I have had the pleasure to be on several great photography workshops. My first workshop was with Jerry Monkman in New Hampshire at the AMC Highland Center, shooting fall colors. One of my favorite subjects, and I learned so much from Jerry. Our paths have crossed since, and it is great to see Jerry returning to health and work now. He shaped so much of my work with simple advice on looking at the type of light, what to do in it (such as photograph fall colors in rain or clouds) and to move in closer (and wider) to the subject.
I have taken several workshops since then, with different instructors or guides, and have learned a great deal. More about myself, what I like to shoot, and how I work. Generally I need to slow down, observe more, and shoot less, particularly when I first get to a location. From the best instructors, I often hear the same advice. Think about why you are taking this image. What in the scene makes you want to make this image? How are you making it your image? What is your interpretation of the scene or event? What do you have to add by offering this image to the world?
I have found that I prefer a workshop that gets you to interesting places that you might not be familiar with on your own. It has scouted the locations, amenities, and benefits, and mapped out a plan for you. It is flexible, if the weather or other things change. It is clear, upfront, on the difficulty or the amount of activity it will require. It will have instruction when you ask for it, and let you work on your own if you don't.
I have looked at workshops that offer to take you to the exotic location for THE SHOT. I have to laugh, as on one workshop, we were coming back from sunrise shoots when another workshop, staying at the same hotel, was gathering in the lobby to discuss what they were going to shoot that day, or more importantly, where they were going to have drinks and dinner. It's not that I don't have a social side to me, but I am there for photography, not dinner and drinks. You know you have found your groove when at 5:15 am on a fall day, hours before sunrise, the people are all in their cars, ready to go, 15 minutes before the scheduled meet up time. The worst is when the workshop gets hijacked by a "know it all" who starts to try to lead the workshop he or she is on, or worse, wanders away from the group where valuable time has to be spent locating the participant. Be prepared, be prompt, and follow instruction. There will be time for creativity.
Some points to watch for. How many repeat attendees are there? If the people keep going back with one group, it speaks volumes. I have met great friends who have attended a workshop with the same instructor in multiple locations. Does it allow for some editing help, when you need it? How much classroom work is dedicated to it? I guess I come from the old days where in film workshops the big struggle was to get film processed to see slides on the trip. I much prefer any critique to follow after the workshop, as I spend nights just ingesting images into my laptop, and have little time to rank, pick and edit an image for critique. Look at the itinerary. When are you expected to get up? How far will you hike? Are there heights involved? Are you physically fit to do this?
I strive to find a body of work, not just an image. I want to be able to display my take on a national park, or a great scene or landscape. I don't want the stop the van, all pile out, put your tripod in the designated holes, set your camera to my settings, and get the instructor's shot. I value the workshop on where you are going, as much as with whom you are with. Numbers matter, as too big is a recipe for failure. Ask these questions in advance. I use workshops for locations that I am not familiar with, or are far away. Many times I am looking for an introduction to a certain area or park, with the idea of returning on my own to further explore and shoot.
I have been blessed to take workshops in the White Mountains, Acadia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Arches National Park and the surrounding parks, such as Canyonlands and Dead Horse, and Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park. There are lots of choices, but the ones I have chosen have been about the location first, the time of year, the instructor, and in some cases, the repeat attendees. While there are named instructors that people will flock to for the reputation, the ones I have witnessed are not only experts in their fields, but expert workshop leaders and instructors.
The workshop instructors I have had have been the best. I have heard horror stories from others, and have witnessed much less capable instructors. You cannot go wrong with any of the following.
Jerry Monkman, Eco Photography, Portsmouth, NH. www.ecophotography.com Jerry is recovering from cancer, and will not lead any workshops this year. We all hope he gets healthy and returns to a complete recovery.
Robert Rodriguez, Jr., Beyond the Lens Workshops, Beacon, NY. www.robertrodriguezjr.com/workshops/ I have taken four workshops with Robert, including a printing workshop. He is a fabulous teacher. He has multiple repeat attendees on his workshops.
Joe McNally. Lighting workshop. www.joemcnally.com If you ever get the chance when he does a local workshop in NY, do it. Working with Joe is eyeopening, fun, informative, and wild. You learn so much.
Joe Brady and Diane Bollen, Dragonfly Studios, Warwick, NY: www.JoeBradyPhotography.com and DragonflyStudioCafe Great workshops in the southwest, and great people. Joe is a wonderful Photoshop and Lightroom instructor, and a wiz with light meters.
While I regard them as friends, I am not being paid or compensated in any way for my recommendations. I paid my way. I cannot recommend them enough, and hope you have the same opportunities I have had with them.
Thanks for reading. I hope it will improve your photography.