have only a minute in “the spot,” why waste half of that time with figuring out and then fixing your settings? I would rather do a little work beforehand so I can have the maximum amount of time for actual photographing.

A photography workshop is a big investment in your photography education. Investing a little more in filters/straps as well as mastering your laptop/software and improving your situational awareness will pay off many times over in a better experience.

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