Photo Workshops: Making it Count!

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by Ambika Balasubramaniyan

Photo workshops are a wonderful way to learn & hone the craft of photography! You get to experience great locations at optimal times for photography in the company of likeminded enthusiasts. Your instructor brings inspiration, knowledge & enthusiasm to the table, the venues provide the opportunity for some great images & you hope Mother Nature does her part and provides the desired pixie dust that makes a great image pure magic!

Glowing walls of El Capitan in a clearing Winter Storm in Yosemite Valley, CA.

What do you have to do to make the most of this investment? 

1. Set some Goals: 

  • Set some goals for yourself – This will help you focus on what you want from your workshop.
  • Share your goals with the instructor / trip leaders so they can help you establish that these are achievable on the workshop & get you the opportunities to realize your goals.
  •  Stretch yourself – a workshop is a safe learning environment! Make the most of the opportunities.

2. Brush up on the Basics:  

Being a beginner is not a disadvantage – they sometimes are best prepared by reading up on camera manuals & following pre-workshop information. Workshops are about learning but sometimes learning in the field may make you miss the shot!

  • Get familiar with your camera controls – make sure you know how to adjust your ISO, Shutter speed, and aperture.  Get familiar with metering concepts.
  • Read your camera manual at least once, get familiar with your camera’s menu system & remember to bring your manual along.  Your instructor knows how to manage the controls – every camera has its own quirks – so a camera manual that is handy for quick reference is a great thing! 

3. Do some pre-work: 

  • If you are keen on exploring a particular skill, read up about it, try it out on your own so that the workshop is not the 1st place you are experiencing a technique. This allows you to come to the workshop with some exposure & questions, making for a more productive dialogue with your instructor & peers. Your time is also better spent working on the skill rather than just understanding terminology and basic mechanics. E.g.: Hyper focal Focusing, Astrophotography, Using Movements , Flash in Landscape
  • Research the area you are traveling to, understand the culture, read up about the area & the photographic opportunities. This immersion will help you get a feel for the place- get inspired & make a connection. With this connection, you will find the creative process flow smoothly! 
  • Look at other work – this will help inspire you & help with visualization!

4. What to Bring: 

  • Bring gear that you are familiar & comfortable using. This will allow you to make the most of your time on the workshop & get that shot! Typically, carry all your favorite pieces of equipment to your workshop location so you can have your range of equipment available to you. Carry only what you can safely carry & use in the field on your shoots. Ask the instructor for gear recommendations if you feel you have to make some choices for your particular shoot.
  • Before your workshop, you will likely receive some required & recommended equipment as well as clothing recommendations. Make sure you have all the required gear for your workshop.
  • Shooting in inclement weather makes for some memorable imagery – make sure you have the gear for yourself & your camera to make the most of these opportunities.  Shooting early & late can put you out when its chilly, Winter conditions will require specialized gear & make sure you take precautions when you are out in the sun. If you are too hot, too cold or wet — you are not going to enjoy making images! 
  • Make sure you have your lens care stuff (lens wipes, rain hoods and towel) with you – especially when you are shooting in inclement conditions.

5. Prepare Yourself:  

Photo workshops are an exciting & surprisingly exhausting time. Weeklong workshops in particular have a way of taking a lot out of you — pre-dawn wake ups, late returns from sunsets and the usual dinner & informal gatherings and long travel times on workshops that move around a lot of locations. 

  •  In addition, there is the constant inflow of new information, your work being judged (from the casual – “Can I see what you got?”, your peers & the formal critiques). If you are stressed out and exhausted going into the workshop — it can get rough really fast. Make sure you are well rested and healthy when you come to the workshop. 
  • If acclimatization is hard on you (time zone & altitude); travel to your location ahead of the workshop and get rested & ease into your workshop. 
  • Get in shape – include a reasonable level of physical activity to get ready for your workshop. If you have longer hikes to get to your locations as part of your workshop – make sure you get some conditioning done so that you can keep up with your group & be able to get your shot!
  • When you have down time – rest up rather than pixel peep! This will keep you refreshed for you field sessions & help you maintain your energy levels through the workshop. Stay hydrated!
  • If you are feeling off color, it is OK to take a session off (especially for workshop that are in same location) & get rested so you can re-engage with enthusiasm on subsequent sessions.

6. Prepare for the Information Influx: 

  • Instructors will want to offer up as much information as possible in the short duration of the workshop. They hope participants will hear them out with an open mind & retain what they really want to learn and perhaps explore some new concepts later on.  They may have exercises that will help you grow & experience “creativity” differently. Embrace these learning opportunities – you may find a breakthrough!  
  • You will also be exposed to new / different techniques through your peers — absorb & learn & don’t be quick to judgment! Different people learn differently- so there are many ways to execute to a vision!
  • Have a note pad & pen handy – for classroom notes, gear notes,  jotting down questions you may want to ask later & for field notes
Field visualization session led by AHPW instructor Colleen Miniuk- Sperry
 Vermillion Cliffs, AZ.

7. Check the Weather: 

In the excitement of heading out to the workshop, we all too often forget the weather at the destination!  Check the weather forecast before you leave. Prepare for the forecast at your destination. 

8. Pack your favorite snacks:

  • In most photo workshops, although all effort is made to provide adequate meal & snack options; if photography conditions are great, meal time may be significantly delayed! After all you came here to get “that” image! 
  • If you have food allergies, notify your trip leader/ photographer ahead of time so they can make accommodations. Also, bring your own snacks & food options – some of the workshops head to fairly remote areas and your “special needs” requirements may not be supported by local vendors. 

9. Technology:

  • Bring your laptop! Ensure you have photo editing software that you are familiar with. Load it with the RAW processors for your latest camera.  You may not be required to have your laptop but you will miss out on the opportunity to process your own images with some of the techniques that may be demonstrated. If software training is part if the curriculum, it’s worth having your own laptop to follow along.
  • Make sure you remember to pack the chords, chargers and the card reader.
  • Ensure all your batteries are fully charged before you leave on your workshop.
  • Back up your work: On an external hard drive & have enough memory cards to archive the images.
  • Have a memory stick handy so you can process your images & have them ready to hand in for critiques.

10. Insurance:

  • Get trip insurance to cover your full cost of the trio. That way you can relax & enjoy the trip!
  • Make sure your personal insurance in in place & that you have your insurance information in case it is needed during the workshop.
  • Have insurance for your gear! Field work can be hard on your gear.

11. Your attitude make a difference: 

  • Come with an open mind and allow for some flexibility in the schedule based on weather, group dynamics and learning opportunities!
  • Make connections, share willingly and absorb graciously. Be generous in compliments, genuine in your questions and feedback! 
  • If you see something that needs to be changed, please bring it up to the instructor/ trip leaders – they typically can adjust / fix the issues. You can make your workshop a wonderfully rich learning experience based on your attitude to the event! 
 Sandhill cranes come in to land, Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Preserve, NM.
In closing, with a bit of preparation, your investment in your photo workshop will be sure to yield you some great images, a lifetime of memories, some wonderful friendships and a solid learning. The more you invest in preparing for the workshop & being open to experiences at the workshop; the returns will reflect your work! So go out there and enjoy yourself on your next workshop. Try something new – stretch yourself! A photo workshop is all about learning!
Text & Images © 2012 Ambika Balasubramaniyan

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