Photography Tips

A Photographic Workshop: Is it right for you?

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

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 succeed if you’re serious about learning.

Is a workshop right for you? Here are a few things to consider.

What is a photographic workshop?

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 by renowned photographers whose work you might find in magazines, galleries or museums. Classes can focus on specific genres of photography (wildlife, travel, landscape or fashion etc.), while others might concentrate on individual techniques (how to light, infrared photography, how to work with models, Instagram, iPhonography), or post-production (classes on Lightroom, Photoshop or printing). Some workshops include travel with a photogenic destination as the backdrop for inspiration and instruction.

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

Price is dependent on a range of variables: the length of the workshop and its location; the celebrity of the photographer teaching; if specialized equipment is needed or if models are used. The good news: there’s a broad range of options to choose from.

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An image from an assignment while at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. The class: Visions of the American West

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. 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 equipment you can rent.  If the class has special requirements that equipment is often 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 can be an all day and into the night depending on the subject of the class.
  • One-on-one coaching from the pro photographer leading the workshop (this will vary by the class and the instructor)
  • A teaching assistant if the class is on the larger
  • Breaks for meals (in some cases meals are provided)
  • You’ll learn A LOT
My workshop friends after a long day shooting on location.

My fellow workshop mates at the end of a long afternoon shooting on location.

The difference between a Photographic Workshop and a Photographic Tour/Safari.

In both cases, improving your photography on the menu and often include a well-known guest photographer. However, photography tours tend to be more casual in nature and the instruction isn’t as immersive. More emphasis is placed on experiencing and photographing bucket-list locations than intensive photographic instruction that will challenge your photographic skills. Tours rarely, if ever, dispense assignments and group critiques and discussions are rare. In some cases you’ll have the opportunity to sit with the lead photographer to discuss your work privately, but it isn’t a given. If you want that kind of attention be sure to ask if that’s available before you book. On the average, instruction and assistance is on the go.

A photo from an International Center of Photography workshop assignment on Street Photography

A photo I took during  an International Center of Photography workshop assignment on Street Photography

How to find a 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 a wide array of classes for all skill levels (a few advanced classes may require a portfolio review). Both offer lodging and meal plans for week-long sessions. The Maine Media workshops close from November thru 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 great 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.
  • 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. Check out their personal and professional websites for details, but hurry, the big guys sell out fast.
  • Another great place to check for workshops is your local camera shop. If the store doesn’t offer its own classes the staff may be able to point you in the right direction.
  • Google “Photographic 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.

Note: I was a guest of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops but opinions expressed here are my own. 


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11 replies »

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

Would love to hear from you!