I can undoubtedly say that attending a photography workshop has been the single most important thing I have done in my personal development in this art form. Like so many other things in life, learning photography is about more than just reading a few books, doing internet searches and scanning blogs and forums, and watching video tutorials. Don't get me wrong; all of those things certainly do help. They all helped me to get started and fueled my passion to learn more. In fact, I still do all of those things (probably more than I should!). However, putting all of the things you read and learn about into practice in real-world situations is when you really begin to understand how much more there is and how little you really know. That's where, as they say, the rubber meets the road. It's not necessarily where the learning begins, but it is the point where it is really accelerated and propels you down the path toward becoming not just a picture-taker, but rather, a photographer.
When I picked up my first DSLR in December 2011, my intent was to get a nice camera to help me capture better images of my sons in all their various school and sports activities. It seemed logical that if I could just get a ‘real' camera, then I would be able to take better pictures. At that time, I had some inkling of an idea what shutter speed meant, but had no idea about aperture and ISO, or how those three things combined to make (or break) an image. All of those buttons on that shiny new camera and lens were a mystery to me, but I was anxious and excited to learn. And so the quest began in earnest, to learn all I could about my camera and how to use it to take better photos. It wasn't long before the Photography bookmarks folder in my web browser was filled with so many amazing websites from which I learned so much, including Improve Photography. Then I discovered podcasts and found that I could listen to photography talk at least two hours every day on my commute to and from work. What joy!
The first year or so was spent absorbing as much information as possible about photography. The operation of the camera and making settings to achieve the correct exposure were learned. Basic rules of composition were drilled into my mind. Those ‘rules' were even broken at times, and sometimes that was intentional. The importance of light and shadow was understood, at least to some extent. In short, a pretty good image could be made every now and then. Not only that, but the things that made it a good image could be recognized and applied in future outings.
But then what? What is next, and what else could one do to stay motivated and continue to learn? It can sometimes be challenging when you go it alone and endeavor to learn something totally new. It takes discipline and commitment. It takes time. There are ups and downs, and in those down times, it can be difficult to stick with it. So, here is an idea: find a photography workshop and sign up for it. Set aside all of the doubts; all of the reasons you may have come up with for why you can't or shouldn't attend a photography workshop. You will find a renewed motivation. A renewed spark in your creativity. Just go for it. Here are just a few reasons why, in no particular order. Oh, and you can thank me later…:)
Photography is the Focus
You might think that an article on a photography website about reasons to attend a photography workshop would focus (pun intended) on how it would help you to learn how to use your camera or camera settings. However, that's not really the direction this article is going to take. Don't get me wrong, those things are very important in our development as photographers. The thing is, you probably have a pretty good grasp on how to do that already. In fact, one of the prerequisites for a lot of workshops is that you be very familiar with your camera and how to use it. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to have mastered it, but you should know how to set shutter speed, aperture, and ISO; how to apply exposure compensation in particular situations; have an understanding of the histogram; and how all of these things are utilized to make a properly exposed image. If you have reached that point in the learning process, then a photography workshop will be much more rewarding. You don't want to buy a brand new camera and try to figure out how to use it while all the other workshop participants are making great images. The only exception would be if the workshop is geared specifically for learning about your gear.
My guess is that most people reading this are passionate about photography. I would also venture to say that most of us would like to spend more time doing photography. There are many reasons why we may not have as much time as we would like, but it basically boils down to this – life happens. One of the wonderful things about a photography workshop is that you will be immersed in, you guessed it, photography. From sunrise to sunset, and maybe even beyond, you will have opportunities to photograph amazing things. This isn't like the family vacation where you bring the camera along in hopes of sneaking some photography time. A photography workshop is all about you and improving your photography. It's a brief few days with no other commitments. No other place you need to be. Just you, your camera, and whatever subject you choose.
