So I have been thinking about why professional photographers offer photography workshops. Beyond the obvious- “it pays” (some of the time) – there must be some other more powerful reasons. As this is my thirtieth year of teaching workshops I also wonder why I have been doing it for so long, what keeps me going?
Teaching workshops is not a walk in the park as much as I walk in the park teaching workshops. (How’s that for a sentence?) The days are very long and there is lots of planning to do. Every year at every workshop location there are always changes to deal with: bridges get washed out, roads are suddenly closed for grading, trails are closed due to bears, public access become private property, the elk no longer show up, drought causes the wildflowers not to show up, fall color poops out, a sudden frost causes havoc, the meeting room is mistakenly booked, permits are suddenly required etc., etc., etc.
There is a limitless set of problems that every workshop leader has to contend with often at the spur of the moment. This isn’t a big deal when I am out by myself but with a dozen people who have paid a goodly sum of money it kinda is. Why put up with the hassles when it is just easier to go out and shoot on your own?
While these things aren’t a huge crisis they add considerable stress to a leader who is trying to provide the best photography and teaching for his or her participants. And lets not even talk about the weather. With the climate as screwy as it is now it is virtually impossible to plan or predict even 12 hours ahead. Planning to do a sunset on the third night? Need some clouds for some nice forest photography? Good luck! Better stay flexible and keep your car engines running.
Of course there are the participants themselves. Gathering 12 or so random people who are as strange as photographers often are is roll of the dice. Some workshops really shine and there is a great communal energy during the time together. But some are struggles with disparate goals and experiences dividing rather than enhancing a group. Again, why deal with people at all? Just go out and take some pictures on your own.
So if it is stressful, grueling, difficult and personally photographically unproductive what is the point? What is it that keeps me coming back for more? Well, you’ve gotta love to teach but it’s more than that.
It’s you, silly!
Odd for a confirmed curmudgeon to say but it is true, the participants of my workshops keep it fresh and invigorating for me and I profit far more from them then I do from any salary I earn. Almost all of my closest friends and a vast majority of my regular friends (I know, none of my friends are very regular) I have met on my workshops. These people have gone beyond being participants and have become an important part of my life. Unfortunately, they are spread all over the country but that’s okay- my community of friends is nationwide.
This is why I don’t really care for doing short seminars. In a large group I am just an ugly face upfront and my audience is just a sea of nodding heads. I can give out information but I can’t personalize it and therefore my teaching effectiveness suffers. The money is good but the experience is poor. I’d rather have a good experience then have a pocketful of dough.
There are some ancillary benefits of doing workshops as well. I get to see some amazing images every workshop I do and I don’t mean mine! Some of the images I see during critiques are simply astounding. I am humbled and inspired every workshop I teach by the creative vision of my students. The fact that I keep these images and add them into my files is an added bonus!
The final reason I teach workshops is for my small but perfectly formed brain; if you want to really learn something try to teach it. The act of clearly explaining something forces you to deeply understand it. You want to keep up with what’s happening in photography? Try standing in front of 12 people and asking, “Anything else I can answer?”
So there you have it. You are the reason why I still teach photography workshops. It’s your questions, unexpected comments, bizzarro techniques that I find endlessly surprising, and your pictures that keep me coming back for more. And you? What’s this got to do with you?
You all know enough to teach a photography workshop perhaps not to a group of long-time practitioners but to plenty of others. Go out and offer a photography workshop to your church, or community center, to your friends or to a travel company in the area. Go to your local camera store or artist’s guild and offer one through them or go to a local school and try it there. You’ll be invigorated, a bit scared, inspired and wonderfully involved. Plus you’ll meet some wonderful people who may turn out to be great lifelong friends. The money is not important – do if for free at first, but just do it. You’ll love it.
The four images included here were all taken by the participants of my Oregon Coast workshop.