We’ve shared a lot about photography workshops so far-how to find them, how to get into them, how to get the most out of them, and so on, but there’s one thing we haven’t yet discussed, until now, that is. What happens when they go horribly wrong? To illustrate my point, I thought I would share several stories about the dark side of the workshop experience-about what can happen when things go terribly wrong and can’t get back to right again any time soon.
The first experience I heard about was regarding a friend I shall call “Jack” (not his real name.) I’m sure Jack was all excited when he first signed up for his workshop to Sedona. (For those of you who do not know, Sedona is a very pretty city out on the desert of Arizona. It’s one of the southwestern cities that’s famous for it’s “red rocks-” sort of desert landscapes with large, prominent, red boulders set in the slight distance.) Sedona is a beautiful city-I’ve been there before and loved it actually, but not Jack. No, what happened to Jack can best be described as more than a “slight disaster.” You see, on the way out to his workshop, nobody told him that Sedona has a lot of off-roading so, rather than rent a Jeep or more suitable vehicle, he rented a compact car. Usually a wise, money-saying choice, but not this time. He got stuck out in the desert on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. And, I’m sorry to say, that’s just the start of things.
You see Sedona is a bit windy. When the wind kicks up, those pretty red rocks blow dust, red dust actually, and it tends to get on things. It gets everywhere-it sticks to your shoes, it coats your camera, etc. Once again nobody told him this, so there he was, not only stuck out in the desert with the wrong car, but covered in red dirt and dust. He wound up so covered in red dirt his camera and all of his gear ended up getting, well, “Borked” is really the best way to put it. So, when he returned from his workshop, he was covered in red dirt from head to toe and all of his camera gear had been killed. His workshop experience was so bad that we turned it into a verb. If you hear any of my photographer friends say “I got Sedona-ed” this is, usually speaking, not a very good thing to have happen.
And then there’s my friend Laura. Oh, Laura, poor Laura. What can I say about Laura? Laura signed up for this “once in a lifetime” experience-going to Morocco for several weeks on a workshop and tour. It was supposed to be moonlight over the Sahara, exciting markets in Marrakesh, Casablanca for crying out loud. It ended up, well, let’s just talk about the camel ride for starters.
Shortly after she got back, when I asked Laura about her trip, she had this to say, “All I can say is, fat middle-aged sweaty women and camels do NOT mix.” She went on to explain that, as part of her trip, she went on a camel ride, or, um, tried to. The camel, you see, had other plans.
At first, when they put her up on the camel, it would not move. It wouldn’t budge. It wouldn’t give an inch. All of the other camels took off, they were, in fact, several sand dunes away, but her camel would not move. Then, her camel sort of “woke up” and move it did-it bolted several sand dunes past the other camels in the rest of the group-taking off at an alarming pace with her clinging to the top of it, trying to hold on for dear life, never mind taking pictures. This pattern continued until they were across the desert and had reached their campsite for the evening, with one notable stop involving her camel having to, well, let me explain it the way she did “at one point, my camel had to poop, so he stopped bolting through the dessert and assumed that position until he felt good and ready to run on past another 7 or 8 sand dunes.” The words “oh the horror” really sort of fail to describe her workshop to Morocco.
Now, there are a few hints of wisdom you can gleam from all of this. For starters, know what you’re getting into. It might seem impossible to predict the behavior of a camel, but think about it this way. When Laura booked that workshop, she didn’t book a photo workshop, rather she booked a cheaper, less expensive travel workshop (she knew this at the time.) One of the problems she had, in her own words, was that, at the time of “good light” they were never anywhere near someplace she wanted to take a picture. When she called and spoke to the workshop leader, she asked about photography specifically, and the leader told her, “oh, yes, we get photographers all the time.” Well, that’s nice but, I’m here to tell you, the world is full of photographers. Everybody who owns a camera considers themselves a photographer.
So what to do about this? Well, for starters, you need to ask more pointed questions. For example, one question I like to ask is, “what do you do in the rain?” If the workshop leader says something like “oh we cover ourselves and press on” that’s a photographer’s workshop-photographers work in the rain too. If they say, “oh, we reschedule everything or just sit in hotel” that’s a warning sign that they really don’t know the needs of photographers. You can also ask about “good light” times and ask for an itinerary. If they cannot provide you a schedule of what you’re going to be shooting or where you’re going to be for most of the workshop, that’s another red flag that, well, it might not be a real “photography” workshop.
Photography workshops cost more than traditional travel workshops but, as the old saying goes, you tend to get what you pay for. They like to arrange for you to be in certain spots at certain times. They don’t tell you which shots to take (usually) but they can, at least tell you, “on Monday we’re going to be shooting the Eiffel Tower and, on Tuesday, we’re going here. (That sort of thing.) If they can’t do that then, yes, they might have had photographers in the past, but it isn’t a true “photo workshop” and you might want to reconsider attending, or plan on going anyway but in a different capacity (not shooting as much.)
As for Laura, I can tell you she did have an enjoyable evening (once the camel settled down) camping on the edge of the Sahara. But, the next time she goes on a workshop she’ll be a bit more careful and ask the right questions before signing up for the trip.
Until next time…