Friday, June 6, 2008

10 Tips for a Successful Photography Workshop

Over the last couple of years I have begun to lead more and more photo workshops. Each time I work with a group I always strive –and feel great pressure, honestly– for each participant to come away with something worthwhile. In order to do that, I've had to work hard to develop techniques that can apply to a wide range of students. When I first started out, I found it difficult to find any info on developing photographic workshops. In order to help other beginners, here are five goals that I strive for in my workshops.

1) Students first: Although it maybe tempting to spend a great deal of time speaking about your own accomplishments, show restraint. This is especially true if you aren’t a well-known photo veteren. There is a difference between a lecture and a workshop and students are generally in your workshop because they want to learn how make better images or, as Freeman Patterson puts it, “Improve the quality of their lives through photography.” However, students may enjoy hearing about your experiences more if you can relate them to particular exercises as a way to provide context.

2) Allow students to influence the direction of the class: I believe that all workshops need to have some sort of outline and pre-planned direction. Instructors need to do their homework so that the students are able to have the best experience possible during the workshop. However, the class roster may consist of folks who just want to learn how to use their cameras better and if this happens to be the case, I would urge you to "go with it." Some students just aren't at the place where they are ready for abstract, artistic concepts.

3) “Be There” for your students: While it is nice to be able to make images while your students are shooting in the field –especially if the images will be used for a lesson– getting carried away with personal image-making in an inspiring location robs students of the valuable instruction time that they surely signed up for. But, I must add that there is fine line between hovering and helping. Allowing students to work together and have ample shooting time alone is certainly a sensitivity skill that is gained through experience.

4) You can’t please everybody!: When it comes to leading a group in any situation there is almost always going to be a couple of folks who are naturally higher-maintenance and harder to please than the rest of their classmates. Although it is often difficult, avoid spending the majority of your time attempting to appease the unappeasable. This isn’t to say that students who are struggling should be ignored but rather that if a participant comes to your workshop with a bad-attitude that day you need to realize that there is only so much that you can do to make their experience better. Good workshops are comprised up of teamwork between students, teachers and the environment that they are focusing on.

5) Teach them to see: Encourage students to learn how to “See” and not just make a technically correct exposure. Although everyone is not destined to be in the pages of National Geographic we all have experiences in our lives that are worth capturing. Having sensitivity to the best times to shoot will ultimately increase the quality (and experience) of the images that students make.

7) Ask for Input: Allow students to critique your workshop / class when it over. Ask them to be brutally honest and remember that suggestions for improvement are better than praise so…don’t be so sensitive!!! ☺

8) Create a Community: One of the fringe benefits of photo workshops is getting to know other photographers who are interested in the same types of things as you are. Create a database of students and allow them to inform you if they would like their e-mail address to be shared with others. This is a great way for participants to build lasting friendships and share ideas for years after the class is over.

9) Follow up with notes: When I first began to lead photo workshops, I would begin the class by handing out notes for the class. However, I began to realize that many of my students were either losing them during the class or destroying them by cramming the pages into their bags. So, I decided to start sending out a follow-up e-mail with a pdf of the notes. By doing this, I have legitimate reason to follow-up with students and I have received positive feedback from folks that this is a great way to refresh their memory about what we covered in the class.

10) Exhibit a passion for what you are doing: One of the best ways to inspire students is to show them that you have a passion for photography and your subject matter. Enthusiasm is infectious. Believe me, if you attempt to teach a class without a love for what you are doing it will be very obvious to your students and, as a result, it will be very difficult for them to become excited. Although we all have to pay our bills, there are enough photo topics out there that you will surely be able to find something that is exciting to you. If not, you shouldn’t be teaching a class. Remind yourself that you too were once a beginner and how important the role models in your early career were to you.

Hope this helps. I am still learning and have a long way to go so if any of you have any tips of your own please share!

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