Thoughts on taking a streetphotography workshop
Plenty of streetphotographers are giving workshops. Does it make sense to participate in one? Here are some thoughts.
Know what you want
Know what you want from a workshop. What is your goal? What do you want to achieve?
Are you purely going for improving specific skills? Are you going for networking and meeting other likeminded people? Are you going for a a portfolio review or a group-discussion on your work? Do you need motivation? Do you want a shoot at a fresh location with a local guide?
Any reason is a valid reason but it makes sense to know what you want from a workshop before you sign up.
"Any reason is a valid reason but it makes sense to know what you want from a workshop before you sign up"
Know what you get
First of all: know that a good photographer is not necessary a good teacher. Actually it is more often the other way around. So read reviews and recommendations and ask around.
Know that some of these workshops are more like meet-your-celebrity-photographer experiences than workshops. I had it that I got to spend quite some time with the artist, but afterwards I really ask myself what I actually learned.
But at the same time: not every thing you learn is quantifiable. Sometimes you simply learn from somebody’s attitude and broader view on photography or even on life. Things that do not immediately find their way into your skillset or work, but might influence you in the long run. The question is: do you need a workshop for that?
Also I had a streetportrait-photography workshop that was advertised to include a model. The model appeared to be the photographer's wife and she was not present at the workshop because she didn't travel with her husband for whatever reason. Which meant we didn't have a model to practise on and in the end I even ended up modeling myself for the other participants.
"Know that a good photographer is not necessary a good teacher"
Be prepared to receive criticism
One of the most scary but at the same time most exciting things during your development-path is to step into the spotlight and show your work to others. Especially when these others are established names. Be prepared to receive criticism. It will help you in the long run. Yes it hurts, but when you want to make progress you have to be willing to receive feedback, both positive and negative.
But at the same time be aware that the feedback of a teacher is also just an opinion. I had one workshop-teacher that was quite harsh and downplayed my work by comparing some of my pictures directly to his acclaimed portfolio-shots from a 20-year long career. To me being that harsh on a relative beginner seemed unfair and it actually kept me from enjoying photography for at least a few months. The contrary also happened: a teacher that didn’t want to give his opinion because -in his own words- ’it would be too opiniated’, with in the end the same effect. It proves that teaching is a job and that constructive criticism is apparently not that simple to give.
But other times getting feedback from a teacher or peers was very rewarding. Even if they criticise some of your work, you always learn from it and it really helps you to bring across your vision and helps you to grow as an artist.
"Yes it hurts, but when you want to make progress you have to be willing to receive feedback"
Work towards a goal
Use a workshop as an integrated step in your development as a photographer/artist. Look at where you are, look at your skillset and define what your next logical step should be. The better you come prepared, the better you predefine what you want to achieve, the more likely you will get from it what you want. For a teacher it's also way easier to anticipate if you already have an idea where you are going. And that way you can truly benefit from your teachers experience by asking hands-on tips and recommendations.
On the other hand: not every teacher is equipped to practically respond to your requests. I approached an established photographer to help me select work for an exhibition and book, typically things you do to finalize a project. Instead he made me question what I was doing as a photographer altogether. Interesting and maybe even meaningful, but simply not very practical at the time.
"You always pick up something by observing how others work and by just talking to them"
Realize that you always learn something from a workshop and even negative criticism can be very educational. And even if a workshop does not completely meet your expectations, just know that you always pick up something by observing how others work and by just talking to them. In that sense it's a no-brainer: if you have the time and money just do it. But if you lack any of these or you would prefer to set different priorities, then there are good alternatives for enhancing your skills or extending your network. There are online groups that can give you feedback, online courses, online portfolio-reviews, photowalks in any town you can imagine, photoshows and exhibitions to meet likeminded people, etc. etc.