Photography Workshop or Tour: Which is Right for You?

Coney Island | Insatiable Traveler Year -end review 2017-Peter_Turnley_Day3-_MG_55142017062202
An image I made during a Street Photography workshop with Peter Turnley.

One of the best ways to improve your photography is to take a workshop with a pro. But workshops cost money, require commitment, and only provide value if you’re serious about learning.

Is a Photography Workshop Right For You?

Let’s start with a little Q & A to provide some context.

What is a photography workshop?

A class or program which focuses on teaching and/or improving the photographic skills of its attendees. Often there are assignments and group and/or one-on-one critiques.

What kind of photography workshops are there?

There are many different types of photographic workshops. The majority are taught by professionals (if they’re not don’t take it), and in some cases renowned photographers whose work you might have seen in magazines, galleries or museums.

You can find photography workshops that focus on genres of photography (wildlife, travel, landscape or fashion, etc.), while others might concentrate on specific techniques (how to light, infrared photography, how to work with models, Instagram, iPhonography), or post-production (classes on Lightroom, Photoshop or printing). Some workshops may include travel with a photogenic destination as your backdrop.

How long are they?

The length of a photography workshop can range from a single afternoon to a week or more depending on the school, instructor, and the type of class you choose.

How much do workshops cost?

Price is dependent on a range of variables: the genre; the length of the workshop and where it takes place; if you’re traveling; the caliber of the photographer teaching or if specialized equipment is needed or models are used. The good news: there’s often a lot of options to choose from.

What to Expect

Workshops are meant to provide you with high-quality instruction in a relatively short period of time. Groups are usually small, ranging from 10-15 people. If it’s bigger, I’d stay away. The larger the group, the amount of time an instructor can focus on your work lessons.

The tenor of a class is dependent on the instructor, their area of expertise, and whether you’ll be shooting in the field or remaining in the classroom. There’s no “standard” but elements they often share include:

  • Bringing your own camera and lenses. In some cases, workshops may have the equipment you can rent.  If the class has special requirements, the program description usually calls that out or you the gear may be provided.
  • An assumption that you have a working knowledge of your camera and its settings unless your class is introductory. (Always have your manual handy just in case)
  • Assignments and private and/or group critiques of your work
  • Total immersion in photography. It may be one day or a one week but it’s assumed you will focus on the work.
  • The possibility of one-on-one coaching from the pro photographer leading the workshop (This may or may not be the case depending on the class structure and the personality of the instructor.)
  • A teaching assistant if the class is on the larger side.
  • For workshops that are a full day or longer, the class usually breaks for meals (in some cases meals are provided).
  • At some point, you’ll be frustrated (because learning something new always is…. but worth it.)
  • You’ll learn A LOT
Two cars in Bejucal Cuba
An image I took while on a photography tour in Cuba with Santa Fé photographic workshops.

The Difference Between a Photography Workshop and a Photography Tour

Photography workshops tend to have a more structured atmosphere and as I mentioned above, there may be assignments and critiques. Really good workshops will be taught by a renowned professional photographer, whereas an introductory class on how to use your digital camera might be taught by a professional just maybe not have any celebrity.

Photography tours are more casual in nature and the instruction isn’t as intense. More emphasis is placed on the full experience of experiencing and photographing a bucket-list location. Tours rarely, if ever, dispense assignments and group critiques and discussions are rare.

Depending on the tour and the lead photographer, you may have the opportunity to discuss your work privately, but that isn’t a given. If you want that kind of attention, ask upfront. On average, instruction is on the go and not very in-depth.

How to Find a Good Workshop

Two organizations rise to the top in terms of reputation and prestige and boast an impressive roster of guest instructors. They are the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in New Mexico and the Maine Media Workshops + College in Rockport. These institutions attract students from around the world and offer classes for all skill levels (a few advanced classes may require a portfolio review) and varying lengths of time.

Both organizations offer lodging and meal plans for week-long sessions. The Maine Media workshops close from November through January. Santa Fe is best known for its spring and summer sessions but it is open year-round.

If you’re in New York City, the International Center of Photography is a wonderful resource for courses and workshops as part of their Continuing Education Program. Classes range from one-day or weekend sessions to longer programs that meet over a period of weeks. There are plenty of classes to choose from and they run all year.

People in a photography workshop taking a break
Friends from a workshop taking a quick break while on location in Santa Fé.

There, many famous photographers across a variety of genres from street photography to travel and everything in-between, conduct workshops of their own once or twice a year. Also, look out their personal and professional websites, Facebook or Instagram feeds for details, but hurry, the big guys sell out fast.

Ask your local camera shop. The store may not offer its own classes but there’s a good chance the staff will point you in the right direction.

Google “Photography Workshops in [name of your city], but make sure to do some research before enrolling. Ask your friends, check Yelp and other review sites to assess the quality of the programs and make sure to look at the lead photographer’s website portfolio before you confirm. No use learning from someone whose images don’t impress.

I also wrote a post called 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Travel Photography Tour, you may find helpful.

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13 thoughts on “Photography Workshop or Tour: Which is Right for You?

  1. Jeff Bell says:

    I recently went on two weeklong photo workshops with Maciej Dakowicz. The workshop is 5 people plus Maciej. We shot photos all morning, took an afternoon break, then shot all evening. At night, we’d drink a few beers and Maciej would review our photos and give feedback. It was so much fun taking photos all day with a group of likeminded people. Maciej is a great teacher who does these workshops all over the world.

    However, I have done workshops with other well-known photographers that were not very good. As you say picking the right workshop or tour is important.

  2. Ron Joiner says:

    One of the problems with photography tours is that everyone want to eat when the light is best, that is, the golden hour, the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset, during which daylight is redder, softer and wonderful contrasts than when the Sun is higher in the sky.

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Yes, for some that can be the issue and I won’t go on those trips. Usually, they cater to people who like the idea of a photography trip but not enough to get up early. Which is fine… for them. 🙂

      I make sure to discuss timing with the company to guard against just that. I won’t go on a photography tour that doesn’t keep the light in mind.

  3. leecleland says:

    Well worth pointing out the difference between a workshop and a tour, many people don’t realise they are not the same.

  4. Susan Portnoy says:

    Thanks, Susie. I haven’t been to Maine but having just taken at workshop in Santa Fe, I thought it might be useful for other people to know what they’re all about. It was hard but really worth the time and effort.

  5. Susie Wellendorf says:

    Great advice. Many moons ago, I attended the Maine Media Workshops and really enjoyed it. I was in my early 20s and working in a corporate communications job. I think it would have been better suited for me if I had a bit more experience. I would love to attend another session there or in Santa Fe now that I have more miles on my camera!

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