Friday Foto Talk: Are Photography Workshops Worthwhile?   10 comments

The desert greets the morning sun at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

The desert greets the morning sun at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

This post is a day late; no internet is a mixed blessing!  It’s really a continuation of the larger topic of guided vs. unguided nature & landscape photography.  Check out last Friday’s Foto Talk for some introductory thoughts on the topic.  In the title of this post you may think I’m asking if workshops are worthwhile for a learning photographer to sign up for.

And you’re right.  But I’m also asking if it is worthwhile for an experienced photographer to organize and run a series of workshops.  I would love to hear your opinions on both parts of this question.

I hope you enjoy the images, which are from the desert where I am now.  Most are from Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  As always, they are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  But let me know if you’re interested in any of them.  Click on the images to go to the main gallery part of my website. Thanks for your interest.

Sandy hiking at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

Sandy hiking at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada.

The fascinating textures and patterns in the sandstone of Valley of Fire are highlighted by a low sun.

The fascinating textures and patterns in the sandstone of Valley of Fire are highlighted by a low sun.


Photography Workshop Pros & Cons

I’ve been assuming that the plethora of guided photography trips is merely a result of the difficulty photographers have making  money from selling nature photography.  But that’s just half the story.  There must be some demand as well.  How could there possibly be that many people signing up for field workshops?  My mistake was I assumed most people are like me.  While I still have my doubts, I’m definitely coming around to the belief that there is a large group of folks out there who could use a workshop or two.  As is usually the case, supply is simply there to meet demand.

One of Valley of Fire's more popular photographic subjects, the "fire wave".

One of Valley of Fire’s more popular photographic subjects, the “fire wave”.


      • Participants might feel (rightly) that they couldn’t visit that beautiful destination and find all those great photo spots on their own.  Even if they could find the spots, they might not feel comfortable driving or hiking to them alone.
      • With respect to nature & landscape photography itself, folks in a workshop expect to learn the “tricks of the trade”.  Obviously they want to improve their own photography.
      • Putting these two things together, I think there is a somewhat deeper and more compelling reason to take a workshop.  It can serve as a bridge toward participants doing more innovative nature photography on their own.  They might learn that it’s not so intimidating going off and finding unique and wonderful images all by themselves.  But this last benefit only comes with awareness, an over-arching goal of empowerment, on the part of both instructor and participant.

A sculpture of a wild Kiger mustang is actually in my home state, Oregon's eastern desert.


      • The number of “photographers” out there running workshops, just for the money, is only increasing.  There is a real danger, if you’re not careful, of ending up in a workshop run by someone who picked up photography last June, attended a workshop, maybe two, then began marketing their own workshops.  They may be good at the computer end of photography but that does you little good in a field workshop.
      • The lower-quality (cheaper) offerings tend to maximize numbers.  Even if the ratio of instructor to participant is kept within reason, too many people comes with an inevitable decrease in the quality of experience.
      • The cheaper workshops tend to visit only the popular spots.  They let their hordes loose with little direction, and there’s often trampling of vegetation and other nonsense going on.  There’s also the virtual certainty of annoying those unfortunate souls who just happen to be visiting the place at the same time.


Beavertail cactus catches the late afternoon light at Valley of Fire Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Beavertail cactus catches the late afternoon light at Valley of Fire Park near Las Vegas, Nevada.

How to Choose a Workshop

It may be apparent from the above that it’s worth doing two things.  First you should think carefully about whether a workshop would be to your benefit. When I say benefit I mean not only learning and improving your photography, but having an enriching and fun experience.  Fun is always important!

The second thing to do is shop carefully, get references from people you know if at all possible, and avoid the “lowest bidder”.  Try talking with your photographer friends: your local club, online contacts, etc.  But as always filter all advice through your own sense of what you want, your personality, common sense, etc.

Resist the temptation to consider the destination in your decision.  The truth is that many places are beautiful.  Even more places can serve to teach you how to take better photos.  It is the people (instructors & co-participants both), along with the structure and atmosphere of the workshop that will determine what impression you come away with.  If the place is beautiful and interesting, that’s a bonus!

All of this said, it’s probably not necessary to go for a workshop run by a “name”.  If you take a workshop from Art Wolf or John Shaw, you’ll undoubtedly have a great experience and learn much.  But you’ll also spend a pile of money.  And you could come away thinking some of that money was spent so you could say you took a workshop from a “master”.

Near sunset on the sandstone at Valley of Fire.

Near sunset on the sandstone at Valley of Fire.

Is it Worth Running a Workshop?

Now to the second part of the question, are photography workshops worthwhile.  I definitely think I could help improve, as much as one person can, the overall quality of photography workshops.  I’ve almost convinced myself to dive into it.  But not quite.  Again I encourage you all to weight in on this.

I have experience with outdoor education along with traditional (classroom) education in the sciences.  I have plenty of photography experience and a wealth of expertise and comfort in the outdoors.  I can offer the kind of enrichment that nearly no other photo workshops don’t offer:  ecology, geology, history and other aspects of many regions in the U.S. and internationally.  I believe in getting to know places intimately for my own benefit.  I would never consider leading folks into areas I had not explored in depth.

Banded sandstone layers lie on edge at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

Banded sandstone layers lie on edge at Valley of Fire, Nevada.

What I lack, of course, is name recognition.  I haven’t exactly been a marketing star with respect to my photography, and as a result, I am anything but well known.  I love blogging for the sake of blogging, and with all modesty I think my posts are above average, substantive not fluffy.  But unlike others, blogging hasn’t to date been a marketing tool for me.  So I have few (but highly valued!) followers.  Perhaps some of you loyal few can do small things to change that.  If the mood strikes you, I would consider it the best holiday gift I could get if you would share or link to my work, as I mentioned in a recent post.

What I didn’t mention last week was good old word of mouth.  I still think that is the best way to spread any word, and it would be so awesome if you felt the urge to bring my images or blog up in a conversation over coffee.  I would so much appreciate simple gestures like these, especially since I know my fellow bloggers, those people I’ve met on here who only follow and like posts because they actually want to, are as sincere as it gets.

A frozen water-pocket reflects the dusk sky in the red-rock country of southeastern Utah.

A frozen water-pocket reflects the dusk sky in the red-rock country of southeastern Utah.

10 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Are Photography Workshops Worthwhile?

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  1. Huge post!! So many great images that are beautiful, natural landscapes. I’ll be featuring photographers on upcoming posts and I’ll include you. I may comment again once I’m off my phone version. Happy I discovered your work!! Eric

  2. Valley of Fire is an amazing place, we just “discovered” it a short time ago. You’ve made some fine images of the area.
    It seems to me that photo workshops are worth while for someone starting out and trying to figure out how to make good images. As you state one has to be very careful to insure joining up with an instructor that can teach and makes the kind of images you might aspire to make. Then there are the photo tours…great opportunities to photograph a location you may not be able to get to otherwise. I don’t think having a “name” as a photographer is all that important, your images speak for themselves.

    • Thanks for visiting & for the nice compliments! Valley of Fire is one of those places I need to revisit. I haven’t come close to really doing it justice yet, but I’ll keep trying. I agree on all you said about workshops. Happy Holidays!

  3. Good discussion and extremely beautiful photos. What an area to visit!

  4. You would certainly have fantastic examples to show your participants.

  5. Reblogged this on Europe and After 2013.

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