The answer to “Are photography workshops worth it?” is a value-based decision that must consider the match between your goals against the instructor, the workshop curriculum, and the richness of the learning environment.
There are so many ways to learn landscape photography today that the choices can be overwhelming, e.g., YouTube, social media, paper books, etc. However, one method for learning landscape photography stands above all other forms: the Photography Workshop. Simply put, there’s no better way to learn and develop your photography skills than in person and in the field under the guidance of an experienced professional photographer.
A photography workshop is the best way to learn and enhance your photography skills. Remember that I’m not talking about “tour-and-shoot” bus rides around town or simply transporting students to exciting and engaging locations. I’m advocating for photography workshops where the instructor works closely with the student in the classroom to learn a specific skill or concept and then develop those skills and techniques in a mentored field setting.
Consider these six factors to determine whether a photography workshop is worthwhile for you.
Clarify Your Goals
Workshops are a commitment of time and money, so having a clear idea of what you want to accomplish from a workshop beforehand is an excellent place to start understanding the value of a workshop.
- Do you want a skill-based or conceptual workshop to learn specific techniques, such as Astrophotography, hosted in an epic dark sky location?
- Do you want to experience locations you can’t easily get to, e.g., a backcountry adventure in the Utah Badlands?
- Do you want to work directly under the guidance of an award-winning photographer?
- Is your goal to bring home an epic set of photos to hang on your walls?
- Do you prefer learning in a group setting, getting encouragement and guidance from an instructor, or flying solo and teaching yourself once you have the essentials?
- Are you looking for more personal meaning, focus, and direction in your photography?
- Do you intend to add your workshop images to a portfolio or project you’ve been developing?
If nothing else, the point of participating in a photography workshop should be to try something new, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and gain a new perspective.
The Best Number of Learning Days
A second consideration for determining the value of a workshop is the duration of the workshop. There isn’t a “perfect” number of days, but the length of the workshop should be appropriate to the subject, location, or concept.
For instance, a 2-day workshop to Iceland or the Bisti Badlands isn’t long enough. Each of these workshops would give you a taste of the landscape but never allow enough time to gain the benefits of exploring the region or working with a photographer directly. Likewise, a more extended workshop can get bogged down with too much information and dilute the value of the learning experience.
From my experience, 3-5 days is an excellent range of days, depending on the locations and intent of the workshop. A 3-day Astrophotography Masterclass in White Pocket with a heavy schedule of early mornings and late nights is an appropriate length of time. Anything longer than this time frame would be too exhausting. Anything less than this wouldn’t allow enough time to photograph the location effectively.
Something else to consider is a 1-Day workshop focused on learning a specific skill in a single location in one day, e.g., how to take a long exposure image at the ocean pier
Choose the Right Workshop Instructor
A third consideration is an instructor for the workshop. Most instructors lead workshops that reflect the type of photography they enjoy doing. As a result, they will likely bring a lot of passion, technique, and experiences learned from “having been in the trenches” to the learning environment. Working with an experienced instructor who “knows the ropes” can be a tremendous opportunity to learn from a master and improve your photography. Consider these instructor qualities:
- Take a look at their Body of Work – does it resonate with you? What types of images do they generate, e.g., if they are primarily a landscape photographer, do they specialize in seascapes, sunrises, mountains, etc.? Does their work appear to be mainly recreations of well-known landmarks, remote/hidden backcountry locations, or combinations of both? What level of post-production work does their finished work embrace, e.g., photos enhanced and retouched for maximum effect or images with overly dramatic composites?
- Review their Instructor Bio – is their experience and background a good fit with what you’re seeking? What aspects of their expertise suggest they will have much to offer as an instructor? Are you looking for an instructor to help you navigate the worlds of gallery exhibitions, magazine publications, and photo competitions? Do you want an instructor to teach you advanced camera techniques and skills? Are your interests and goals in sync with those of the instructor?
- Evaluate their Testimonials – What do past students have to say about their experiences working with the instructor? Their workshops?
Match Your Goals with the Workshop Format
A fourth consideration revolves around the basic workshop format. Travel photography workshops vary significantly in scope:
- Basic Photo Guides that can take you to a series of scenic locations,
- Authentic Photography Workshops that teach camera fundamentals and post-production techniques (e.g., SLR Lounge and Creative Live), and
- Full-immersion Photography Workshops where instructors mentor students in the field and the classroom.
Workshops that include a post-production component allow students to see what worked and didn’t work out in the field so that they can make adjustments during the next capture session. Lastly, does the workshop have all the required commercial permits and a clearly defined itinerary for the time spent in the field and the classroom, with specific shooting locations identified?
The Benefits of Enrolling in a Photography Workshop
The most significant benefit of a photography workshop is that you’ll gain distilled knowledge and wisdom from an experienced professional in just a few days!
- Camaraderie – I’ve met incredible friends and colleagues from workshops and photo assignments. There’s nothing like waking up in the wee hours of the morning, traveling to remote locations, shooting stars in the night sky, and sharing your work with others to meet like-minded individuals!
- Safety in Numbers – how many times have you wanted to do something but not felt comfortable doing it alone? And there’s something to be said for having an experienced guide to show you around when you’re in a new place for the first time.
- Confidence – students new to landscape photography often default to just recreating the same photos others have taken – nothing is wrong with that. However, as students learn and gain confidence in their ability, you’ll be encouraged to create unique and classic images.
Some Additional Thoughts on Photography Workshops
- Investing in Experiences versus Investing in Equipment – I’ve come to believe that investing in experiences is much more beneficial than investing in equipment like camera gear. A $1,000 workshop can provide you with life-long skills to be a better photographer, whereas a $1,000 lens can end up collecting dust on a shelf. It is important to remember that generating great photos is based on the photographer’s skill and not on how much expensive camera gear you own.
- How Much Money Should One Spend on a Photography Workshop – This is totally up to you and whatever fits your budget. Some workshops include the cost of the photographic instruction, with students left to cover their lodging and ground transportation during the workshop. Most of my travel photography workshops include all ground transportation, lodging, and photographic instruction before/during/after the workshop.
- Set Realistic Expectations for Your Workshop – Have realistic expectations for your photography workshop. The workshop was worth the investment if you’ve gained at least one new idea that has positively changed your photography’s direction. Remember, what you do with the new skills and tools learned from the photography workshop matters the most.
Ultimately, the value of a landscape photography workshop cannot be measured just by the cost of the tuition, the number of learning days, the destination, the curriculum, or the instructor. The answer to “Are photography workshops worth it?” is a value-based judgment that must consider the following:
- Your learning objectives for the workshop experience,
- The match between your goals and the instructor’s background and experience with your goals,
- Relevance of the workshop format and teaching methodology, and
- The richness of the learning environment relative to you as a photographer.
Check out my complete selection of full-immersion landscape photography workshops.