Perhaps I make too many assumptions, but if you're anything like me, sometimes you feel overwhelmed by all there is to learn in photography. There just does not seem to be enough hours in the day to do all the other things you need to do and still have time left over to learn something new. When you go on a photography workshop, that photography learning time is super-concentrated. I dare say that when I attended my first photography workshop, I learned more and grew more as a photographer in that one week than I had the previous several months. Practicing something for several hours every day, for several consecutive days, tends to do that.
If you don't already know your camera well, you will after a few days of a workshop. It will become like an extension not only of your hands and eyes, but also your heart. You will begin to see compositions before the picture is even taken. Chasing the light will take on new meaning.
This laser-like focus may be just the thing you need to take your photography to the next level.
Jump Start Your Inspiration
It can be difficult to stay motivated and inspired to go out shooting on a regular basis. The problem with that is that we need to shoot on a regular basis to improve our photography. If we are not getting out to shoot, for whatever reason, that is not a good thing. It's kind of like exercise for our bodies. Getting into, and staying in, some kind of routine is important. Missing a day or two here and there isn't a big deal, but if a day or two turns into a week or two, then a month or two, we lose a lot of the physical fitness (or photography fitness, as the case may be) that we've worked so hard to build.
For me personally, getting out shooting means that I generally stay relatively close to home and photograph things that are familiar and that I've probably seen a thousand times. The challenge becomes to photograph those things that are so familiar in different ways and to create images that are inspirational not only to others, but also to myself. That's not an easy thing to do and I suspect that many of you reading this would say the same thing. Unless you live in or near a location that affords amazing photographic opportunities at seemingly every turn, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there just isn't anything to shoot. The motivation to go out shooting becomes more difficult to find and your photography may stagnate.
One great way to combat this issue is a simple change of scenery. Getting away from home and your familiar surroundings is a great way to get out of your photographic rut. Sometimes you may not have to travel far, or other times you may decide to take a journey to the other side of the country or the world. You could make plans to take a solo trip to find your photography mojo, but it can be difficult to figure out where to go and the best shooting locations when you get there. Plus, it is more likely to put off going it alone because it can be a daunting task and easy to make excuses for why you should just wait until next year (or the year after). Making the commitment to attend a photography workshop is a great way to push yourself to break away from the familiar and do something to really better you photography. Once you make that commitment, and the investment that goes along with it, you will be more likely to follow through.
As you might have guessed, a photography workshop can take you to some amazing places. Places where you may have never been, with some of the most incredible things to photograph. So, not only does a photography workshop focus on photography, it does so in places that you may have only dreamed of going before. That will tend to get the creative juices flowing and you will create awesome images that you will be proud to come home with to show everyone. You will be inspired to create better and better images and continue to improve your photography skills.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
I must confess that I'm not a morning person. It's not that I'm lazy…well, maybe a little bit. I prefer to shoot at sunset; stay out late shooting after dark; then stay up even later post-processing or watching some favorite photography video tutorials. An alarm buzzing at 4 AM to get out shooting before sunrise is not my friend! Perhaps I'm not the only one who feels this way. So, what does that have to do with going on a photography workshop? Stick with me on this one…
For shooting landscapes in particular, the best light is around sunrise and sunset. It stands to reason, then, that you want to take full advantage of those times to make the best images. Skipping either one (or both) isn't going to help much for getting that amazing image to put into your portfolio. That doesn't mean you can't make good images at any time of day, because you sure can. It will depend a lot on what you are shooting and where you are shooting. However, since light is one of the most important elements in making a good photograph, it makes sense to shoot when the quality of light is at its best.
Whenever you go on a photography workshop, there will typically be a set itinerary to go out shooting at times when the best light is expected. That means getting up early and staying out late. The cool thing is that you actually won't mind it one bit. You will be in the ‘zone', focused on photography, feeling inspired and creative, and ready to face the challenge of making your next best image. Even if you do have to get up long before the sun does.
This applies to more than just getting up early for sunrise. I use that as an example because it is the most challenging for me. I for one love to take a photograph of a nice sunrise. I just don't want to get up so early to do it. The excitement and exhilaration of being on a photography workshop, doing what you love to do, will keep you energized and going regardless of time of day. You will be tired, even exhausted, but it is worth the effort. When you return home with a memory card or hard drive full of images from your trip, each one will have a unique story of the obstacles and challenges you had to face and overcome to create it. That makes each of those images even more special.
