Choosing The Right Photography Course or Workshop

 Night photo of Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr, Melbourne

This photo is of a night scene featuring the Federation Bells at Birrarung Marr in Melbourne, Australia. I made the photo a few years back during one of my Night Photography Workshops I run throughout the year. Now, while I'm there to help other folks make great images, I've often found that the best way to illustrate how to make photos is to actually show them how to do it. So, instead of saying, "how about walking up close and photographing upwards with your wide-angle lens", folks are sometimes more responsive if they actually see me doing it, rather than just talking about doing it. 

As a result of sharing the photo with them, via my camera's LCD screen, they'll be over there doing the same thing quicker than you can say

"Now if you want to take some pictures of the fascinating witches who put the scintillating stitches in the britches of the boys who put the powder on the noses of the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Caractacus." 

The Court of King Caractacus by Rolf Harris

(As a note to readers who have a negative view of the artist famous for this song, can I say that I've included his name in this post simply because I loved the song when I was young. That's all.)

Mission Accomplished

The above photo was made, handheld, at ⅛ second. And, yes, that's despite what all the techies will tell you about it being impossible to make images at very slow shutter speeds without the use of a tripod. Not always an ideal situation, but achievable if you know how.

Now clearly a camera or lens with built in Image Stabilization (or equivalent) makes a big difference when working without a tripod and it is true that camera's with higher pixel counts tend to show up deficiencies in camera handling (e.g., slight camera shake) more so than lower featured models. But it is possible and the above photo, made with a Canon 5D Mark II, is a case in point. And let's face it, absolute sharpness is only one criteria by which we should determine the success of a photo. Please remember that the world is full of sharp, well exposed photos that are just plain boring.

Photography is a Physical Endeavor

So, rather that thinking that photography is all about notions of critical sharpness, exposure and horizons that are dead straight, could I suggest you take a more experimental approach and embrace movement, mood and out of the ordinary angles to make photos that connect emotionally with folks. Otherwise your audience will be somewhat limited to, well, you and folks with similar views on how a photo should look. You might as well be presenting your photos to a mirror. 

My Own Path

I've come from a fairly orthodox photography background and didn't enter formal photography education until after I'd had a number of years, and many experiences, as a professional photographer behind me. While I deliberately steered clear of colleges and institutions specializing in commercial photography I did, nonetheless, choose educational providers with teaching staff whose work exhibited a balance between technical excellence and artistic creativity.

Photography's Yin and Yang

The reality is that such a balance is essential to make great images on a consistent basis. My recommendation is to learn what needs to be learned by absorbing the technical information, a bit at a time, so that, eventually, it will become second nature and you'll be able to incorporate it, automatically, into your photography workflow in such a way where it becomes subordinate to the far more important creative aspects of your work.

How To Approach The Learning Experience

This is one of the reasons why I provide my notes to participants well in advance of them attending any of the private photography workshops I run. In the case of my Night Photography in the City of Melbourne Workshops the notes are supplied as an eBook and emailed to each participant at the time a booking is confirmed. Now there's a good reason to get in early, secure your place and be ready to rock on the night.

What's important is that you don't simply come to such a workshop expecting to be taught how to use your camera. It's not wise to be so passive about education. If you're unsure as to whether or not your skills are up to par then please contact me before hand for clarification. It's just not acceptable that anyone would leave any of my classes or workshops unhappy.

Begin At The Beginning

It's fine to have very little understanding of the principals of photography or how to use your camera. That's a place we've all been and there are basic level introduction to the camera courses or, in my case, private one-on-one camera familiarization sessions designed specifically for such folk. But to come along to, for example, a night photography or studio photography workshop without an understanding of the basic functions of your camera or how to create an accurate exposure is just nuts. What's more it's very hard to take on that kind of fundamental knowledge with the distraction of models, studio lights and exotic locations surrounding you.

Classrooms Are Still Relevant

There is a reason classrooms are boring spaces. They're created as a place where the delivery and absorption of lots of information can proceed without distraction. Sadly a lot of folks either don't understand this or are unwilling to accept it.

Of course a good tutor is always trying to adapt to the needs of individual participants, marketplace and institution alike. Back in the day I would often teach at three institutions during the same week, all underpinned with very different philosophies and catering to different ends of the market. Needless to say I've taught folks from 17 to 80 plus years of age, sometimes at the same time. Skateboards and regular toilet breaks simply demonstrate a tutor's ability to adapt. 

