Outside of two community college darkroom classes three years into my photography journey, I am nearly a completely self-taught photographer. Or am I?
Over the years, I have attended or taken online several amazing photography workshops. For sure, not all workshops are great, but with a little research, you can find the right one to fit your needs.
Why might you want to consider a photography workshop? After all, between Google, YouTube, and Shoot It With Film, you can learn all you need to know about photography and shooting film, right? Maybe, but I think almost everyone can benefit from attending at least one good photography workshop at some point in their photography journey.
Here are three reasons to try a photography workshop, how to make the most out of any workshop or class you attend, and a few of my favorite film photography workshops that I’ve attended.
1. To Learn Something New
This is the obvious answer to why you might want to take a photography workshop. Learning new skills or concepts is the whole point of taking a class!
The question you might want to ask yourself before signing up for a workshop is what do you want to learn?
There are workshops geared toward all sorts of topics in photography from beginner classes, to wedding photography, to studio lighting. You will need to narrow down what you want to learn.
Do you want something general, or do you want to do a deeper dive into a specific genre or skillset? Chances are, someone is offering a workshop that will fit your needs.
Some topics to consider for film photography workshops might include beginner classes, wedding and portrait photography, business, studio lighting, creative film techniques, alternative processes, darkroom, lifestyle, street photography, and many more.
Workshops about Specific Gear or Skills
You can also use a workshop to learn to use a new piece of equipment or a new-to-you film camera. I’ve done that with my Rolleiflex and my Contax 645, and they have become two of my most favorite cameras.
I have also taken an amazing online workshop all about using strobes and studio lighting with film. It was a great way to become comfortable with something that initially intimidated me. The workshop gave me confidence to use the new skills I learned.
Workshops that Offer Critique & Feedback
One of the biggest benefits to most workshops, if you chose to take advantage of it, is the opportunity for critiques and feedback.
Some of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had have come from portfolio critiques from some of the leading film photographers of today. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking, and you’ll need to be a little bit brave, but it is so worth it if your goal is to become a better photographer or a better businessperson. And any instructor that wants to continue to have new students will give encouragement as well as constructive criticism.
Look at other students’ reviews or testimonials to find out if the class you want to take offers critiques that are worth it. And remember, you don’t have to do anything anyone else says, but it is worth attempting to objectively consider what someone else has to say about your work.
One of the best, if not the best, aspects of taking a photography workshop is meeting other photographers from across the country or even from around the world with all different skill levels.
I have met some of my dearest friends at photography workshops. And while I have attended photography workshops for digital and film photography, I have to say that the film photography world is a special one.
I have found film photographers to be some of the kindest and most generous people in the world. In my experience, the digital photography world can be cut-throat and extremely competitive, but in the film photography world, people seem to love to share all they know and to encourage newcomers. It’s always been a joy for me to meet other film shooters.
You don’t have to take an in-person workshop to meet great photographers. I’ve taken several online workshops and even facilitated an online workshop, and I am still friends with some of the people I’ve met through these classes.
Making photography connections means you have endless resources for feedback and learning something new. I’ve even met up with some online workshop friends in person while traveling in their areas. Film photography friends are the best!
3. To Be Inspired
Photography workshops are a perfect place to be inspired. Whether you’re in a creative rut or looking to try something new, you’ll find lots of inspiration while attending a photography workshop.
You’ll hopefully be inspired by the instructor, since that is probably one of the reasons you chose to take that particular class, but you’ll also be inspired by other students. Creativity is infinite, and seeing what other photographers are doing will often spark a new idea for yourself.
Attempting new skills can also be hugely inspiring. Even failures, mistakes, or “happy accidents” can jump start your creativity.
Often, when learning something new we find that the more we know, the more we don’t know. There is always something new to learn, something new to try. I think that is one of the reasons I’ve loved photography for so long. It will take a lifetime to try, let alone master, everything I want to learn.
You can use a workshop to challenge yourself. Choose a workshop topic slightly above your paygrade to see just what you can do. For some of us, there is nothing more motivating than a challenge.
Also, photography workshops are often held in wonderful destinations. Traveling to a new place to learn something new is always exciting and inspiring. There is nothing like travel to make the mind excited for new things, new people, and new places!