You CAN Do This!
Let me preface this by saying that I've been on two photography workshops so far — one to the Desert Southwest in Utah and one to the Oregon Coast. When I was first starting out, and taking pictures just as a hobby, I can honestly say that I was very hesitant to go on my first photography workshop. I wasn't really sure what it was all about or if it was something that is appropriate for a hobbyist photographer. What I was really worried about the most was whether I was ‘good enough' at photography to attend a workshop. It sounds silly, but there were doubts in my mind that I would be knowledgeable enough to even know what was going on.
The first day or so was kind of a surreal experience. To think that I traveled over a thousand miles, to meet a group of total strangers, just to spend a week taking pictures of pretty landscapes seemed strange. Then to find that everyone in our group had been at this for way longer than me added to the intimidation that I felt. Just who did I think I was?
Then something happened. There was a realization that every one of us, regardless of skill level, was after the same thing. We all wanted to learn how to make better images. It wasn't a competition to see who was best. It was an opportunity to learn from our own mistakes; to make new friends; and to learn from each other. In time, I came to realize that the images that I was creating weren't so bad. Some were even pretty good. Maybe not great, but there was a marked improvement in a short time, and that's what it is all about anyway.
It's Not All About Photography
Now, hold on a minute. One of the reasons to go on a photography workshop is that it's not all about photography? Seriously? Believe it or not, that is indeed what I'm saying here. Let me explain.
As mentioned before, I've been on two photography workshops and both were very rewarding. Each workshop gave me the opportunity to spend an entire week delving deeper into photography than I ever had before. New techniques were learned and familiar ones were practiced. I became intimately familiar with my camera and how it “sees” in certain situations. Much time was spent post-processing images during times we weren't out shooting, which helped me to learn the software that I use (Adobe Lightroom) better. I visited places I had never been, and got to see some of the most amazing scenery. Thousands of images were made (primarily landscape and nature). A few even made it into my website portfolio. (I know, it's a shameless plug).
All of those things are great, but you know what? I treasure the friendships that were developed on those trips more than anything. Those friendships alone made the workshop a very rewarding and worthwhile endeavor. Even if I had not made any images that I liked, or if my camera had fallen off a cliff and I made no images, the new friendships that were made were worth it. (Okay, perhaps I'm getting carried away on the wings of hyperbole, but you get my drift).
The relationships that came out of these workshops carried on far beyond the workshop experience. A small group of us have maintained almost daily contact and have become good friends. We involve one another in our photography experiences; ask for advice and image critiques; share in the excitement of getting new photography gear; or sometimes just banter about things that have nothing to do with photography. We have even met up for our own photography trips (our next one is less than a month away). We have continued to learn from each other long after the workshop ended.
This, to me, is what the photography workshop is all about. Don't discount the social aspect and the importance of meeting new friends that have the same passion for photography as you. You may be a shy and introverted person (believe me, I fit right into that category), but when you step outside your comfort zone, great things can happen.
So…What are You Waiting For?
Whether you have been thinking about going on a photography workshop for a while, or if reading this article prompted you to think about it for the first time, just go for it. There are tons of photography workshops out there. Workshops that travel all over the United States and the world, at all times of the year, and for any genre of photography. Some last only a day, while others will be several days, or even weeks, in duration. Just make sure you do your homework to learn about the workshop leader, what you can expect, and whether the workshop is right for you.
There are also photography workshops to fit every budget. From very inexpensive to “the-sky's-the-limit” variety, there is sure to be one for you. Check out the newly launched Improve Photography Plus website. This great new service provides hours of educational videos, but also will be offering free workshops to subscription members. You read that right…FREE! You just get yourself to the location, take care of your own lodging and food, and let the photography fun begin.
So don't hesitate. Find a workshop that fits your needs and go. You won't regret it!