When taking a photography workshop, it’s important to perform some due diligence to ensure you’re investing your money wisely. Whether you’re a brand new or seasoned photographer, one things holds true — if you belong to any website, photography Facebook group, or have photographer friends, you are likely to get bombarded on a weekly, maybe even daily, basis with educational opportunities and workshops. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad of choices you have for both large organized conferences and the small, under 10 people “almost alone” types of workshops. While there are often great opportunities to learn from successful photographers through workshops, it’s important to note that just because something is deemed a “workshop” doesn’t mean that there aren’t any precautions to take and research to be done.
There are a few points to realize before going any further. Just like the wedding and portrait photography industry itself, there are few regulations and anyone can decide they want to host a workshop. I personally think workshops are some of the best learning opportunities out there, but I’ve also been party to some that — being blunt — I was upset to waste my time on, let alone my money.
So here’s a few tips and pointers to help you get the most for your money and help you grow as a photographer, while not getting ripped off.
- Look at the photographers work. This doesn’t just mean their “highlight” photos, but their entire body of paid work. Also check to see if they are consistently posting new work, active in the community, and if their workshop topic jives with what they are posting. In other words, if you see a great business workshop but the person isn’t posting a lot of work, or the work isn’t of a high quality, you may want to think twice. There are several successful ways to run a photography business but taking business advice from a boutique photographer, if you are a bulk photographer, may not be worth it for you.
- Look at their workshop T&C (terms and conditions). Most professional photographers have very good contracts with their clients (or they should) because we are selling an intangible service. This is no different for workshop hosts. They are promising an intangible good and, as such, often their contracts are fairly specific with what you can and cannot expect as far as what you receive, substitutions of speakers, education, etc.
- If the workshop has a contract, pay particular attention to the cancellation clauses (whether it’s them or you that cancel). Especially when traveling to take a workshop, if something comes up and you have to cancel make sure you can get at least a partial refund, transfer your ticket to someone else, or receive credit to take a future workshop. A great example I know of is a maternity workshop that was being held in an environment that is battling the zika virus (which is very harmful to pregnant mothers). Many of the students wanted to pull out and it caused serious issues because of the workshop T&C.
- Pay attention to any review clauses in the contract. This is the one that troubles me the most. I’ve seen more than one workshop host “ban” you from leaving anything but a positive review in public. This is a serious red flag to me and while the legality of it is a larger issue, you probably don’t want to pay not only the money for the workshop that you didn’t have a good experience with, but then the legal fees to fight a lawsuit should the workshop host decide to pursue legal action based on your accurate review based on your own personal experiences (which is the de facto defense against slander or libel claims).
- Research the photographer’s background. Again, this comes down to knowing who you are giving money to. Check out their work, how long they’ve been in business, if they are still in business (yes, this happens), the level of your work, the level of the speaker’s work, and the topics they are discussing. A workshop host should be an industry expert, and more specifically an expert in the scope of what they are teaching. In other words, you wouldn’t ask a mechanic about removing a mole on your arm.
- Look at the workshop fee. The higher the fee, the less likely you’ll be “sold” on anything. I take classes from both types of photographers but I know (and expect) when I go to a $100 workshop, I’m going to be given a hard sell on actions, forms, processes, etc. Alternatively when I go to a $2,000 workshop, I don’t expect to be getting sold on anything except drooling over some of the gear they are using.
The workshop industry, as some would joke, is almost as large at the photography industry itself. I’ve seen photographers giving workshops in only their second year of business. Not to say they couldn’t help you but its unlikely a 2nd year business has much in the way to offer a photographer with 10 years of experience. Photographers who offer workshops, most of the time, truly love educating and the workshop industry itself is not generally a “get rich quick” scheme. However, there are exceptions and it pays to do your research in advance.