Gone, hopefully, are the days when a tutor would only teach in line with their own particular learning style. While it amazes me that this actually has to be explained to teachers, it's important to deliver information in a variety of ways so that it meets, at least, the following learning styles:

Visual

For those whom prefer learning via pictures and images.

Auditory

For those folk who prefer to learn by listening, either by way of spoken voice or music.

Verbal

Words, whether spoken or written.

Physical

Also called Kenesthetic it's for folks who prefer a hands-on experience. They like to learn by touch and by playing with the devices or equipment in question.

Logical

For those who prefer to navigate their learning experience through reasoning and logic based systems.

Social

Group based study which, from my experience, is suitable for most folks, but not for all. Unfortunately there are those who attend group based courses primarily to meet other people. As a result their own learning experience can be negatively impacted for the simple reason that they have not made a commitment to the course in question.

They're really there for the wrong reason. And I'm not implying anything sinister here. But the primary reason for attending a photography course should be to learn photography. Blinding obvious I would have thought.

Solitary

For those who prefer to study alone and work things out for themselves. Credit needs to be paid to these individuals for the motivation and diligent approach they take to the process of learning. 

By adjusting the delivery of information in line with the above listed learning styles you can ensure that all members of the class have received the information in line with their preferred learning style and, as each of us usually benefits from information provided in a number of ways, attending to each of these learning styles, either individually or in tandem, also acts as a great way to reinforce critical ideas and concepts. Interestingly, professional photographers often miss this fundamental concept when trying to sell the benefits of their services to potential customers.

Finding the Right Course for You

So as to both choose the right course for you, right now, and to maximize your hard earned money allow me to suggest some fundamental considerations that should help you make an informed and astute decision and, thereby, maximize your enjoyment and the value for money you receive.

A Man's Got To Know His Limitations

These words, spoken by Clint Eastwood playing Harry Callahan in Magnum Force seem appropriate here. Don't aim too high by enrolling in an advanced course (e.g. Studio Photography, Photoshop) until you're ready to do so. Be realistic and enjoy the course that's right for you at that time in your photography development.

Commitment

Make sure, in the case of a multi session course, that you'll actually be free to attend each and every session. Otherwise, don't enroll, at least not this time around.

Understanding The Nature Of Group Based Study

Unless it's a Basic Introduction to the Camera type course make sure you have a reasonable understanding of how to make a correct exposure via Aperture Priority (A or A/V) and/or Manual Exposure modes and can control the point at which your camera focuses (e.g., the subject, not the background). Of course your tutor can help you with these things, but not always on location when the rest of the group is expecting the class to continue as advertised.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

In this case you might find the above words, so eloquently spoken by Mr. Spock in The Wrath of Khan, to be appropriate. And, believe me, this can be just as frustrating for the tutor as it is for the participant.

Danger Will Robinson, Danger (Lost in Space)

If you know very little about how to use a computer it is idiotic, in the extreme, to show up to an advanced software course (e.g. Photoshop) and expect your tutor to continually walk over to you and show you what they mean by "just click on the desktop". Again, it's OK to be at that level, but you're in the wrong room at the wrong time and, even a truly great tutor may be unable to give you the kind and amount of attention you feel you require within that particular environment. And, dare I say, it's unfair of you to expect it.

I understand that no one thinks about the tutor in these circumstances, but how would you feel if you were one of the other participants? You, and everyone else, would be better off if you started off with some more fundamental computer courses or considered learning the subject in question, one-on-one, where the course could be better tailored to your needs and specific learning style. I'm sorry if that seems harsh but, in the long run, you'd be much happier and more empowered choosing the path that's right for you, rather than the one you may want to take.

Conclusion

After years of writing blog posts, on a very regular basis, I doubt that there's more than a handful that contain, even in part, a negative tone. It's just not my style. Moreover the mission of this site is to share the beauty of our natural world and its people with an ever wider audience. I have no desire to upset or deride anyone. But, as a long time student of photography (almost 35 years in the industry, including 9 years studying at a tertiary level) and a very experienced photography tutor, I feel I can speak with some authority on the matter.

I only want to help and if this article can, in some way, help guide you towards making a more informed and more appropriate decision as to your own photography education then I'm content. In fact, I'd be thrilled.

If you'd like to pursue a one-on-one photography session with me you can check out the courses I frequently offer HERE. And, as always, if you have any questions feel free to Contact Me HERE. I hope your journey in photography will, for the most part, be full of fun and joyous experiences. Along the way there's bound to be a few bumps, a few sticky situations and a few hills that seem overly hard to climb. I guess that's the nature of any major journey. As such it's a metaphor for life. And photography is a great way by which we can enjoy, record and experience life. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru