Choosing a workshop

Since the dawn of digital there are lots of photographers who have seen a market in teaching amateur DSLR users and have decided to enter it. With a fancy website or Facebook page there is plenty of demand. Courses range in price anywhere from $30 to $4,500.

The problem is that the old saying “those that can do, those that can’t teach” does not apply because for many they can “do” it, just that they cannot “teach” it.

A few weeks ago a friend forked out not an insignificant amount of money on a workshop that didn’t live up to expectations.

This got me thinking as to how I would evaluate potential workshops. I hope that these ideas will be of value to readers. Please note that I have both attended and organised a number of workshops so these items comes from “both sides of the fence” in terms of experience.

What is the level of the course aimed at relative to your level?
This is really important because it goes to heart about what you are likely to get out of the event. And you need to be honest. If you have absolutely no idea about what an f-stop is or the effect it has, then an advanced course will not be for you. Two things will happen. Firstly you will not be able to keep up, and secondly you are likely to slow down the whole course, which will not go down well with the other participants. I once attended a workshop on Photoshop retouching that people who ranged from those that had used to the program for years to some who had no idea how to use a mouse. Needless to say it was a painfully slow session and little was learned from it.

If you are a more advanced shooter, then the odds are that you will already know quite a bit of what will be covered. What you need to consider is how much you think you will gain from the “marginal” learning’s in the course.

How many participants are their likely to be?

Too many on a course and your start to feel like the paparazzi

Generally for a workshop this will be stated because they will have set a maximum. From experience I have found that a ratio of one tutor to five students is the maximum that you want to allow for a hands-on course. Otherwise the group is too large to give everyone a fair go. 

Even if it is a seminar the smaller the group the more opportunity there may be to get the specific questions you have answered.

What is you learning style?
It is widely accepted that people have different ways of learning. Some pick up things better by seeing them in action, some by listening, some by reading at their own pace, and some by doings, or combinations of all of the above.

If you know which is you strongest area then that will help is deciding if the event is right for you, because if you learn best by doing, then a hands-on session will benefit you far more than a sit down seminar.

Check out the presenters
Now this is a biggie because ultimately the success or failure of the course rests with them. Don’t simply look at the event promotions website and references. Do a Google search on the presenters and find out what they are like. If possible see if you can find reviews from previous attendees that are not linked to promotional material, because quite frankly no one is going to put “couldn’t teach” on a promotional website.

It is very important that you look beyond they images, because unless it a show session only, you need to know that they can impart that knowledge to others. I know plenty of great photographers who could not present if they tried.

Also just because they are from overseas does not automatically make them an expert. In fact sometimes it can work against them because styles can be quite different between countries.

Is anything else offered?
Sometimes the value in a seminar can be extended beyond it so it useful to bear that in mind. The presenters of a glamour workshop I attended over a year ago maintain a Facebook group which is still active and they are available to answer follow up questions. Other presenters may have member only areas for former attendees.

Is it value for money?
I have left this one for last because quite frankly it is the most subjective. At its core are value judgements about how much you are going to get out of the course and how much you value your time.

I have attended two days workshops that cost $2,000 and thought they were great value, and yet attended a two hour one that cost $35 and thought it was a waste of time and money. So in terms of looking at the price consider the following:

  1. A smaller hands-on workshop will always cost more than a seminar but generally you will take more out of it because of the interaction with the presenter.
  2. Workshops that involve multiple people (hair, models etc) will be more expensive than a single presenter.
  3. Can what you learn on the course save you time in the longer term. This is particular important when you are more experienced because what you are going to pick up will only be a portion of the course. For example if you learned a technique that saved 5 minutes processing per image and you normally shoot 200 images a session, then that is the equivalent of 16 hours, and if your normal rate is $50.00 then that is $833.
  4. Is the charge reasonable? This does not mean is it cheap. If the tutor is a professional photographer then it is reasonable that the full amount earned on the course equates to the time they have put into it, plus any outgoings that are likely to be incurred. What is not reasonable is when there appears to be a super profit built in as was the case of a course I saw advertised for $1,500 per head. When I crunched the numbers there was $16,000 unaccounted for.
  5. What are the alternatives? For example a three day workshop will set you back thousands, but you can purchase a video of a three day workshop from CreativeLive for $US179.

One thought on “Choosing a workshop”

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