The role of workshops in developing skills

This post was inspired by Amateur Photographer Magazine, who said, in a Facebook post, “We’re planning a feature about photography workshops and holidays. Have you ever done one, and if so who was it with, where did you go and what did you think of it? Would you do another one, once Covid is gone, and if so what’s on your wishlist?”

Using my phone, I started writing a response, then realised that there had been several workshops which had been not so much valuable as crucial in developing sufficient photo skills to sustain me in a certain amount of paid work – plus one which I was unable to attend for health reasons. So this post is my response in more detail than would have been appropriate for a Facebook stream.

The first workshop lesson: take it seriously (Nikon School)

Having dabbled in both film and digital photography, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and bought a digital SLR, a Nikon D70 (the courage being necessary to explain to the distaff side about the amount I’d spent). I realised quickly that I needed education about how to get the best out of it, and so enrolled on a specialist one-day course with Nikon School designed to bring home to the participants the sort of capabilities the D70 brought to bear. So, although I didn’t technically learn anything that wasn’t in the instruction manual, I picked up a sense of the importance of understanding the kit so that I could use it well. This principle was more important than the actual technical knowledge imparted.

Interim learning – the value of a mentor

Shortly afterwards, my work in PR enabled me to meet a professional photographer, Rob Matthews, who we employed to help us with a couple of PR projects. He was very patient in answering my persistent beginner-type questions and I also learned a huge amount simply by watching him at work and seeing the results he got. Not a formal workshop but an invaluable learning experience which shaped my professional style and, importantly, earning ability.

The second workshop: composition (Light and Land)

My principal (unpaid) photography was based around travelling and I simply made sure that I had a camera with me wherever I went. So when I spied an opportunity to visit the Lake District in a landscape photography workshop, I thought it presented a good chance to help me up my game from simple travel snaps, which is all I had really managed thus far. It was organised by Light and Land and, further, was an opportunity to meet not only Damien Demolder (who will be familiar to any regular Amateur Photographer readers, him being one-time editor and that) but also the great Charlie Waite, who is not only one of the great landscape photographers but is also a gent. I learned huge amounts about how to compose decent images rather thn simply capture what’s in front of my eyes at the time.

The best one: Historic Warbirds (Nikon School)

As you can infer, I’m a Nikon user, and have attended various other Nikon workshops, such as a wildlife expedition to the British Wildlife Centre. This was enjoyable and I got some great photos out of it – and Nikon sold me a good lens on the strength of it, so winners all round. But Nikon School really came up trumps with an opportunity to photograph Spitfire and Hurricanes – Historic Warbirds – with the USP of being able to do this from the air. As well as learning the best way to photograph aeroplanes in flight, I and the other participants got the chance to capture some absolutely unique images. A memorable experience indeed.

The one that got away: Printing (Light and Land)

The trouble with Light and Land’s offerings is that they are all so tempting! I managed to resist their blandishments for a while, but then spotted a workshop with Joe Cornish, another great of landscape photography, focussing on preparing and printing images. Sadly, I had to cancel my attendance due to medical reasons, but this is an area where I recognise my own shortcomings and so is likely to be the subject of my next photo workshop.

The value of workshops

There is little substitute, when it comes to learning about something like photography, for just getting out and doing it. The value of a workshop is in shaping the practice – imparting knowledge, giving feedback and enabling the exchange of ideas. You still have to get out and do it, but with the help of workshops you can do this with greater confidence, insight and quality.

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