This is a guest post by Bay Area-based wedding & portrait photographer, Jigar Champaneria.
Those of us in the world of wedding photography have been following a growing controversy about the variety of workshops offered to help photographers with everything. Whether it's marketing materials, technical proficiency, or general “awesome-ness,” there seems to be a workshop for it.
I can't say that I've taken many workshops or attended many seminars. Not because I think they're a waste of money, but because I personally need to experience things and work through them myself. For the most part, I openly rely on the generous sharing of knowledge from friends and colleagues who take the time to honestly share their experience. And after 6 years of photographing weddings, I'm trying to share as much as I can locally and on the web.
So where's the controversy? Well, people like wedding photographer and entrepreneur Gary Fong and Pictage CEO, Jim Collins have blogged about it. For me, it boils down to trying to take that generous sharing of knowledge & experience and monetizing it. Don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with charging people for your time and experience, especially if you can teach students well. But as Jim Collins alludes to in his blog post, many of these workshops are ill-conceived for one of two reasons:
1) The workshop leader has great experience to share, but isn't a great teacher so it's difficult to impart the information well.
2) The workshop leader is just full of him or herself and thinks he can teach anyone how to be a great photographer who's radtastic in every sense of that made-up word.
Hmm … did that sound sarcastic enough? :)
Well, my sincere belief is that EVERYONE has something significant to share. They may not be able to easily explain themselves, but they've got something to share (heck, we all love to give advice, don't we?!). The leader who falls into “Reason A” above can pretty easily be identified: sincere, always has something helpful to contribute, BUT doesn't seem to plan things well or is unclear on what they're trying to teach someone. So even though this person has something significant to share, it's probably not worthwhile to attend a workshop lead by such a person. How do you know for sure? Well, check out the agenda of the workshop. If there isn't a written agenda, that's your first clue! If the agenda seems vague and the leader is unable to clarify, that's another sign to stay away. If the leader doesn't have many positive reviews of previous workshops he has lead, that's yet one more clue.
A few of these leaders will certainly fall into “Reason B” above. It may actually be pretty easy to tell these people from the rest, but let's try to stay away from the cynicism and just being labeled a “grumpy”. I think the main way to identify such a person is from the sincerity they exude. It's a gut feeling, but if you don't see sincerity coming from such leaders, then you may want to think a few times before signing up for their workshop. Sure, you might learn some great things, but I suspect you'll learn more from the generous people across the web and in your PPA meetings who share their experiences with sincerity. I won't belabor descriptions of people who fall into “Reason B” since I really don't think we should dwell on it.
Before you click away from this blog post though, I want to mention something Jim Collins noted about “the sheep”. He certainly didn't call us photographers sheep, but in addition to calling out the rockstars, he called out the fanbois and fangirlz. And in many ways, we all fall into this category to some degree. We need to ask ourselves why we attend such workshops? Are we attending to bask in the glow of the rockstar? Are we going to learn how to be rockstars ourselves? Well, if there are enough of such attendees, is it really a surprise that there are workshop leaders who fall into “Reason B” above? So after reading this posting and the others around the web, we really need to look at ourselves and make sure we're attending workshops for the right reasons. And with that, here's a short list of questions that I think everyone should go through before signing up for their next seminar or workshop:
1) What do you want to learn? Portraiture? Off-Camera Lighting? Marketing yourself? If you don't know what you want to learn, well heck, maybe you need to think about things some more before spending hundreds of dollars.
2) Does the workshop you want to attend actually clearly indicate it will be teaching you such things? If not, ask the leader about that. They should be able to clarify what their workshop is about and hopefully they don't just promise you the world.
3) Does the workshop leader have experience teaching in the agenda topics? If not, then why are they charging?
If you don't feel comfortable with the answers to the 3 simple questions above, then I'd strongly suggest staying away from the workshop. Don't worry too much about bad-mouthing such leaders. The marketplace will take care of itself (eventually). And in the meantime, continue to share & learn openly with the wealth of websites, blogs, and twitter users out there. We're all here to help each other, even though we don't all charge for it.