How to Get the Most Out of Your Workshop Experience
Before you sign up and pay the fee, do your due diligence, and research the instructor(s) leading the class. Have they taught this workshop before? What do their previous students say about the class? What are their credentials?
Be sure to read the fine print. What happens if you can’t attend? Do they have a refund policy? Can you sell your seat to someone else if you suddenly cannot attend? Can you defer your attendance to another workshop if a scheduling conflict arises?
If it’s an online class, how long will you have access to the class materials? Can you save any of the class materials? Do they offer a private Facebook group or other forum? How long will you be able to be a member of the group or forum? What bonuses or benefits are offered to students who sign up for the workshop?
If you must travel for the workshop, make sure to take this into consideration when choosing and signing up for a class. What are you cancelation options? Does the workshop provide accommodations and/or meals? Can you share a room with another student to save on costs?
Many in-person workshops will set up a private Facebook group for attendees to virtually meet one another. Be sure to take advantage of this.
Introduce yourself and take some time to get to know your fellow students. You may be able to travel together or room together if the workshop does not offer accommodation. Travel can be a huge expense when taking a workshop, so make sure you’re attending a workshop that will be worth the price of the class as well as the travel costs.
Any legitimate instructor, whether in person or online, will want satisfied students, so make sure that you know what to expect and how to get the most out of your workshop experience.
Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you might have about the class or the workshop. Make note of whether you receive a timely reply and if the instructor answers your question.
Instructors will often ask for feedback or a testimonial. Good instructors want to make sure they are providing a quality product and will be looking for ways to improve. I always offer feedback, and I try to do it in a way that I would want to receive feedback. I tell them what I loved about my experience and what I learned. I try to give specific examples.
If I have any negative comments, I try to share them honestly and kindly and offer solutions to any problems or issues I might have had. Teaching and learning is a conversation where both parties can benefit and grow.
One Reason NOT to Attend a Photography Workshop
Please don’t use a workshop as a portfolio-building opportunity.
I know that many of the most popular workshops will offer styled shoots or specifically billed portfolio building sessions. By all means, use these chances to practice and perfect your skills and techniques, but please don’t use those images in your portfolio.
Why? Because that styled shoot or model family session is someone else’s vision, not yours.
The instructor chose the location, the wardrobe, the vendors, the models. Not to mention that every other attendee at the workshop will be taking nearly the exact same shots.
Use the opportunity to practice your posing, metering, shooting angles, etc., and learn from the experience, but keep the images to yourself.
Use what you learned about styling a session, choosing wardrobe and location, or setting up studio lighting to create your own styled shoot that will reflect your vision, your style, your creativity.
I’ve taken quite a few different film photography workshops in the last ten years, and I honestly can’t think of one where I haven’t gained either knowledge, helpful critiques, inspiration, or good friends.
Here are some of my favorites. Note that some either no longer exist or have morphed and changed into other versions over the years. That’s okay and a good thing. Good teachers evolve.
This workshop is no longer available, but Stephanie Bryan created a fantastic online workshop and community for beginning your film journey, as well as creative techniques to help you find your creative style.
Not only did she cover the basics like metering, editing your film scans, and the characteristics of various film stocks, but she added fun things like light leaks, double exposures, and using toy cameras.
This class was a big boost to my flagging creativity one summer.
This was less of a workshop and more of a retreat for film photographers to get together in a beautiful place to play with film, cameras, fun techniques like film soup and double exposures, and to inspire and teach one another.
It, too, was a wonderful experience for inspiration.
I went on the first Hello Happy workshop held in Brighton, UK, by Jennifer Lawrence and Ashley Crawford. Again, it was a great place to travel to as well as an opportunity to meet up with wonderful friends.
We were presented with business as well as photography instruction and were able to practice what we learned on several styled shoots.
Photography workshops are a great opportunity to learn something new, meet other photographers, and be inspired to try new things and be more creative.
Be sure to research any workshops you might like to attend to make sure that they are legitimate and will deliver what they promise. Then go with an open mind, a blank notebook, and get ready to take the next step in your photography journey.
Have you attended a great photography workshop? I’d love to hear all about it!