Photography Education Guide

Get Educated, Don’t Get Burned

Seminars, workshops, online schools, online courses, mentor groups, universities…….what’s it all about and where do you get the most for your money?

It seems like there are almost as many people trying to tell others how to be a photographer as there are photographers that are doing well.  That means an overwhelming number of chances to dip into your wallet, but also many ways to spend more than you get in return.  Some say that if you learn one thing, the program was worth it.  I’d say that depends a lot on the quality of the “one thing” and the cost in both dollars and time.

Check out different formats before jumping.

1. WORKSHOPS: They are generally spread over 3-5 days and cost the most.  However, if you are looking for better shooting skills this is the format that will work best.  Look for hands-on shooting opportunities with models and daily critiques of what you are doing.  An ideal format would have a morning to cover a lesson and watch the instructor work with the model, an afternoon for you to try your hand at that day’s lesson, and evening to edit your work with a critique scheduled for first thing in the morning.  Then repeat but don’t rinse. I consider Cliff Mautner an excellent educator.  He and his soon to be wife Susan Stripling both do workshops and will give you great value for your dollar.  Jerry Ghionis (his workshops sell out fast) delivers a mind-blowing bang for your buck.  Boudoir workshops are popular, and I know there are many presenters out there and I don’t know most of them.  Critsy Rowe gets great reviews and has a book out.  I love the book because you could purchase it before the workshop and come prepared, or after and have it as a posing, lighting, and selling guide.  Chuck Arlünd does a great lighting workshop.  If you can get on one, Tamara Lackey, Lori Nordstrom, Khara Plicanic, and Laura Novak all occasionally offer workshops.  Keep your radar up to get in them.

2. SEMINARS: They are the most common and usually less expensive.  They can last anywhere from most of a day to just a few hours.  Here is an area where we get into motive.  Is the presenter there to truly educate, or is the main goal to teach a little and then sell you on the products and services he/she offers.  Most offer DVDs, some add in continuing educational and business growth programs, and some will sell you the kitchen sink if you get your credit card out.  I have no problem with product sales, in fact, I think they help to make the seminar a more complete experience.  It’s difficult for even the best note-taker to get it all down, and a DVD means you can take the lessons along for closer review and implementation.  Good one-day or one-evening seminars are not as popular as they were a few years ago, and I think there are good reasons for that.  Too much information in too little time.  It’s frosting without the cake.  The cost to the presenter is high, so you can expect a pretty heavy sales pitch.  Narrow topics can be covered in this format and are sometimes offered through your local guild; this can be an excellent value.

3. ONLINE LEARNING:  This is relativity new and seems to be pretty exciting.  creativeLIVE is a biggie and offers a great chance to try before you buy.  The workshops (yes they have full-on workshops that can last 5 days) are completely free.  Just tune-in and check it out.  If you like what you hear, the DVD is available at a very reasonable cost.  This is truly a try before you buy experience, which I love.  Sue Bryce has been their most popular presenter, and what she teaches really resonates with the audience.  Well worth checking out.  Sandy Puc’ has SPTV.  Again free.  Not only can you learn from Sandy, but she interviews and works with photographers throughout the industry.  Another great value to check out.

4. MENTORING:  This is developing an ongoing relationship with a photographer or business consultant.  It can last for a year or more, can provide great marketing materials, and gives assistance that is personally directed toward your business.  Many photographers who have signed up for mentoring programs feel they got a jump-start on a great business model, but others feel disappointed.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK before signing up.  Mentoring costs are high, so you have to be ready to ask the right questions, sold on the concepts, and positive you want to make the changes that might be recommended.

5. CONTINUING GROUPS:  I love these and think they are popular for a reason: new information every month.  Some are very marketing-based like Sarah Petty’s The Joy of Marketing.  SPU (Sandy Puc’ University) gives marketing materials for every month, and posing and lighting guides.  Jerry Ghionis’s ICE Society is wedding-based.  You get a new workshop every month with lots of help for improving your shooting and sales skills.  Most of these groups come complete with a forum to interact with your fellow professionals.  You can ask the mentor and also get feedback.  Conversations start, things get talked through, even friendships are made.  These groups offer a smaller, more intimate experience than general forums which are often very broad-based and members offer opinions when they are not necessarily qualified.

6. CONVENTIONS:  Small like Mystic, or large like WPPI, conventions offer the opportunity to hear a number of speakers on a variety of topics.  Don’t expect in-depth classes.  These are usually short and scratch the surface.  However, they provide a chance to “try out” many different presenters and glean those aha moments that just might excite you to make a change in your business.  They come complete with a trade show and many people tell me they learn as much from the vendors as the programs (we try).  Conventions provide opportunities for meeting many more people, to do more networking, and to look at tons of images and get inspired.  I think the bang for the buck is usually there.  One caveat, every speaker at WPPI is sponsored by someone so be prepared for some pimp time.

In the next segment, we will look at how to make a decision on where to spend your money and making sure you find what’s right for you.