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For Photographers: Workshops

This week I want to chat with you about workshops!  This is something that I think is pretty unique to our industry because you don’t find many other professions where people pull back the curtain and show you how they run their business.  What you have to remember is the recipe that works for them may not work perfectly for you but you should be able to take an idea you get from a workshop and make it your own.  When I first started my business I couldn’t find a class at the local college on how to be a modern day photographer, instead I read forums online, read every FAQ post by photographers I admired and soaked up as much knowledge as possible.  I’m not saying you can’t learn from college classes but I think similar to the IT field college will give you a basic foundation but workshops are like the specialty training classes you take later.

Workshops can be overwhelming and they may cover areas you are not ready for yet.  The audience in a workshop can range from seasoned pros to someone who is still portfolio building.  I’ve attended several workshops over the years, I usually try to do one a year because you can (and I have) spend thousands on workshops.  They can range from a single day to a solid week.  I’ve had great experiences and just okay experiences.  When you are spending a lot of money you want to feel that you are walking away with something and you got your money’s worth.  I’ve attended some where after the first day my roommate and I agreed that we were disappointed but the second day made up for it.  Based on my experiences with workshops I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned and try to abide by so I know I’m getting my money’s worth.  Like I said I try to attend one a year so that is a big item to budget for and there are no refunds.  So here are my tips for you when deciding on a workshop!

1.  Prioritize!  Sit down and think about what you want to improve or learn from with a workshop.  Do you need help with off camera flash?  Would you like to learn how to create a certain style in your images with post processing?  Do you admire a photographer that has a great work life balance and you want to know how they do it?  I took a workshop last year that focused more on the business side of things and it was just what I needed.  This year I wanted to improve my posing skills, I wanted my clients to feel more natural in front of the camera and it is up to me to get them there.  I’ve always given basic direction to clients but I have not been as direct as I could be to make them confident.  Prioritize money in your budget towards workshops also.  They can be a great learning experience and push you forward in your business if you choose smartly.

2.  Research!  Find a photographer that you feel does well at what you want to improve on.  Read their blog, see what they have to say, you might pick up tips without taking their workshops.  Or it might just whet your appetite enough that you want to learn more.  When it comes to posing there is one blog I always stalk  and admire for her posing techniques.  Her clients always look like they are having so much fun and she has a great mix of poses.  She can pull 5-10 images out of one pose and they all look different.  With my business workshop last year I was impressed with how well run the back office was in that she had weddings posted within days to the blog and album designs done just days after.  Plus she consistently had work going up.  Now this is just my opinion but I want to learn from someone who is successful, I want to see new work on their website frequently.  I’ve taken a workshop before where everyone raved about the person and I signed up because of that.  Then I noticed she hadn’t updated her website in over six months, there was no new work being shown.  Maybe she was too busy to blog new stuff or maybe she had nothing new to blog.  That leads me to another mistake that research will save you from, don’t take a workshop just because of what other people say.  You need to research it, you need to be sure it is a fit for your style and business.  That workshop that everyone else raved about I learned nothing from.  Seriously it was a style that was nothing like my own and I walked away with nothing I could use in my business going forward.  It wasn’t the workshop person’s fault, it was mine.  I didn’t research, I didn’t prioritize I just handed over my money and that was a big mistake.  That workshop was several years ago and it led to the tips I’m giving you now.

3.  Pounce!  If you’ve been following a photographer that you love and you’ve prioritized what you need to improve in your business then it should be a no-brainer to sign up for their workshop.  You should feel confident in your decision if you’ve done your research ahead of time.  Do not sign up for a workshop because you want to become their friend, seriously you might be paying them thousands of dollars, they need to earn it from you.  Good teachers want to teach you and want you to leave feeling like it was money well spent.

4.  Connect!  I highly encourage you to connect with the other attendees before the workshop if at all possible.  Facebook groups are great for this!  You might find yourself being able to answer questions for others or you might be the one with the questions.  You are most likely spread out across the country so you can share information that you might be hesitant to share with your competitors.  Maybe you have a great idea you want to try out but you need a sounding board to work out the kinks.  That is what this group is for!  I actually started a group for the girls from the business workshop I attended last year and it has been great!  We are all in different places in our business but you never know who might have an awesome answer for you.  Plus sometimes it’s nice to have a group to gripe to ;).  When you are at the workshop try to connect even more by putting together a dinner after the workshop if you can or room together and save money!  It gives you a chance to talk about what you learned that day and make sure you didn’t miss anything.  I would love to put together a girls weekend with my group from last year just to see where we all are now with our business and have a retreat of sorts.  It would be great to bounce ideas off each other and talk about what we need help with while in one room at the same time!

