With the ever-growing popularity of digital photography there seems to be no shortage of photography workshops to choose from. The number of workshop companies and photographers offering photo tours can be downright daunting. With two decades of photography experience and over ten years of guiding under my belt, I’d like to shine a little bit of light on how to choose a good photography workshop. Although I might be biased, you can check out some great photography workshops right here.
Location and Subject Matter
Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing a workshop is the location and subject matter. While this may seem obvious, I have lead trips where a participant is not very interested in what we are shooting. If you are interested in landscape photography it probably does not make much sense to book a workshop that is focused on portraiture, just as a desert workshop does not make sense for someone who dislikes arid landscapes. If you are not interested in the workshop’s subject then you are not going to get compelling photos. It is important to make sure that you know what the workshop is going to be focusing on before picking one. This information should be clearly articulated on the workshop’s webpage.
Choosing a photography guide
Once you find the location or subject that you’re interested in, it is time to find a photographer who work you admire. Photography is subjective and you should enjoy the work of the person who will be guiding you. If their work speaks to you then you’re more likely to get the most out of the trip. For example, if your guide’s work is solely black and white but you prefer color then there is probably a better fit somewhere else. The other aspect of the photographer is their personality. Just because someone is a good photographer, it doesn’t mean that they are a good instructor or guide. Taking a photography workshop is not just about getting good shots and getting away from your family who is constantly asking if you're done yet. It’s also about camaraderie and a good photography guide knows that. The best trip leaders have an approach to photography that is not only informative but fun as well. More on choosing a good workshop leader below.
Time of Year & Weather
Some locations may change or be better in different seasons. Try to determine what time of year is most compelling to you. Take into considerations such as rain/snow, temperature, water levels and foliage. A simple google search such as “Best time of year to photograph XYZ…..” may be a helpful starting point. Keep in mind that photography is subjective and the opinion of other photographers may or may not align with your vision. You can also reach out to the workshop provider to get their opinion on weather conditions and what to expect.
Group Size Considerations
Group size is another important consideration when looking at photography workshops. Some locations and subjects are fine for larger groups while others are better suited for smaller groups. Unfortunately, it is often impossible for a workshop participant to know how many people can comfortably shoot a given subject beforehand. One way to avoid overcrowding is to look for workshop tours that limit the number of participants to single digits. The smaller the group the more one on one time you will have with your instructor and the less you will have to fight for a good composition. I limit most of my workshops to 6 participants or less.
Reviews & Communication
If you are using a photography workshop operator for the first time, it is a good idea to take a look at their reviews to see what other’s experiences were like. If a workshop provider is organized, they should have good reviews with repeat customers. When reading the reviews, keep an eye out for any red flags that could translate to a problem on the workshop that you’re interested in. When I lead a workshop it’s very important that my clients not only get good photos but that they also have a good time in the process. You can read my 5-Star reviews on google for an example of what to look for.
The communication before the workshop should be presented clearly and with a pleasant attitude. If a photographer or tour service is short with you while on the phone or via email before the workshop even starts, then they are clearly not worth your time and money. A good workshop provider will encourage questions because they want to make sure that you have all of the information that you need to be prepared and have a good trip.
An important factor to consider when looking into landscape photography workshops is the amount of hiking involved. Some will have very little hiking while others may require participants to hike a number of miles in what could be somewhat rugged terrain in less-than-ideal weather conditions. If you are not much of a hiker it is important to check in with your guide beforehand to know how much and what type of hiking will be required for the workshop.
While accommodations are probably the least important aspect of a workshop, it is good to know what to expect. You will want to know if you are responsible for booking your own lodging or if it is included with the workshop. Most workshop providers will use similar accommodations but make sure that they are not skimping out and staying at a motel 6 or something similar if it is included in the price.
While I did say lodging is the least important part of the trip there are some exceptions. If your tour operator booked lodging that is a 45 minute drive away from your shooting location when there was a reasonable option 5 minutes away then there’s an obvious issue. For example, when I take my group to Torres Del Paine in Patagonia we stay right on Lake Pehoe within the National Park. There are great photo opportunities right from the lodge where we stay. Some workshops stay outside of the park in order to offer a cheaper price but they are making a big sacrifice in photo opportunities and comfort when they do this. To recap, lodging is not the most important aspect of a workshop but for some trips it can be a huge selling point if it provides a better shooting experience for the group.
How much should you pay for a photography workshop?
Photography tours and workshops run a wide gamut of price ranges. A single evening shoot may cost you a few few hundred bucks while an international photography workshop will more than likely cost you a few thousand. Do your homework and read the entire webpage for any given workshop. Pay attention to pricing and try to decipher what is included in the trip. The most expensive trip is not always the best trip but watch out for workshops that offer prices that seem too good to be true. Photographers that sell cheap workshops are more than likely sacrificing your photography experience in some way. This could be through lodging, planned activities, experience and or quality of your guide. The workshop website should tell you what is and is not included in the trip. A trip that includes lodging will obviously cost more than one that does not.
Photography Workshop Safety
Your physical safety during the workshop is far more important than getting a good shot. Your guide should be experienced in the conditions that you will shooting in and know when to cancel a shoot or trip. There are always some inherent risks involved when it comes to landscape photography or any outdoor shoot. Your photography guide should know how reduce risks and inform participants of any potential hazards involved with a given shoot. If you see safety concerns from past reviews then it’s probably a good idea to keep looking into other workshops. I have heard horror stories of people who have gone on practical death marches up a mountain without the proper gear or clothing because a lack of communication from their guide. While this is somewhat rare, it can happen and it’s important to watch out for it.
Lastly, some photography tours have added bonuses such as discounts codes for gear, software and lens rentals. While the bonuses are not going to be what you base your workshop decision on, they are for lack of a better word, a nice bonus. Sometimes the bonuses are advertised with the workshop and other times they are a surprise.
Whether you’re looking for your first photography workshop or have taken dozens, the points that I have highlighted above will help you choose the best photography experience that is right for you. Ask yourself what you want to get out of the trip and consider the topics mentioned in this article. A good photography workshop can be one of the best trips of your life while a bad photography workshop can be downright miserable. Best of luck! I hope to see you out in the field someday.
Thanks for reading!