Photography Workshops – Total Immersion

StatueWSkyNo1, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

This is the next installment of my series on photography workshops.

Ok, so now that you know how to find workshops, maybe you’ve browsed the “virtual” brochures and picked out all of your favorite global hot spots you want to check out, it’s time to actually book the workshop, right? Hang on, not so fast. There are probably a few things you should know before pulling that trigger and landing yourself in a workshop.

For starters, I realize that many of you out there are beginners. One thing to realize is that, for most of these workshops, you will spend the entire time taking pictures. The workshop experience is really about total immersion-for the entire trip, you’re going to be a photographer, take pictures, and do nothing but take pictures. Your entire life will revolve around the camera and the image. This might sound like a good thing and, for some of you, it is. But, if you’ve never gone on a full day of shooting before, if you’ve not had to work in various conditions before, if the idea of filling up an entire memory card or running out of film is completely new and foreign to you, you might want to think about the whole workshop experience. Really stop and think about if this is the right thing for you.

Most people have this romantic notion that photographers jaunt off to interesting places, push a few buttons, and that’s it. That’s all there is to it. After that, we have these wonderful pictures to enjoy and brag off to our friends about. In real life, it doesn’t always work that way. Yes, if you sign up for a workshop, you’re going to get to go to a cool location, but you’re going to have to get up early in the morning, stay out late at night, possibly forgo those fancy meals and post restaurants (normal “road” food often winds up being bananas and breakfast bars-even at odd hours of the night) pass on the “spa days” and all of that. If you think you can “sneak a few pictures in” between trips to any spa, trust me, a photography workshop is not for you.

For many of the more intense workshops, the schedule often runs something like this:

  • Morning location shoot-usually happens at sunrise. Plan to be up and ready before 7 am (possibly on location at that hour.)
  • Make late morning film drop-return to “base camp” about 10:30-11 am to make film drop (either drop off film to be developed or start digital upload.)
  • Between 11 am and about 1 pm-eat, shower, rest, etc. (Still have a lot to do, finish uploading, get directions for next location, make plans, start production work on morning shots, etc.)
  • Afternoon drive and scout location, plus afternoon shoot-get setup for late afternoon good light, and shoot until dark.
  • Make 7 pm film drop-return to base camp usually about 7 pm (in time for lab’s last film drop) Start digital upload (if digital) Possible critique of morning sessions images. Start setting up for evening darkroom/printing session.
  • Somewhere in between 7 pm and 9 pm-eat dinner.
  • Darkroom hour-hit darkroom (or digital darkroom) no later than 9 pm. Plan to spend up through midnight printing. Print and critique sessions throughout the night.
  • Repeat again next day.

By the time you’re through, it doesn’t sound like much of a vacation, does it? It’s not designed to be a vacation actually. It’s designed to be a total immersion-to get you thinking about your photography, to get you shooting, to get you in the right locations at the right time with the good light.

So, if the idea of a “spa day” with a camera strapped around your neck is what you think of a workshop, this is probably not the thing for you. On the other hand, if you really want to take your images to the next level, if you really want to craft memories with lasting impact, if you’re willing to work at it, and really want to “turn it up a notch” the workshop experience could really be just the ticket to take you to the next level.

A lot of times workshops are run by well-known photographers. I can’t think if anything more enjoyable than, say, visiting the Maine coastline with somebody like John Paul Caponigro or getting to see Bali with somebody like Joyce Tenneson. The workshop experience offers you a master class-a peek into the way a top shooter works. In the process of tagging along, you’ll learn tons, you’ll get to see the world as they do and even challenge the way you shoot it for yourself. But that happens at the cost of many a “spa day” trust me. People like these don’t get to the top of their game by sitting around in a spa and just “taking a few snaps” in between-there’s a lot of work, planning, inspiration, and energy involved.

So, if you think you’re up for the game, go for it. It really will be an unforgettable experience. If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, don’t fret or give up on the whole experience just yet. In a future installment, we’ll talk about some of the things you can do to take yourself there, to get yourself to the point where a workshop would really be a benefit to your shooting.

Until next time…

1 Comment

  1. Bennett
    September 10, 2009 / 4:45 am


    Thanks to the rapidly-blossoming popularly of photography, more and more photography classes and photography workshops are being offered within high schools. Taking a photography course or two before you apply for college is a strong sign of interest. Don't be satisfied for that single Photography 101 class that's on the curriculum, however. Photographers are also artists and social commentators, so take other courses that reflect that. Art classes and computer classes will broaden your perspective.

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