If you’re an avid landscape photographer then there’s a good chance that you have either been on a photography workshop or have kicked around the idea of taking one. Workshops are a great way to hone in your skills while leaving the time-consuming scouting work to someone else. A photography workshop helps ensure that you are going to come away with good shots in a limited amount of time since someone has already done the legwork of finding the best locations in advance.
I have been a professional tour guide and workshop instructor for over a decade and I’d like to shed some light on group vs. private photography workshops. I will first discuss the many befits of doing a chartered or private workshop, then I will give a few good reasons to consider a group workshop.
Let’s get right down to it. A private photography workshop is going to hurt the pocket book a lot more than a group workshop will. During a group workshop the guide or workshop operator’s costs are spread out over an entire group. During a private workshop a single individual or entity is responsible for all costs associated with the tour. The cost of a private workshop can sometimes be spread out amongst a small group though. For example, I offer a per person discount for private workshops that consist of two or more people. So if a client has a friend or two with an interest in photography, they are able to achieve a price that is similar to a public workshop but without dealing with the public.
While private workshops will cost more, there are some huge benefits of doing one. You will have your photography instructor / guide all to yourself. That means that you will not have to fight for their attention and they will be ready to answer any questions that you have. In a private setting, you do not have to worry about someone interrupting the instructor when explaining a given topic.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of doing a private workshop is that you will not have to work around other photographers. There is nothing worse than thirteen photographers crowding around a subject that only comfortably fits four or five people. Not all location are like that but the ones that are, are very frustrating to shoot when with a large group. While 99.9% of people who take photography workshops are very easy to be around and quite fun, there’s always that .1% chance that you could have the oddball who gets into everyone’s shots and brings the group down. Again, this is very rare, but it can happen and I’ve heard some horror stories through the years.
Location and Timing
Another big benefit of a private photography tour or retreat is that you get to choose the exact number of dates and time of year. This is a huge bonus to people who have very restrictive schedules and have a hard time getting away from work or family. Folks who'd like to revisit a location multiple times to improve their chances of getting good conditions may find private workshops useful because they can plan for as many days of shooting as they'd like. Giving yourself more than two or three days can help improve your chances of getting good conditions on your trip.
On the contrary, some people with limited time may find private workshops beneficial because they can plan a trip that might be shorter than an offered group workshop in a distant location. For example, most International trips are going to be in the range of 7 - 12 day but maybe you have less time because part of your trip needs to be spent with family.
You get to make all of the calls when you choose to do a private photography workshop. If you get tired of a scene, you get to say it’s time to move on. If you’re really working a scene then you do not have to worry about the workshop instructor rushing you to a new spot since you’re the boss when you choose to do a private photography workshop.
While there are a lot of great reasons to do a private photography workshop, there are also some good reasons to do a group workshop.
The Biggest benefit of doing a group workshop is that it will be much cheaper than a private workshop for the reasons given above.
Another big benefit of doing a group workshop is the camaraderie that goes along with them. Shooting in a group can be fun as long as the group size is not too large. I could tell many stories of friendships that have formed during a group workshop. In fact, a lot of people who become friends on a workshop will often look for future workshops to do together.
Learning from Others
While your photography instructor should be knowledgeable and have a good eye, I’m a firm believer that you should look at every situation as a chance to grow and learn. Your fellow workshop participants will often have a wide variety of knowledge about photography and there’s a chance that you might just learn something from them just as they might learn something from you. Not to mention photography is subjective and another participant might see the scene differently than you and share their composition ideas.