5.  Learn!  Take notes but make sure you listen while you are doing that.  Listen to everyone’s questions and if you are smart start writing down questions before the workshop whenever you have one so you remember to ask.  I’m kicking myself for not doing that for today’s workshop, I remembered a few questions but I seriously have tons more!  You will probably leave completely overwhelmed and your notes might not make a lick of sense but take a couple days to decompress and then look at them again.  Save that notebook too and pull it out a year later and review your notes again.  I plan to pull out all my old notebooks this winter and review my notes from all the workshops and seminars I’ve attended to see if there is something that I’m ready to implement now that I wasn’t at the time.  Workshops usually have opportunities to photograph models too.  This can be good and bad.  It is great if you need things for your portfolio or you just want to try out what the teacher is talking about.  It is bad if you don’t step back and watch and listen to the person you’ve paid to learn from.  I wanted to learn about posing today so I took very few images and spent most of the time watching how others posed the models and how they flowed their posing.  Not just the teacher but even the other attendees, how did they interact with the models, how did they direct them?  All the attendees there could possibly teach me something so I stayed open to the opportunities.  I actually think I am better off watching and absorbing and then practicing on my own couple where it is just us.  That is where having a sister and her boyfriend nearby help because I can practice on them ;).  If I was jockeying for a spot to photograph the models today I might have missed a side conversation about setting white balances manually that could benefit me in the long run.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t photograph the models at workshops but you shouldn’t be focused completely on that, you need to be open to putting your camera down and listening and watching.  I definitely took a few shots of the models today and I’ll share them below but I learned so much more just watching.

6. Set Goals!  I wanted to keep it easy and just have 5 tips but this is too important to leave out.  After the workshop take a few days to digest all the information, you will probably be overwhelmed.  Then go back and think about what you took the workshop for in the first place.  Organize your notes and set a goal to start turning that weakest point into your strongest.  The goals can be small and build from there but put together a plan.  Then use the other attendees to keep you accountable.  I think my first small goal will be to try to make small adjustments to a pose and get at least 5 different photos out of one pose.   I’m really bad about about moving to completely new poses instead of working with what is in front of me.  I think it will give my photos a more natural flow!  I could have another attendee hold me accountable just by looking at my next session and seeing if they see what we were taught.  Having someone hold you accountable can be a huge help because I can talk myself out of anything but I might not be able to smooth talk someone else.

For those wondering about today’s workshop it was The Workshop Experience by Katelyn James!  If you read yesterday’s post you saw photos she took of David and me recently and that was another great way to learn from her when it comes to posing.  Try being on the other side of the lens and actually being the client and have someone else direct you and you will learn a ton I promise!  I followed all my tips above when it came to Katelyn’s workshop, I prioritized posing as a weakness and found a photographer who I think is great at it.  When she announced her workshop I pounced because I knew she could teach me.  I learned a ton from her today and I was very happy with the workshop.  I could have listened to her talk all night about her business because I know there are things that I can adapt for my own business.

Next year I’m looking at taking a Justin & Mary Marantz workshop where they walk through a wedding day and show you how they do things.  I heard them speak at the DC SMUG in September and came home with tons of notes after only a couple hours.  There are things I do a certain way on a wedding day but I’m always open to ways I can improve and there aren’t many workshops that walk  you through an entire wedding day!

Also a great way to get snippets from photographers and figure out who you might want to learn more from is to attend Imaging USA or WPPI.  There are a ton of speakers and you will feel like your brain exploded afterwards!  You can learn so much in such a short time from so many successful photographers in our industry.  You should still follow my tips when picking who you want to see so you get the most out of the classes.  Although if Jerry Ghionis is speaking just go, it is totally worth it!  Even David enjoyed his seminar two years ago at Imaging!

So when you step out into the world of workshops think about what I’ve said and I hope it helps you have a more successful workshop experience!  And of course no post is really complete without photos!  AnnaMarie and Ryan are gorgeous and were such great troopers today, it was like they were celebrities and we were all paparazzi!  Big thank you to Katelyn for such a great workshop and helping me with my weaknesses!

Hair/Makeup – Emily Hudspeth : http://www.emilyhudspeth.com/Home.html
Venue – Virginia Center for Architecture : http://www.virginiaarchitecture.org/vca_index.html
Florals – The Brides Cafe : http://www.thebridescafe.com/
Styling help/Setup – http://twitter.com/#!/weddingwhimsy
Dress – Tiffany’s Bridal : http://tiffanysbridal.com/
Catering – Mosaic : http://mosaicedibles.com/
Workshop Sponsors:
H-B Photo Packaging – http://www.h-bphoto.com/
Kelly Moore – http://kellymoorebag.com/
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