The Photo Workshop Experience

Wonderful locations, photographic inspiration, good information when you need it, breakthrough's in areas the brain or heart were resisting, camaraderie, all of these are reasons people take photography workshops. So many people want to lead workshops for similar reasons.

Whether in the studio or in the field, the most important aspect of the learning is the ability to get help with an issue when it arises, and understand the reasoning behind the help. Delivered in a non-precious supportive tone, with a willingness to repeat the idea until it is clear, these are some of the attributes of a good workshop instructor and experience.

I think the contract one makes with students in a workshop is to set your own photography aside, and concentrate on making a difference for people. It is not always easy to do, as parades of wonder can be passing us by, and no one wants to talk at all, just see and work. In the middle of such experiences though, you must still be there for your students. Make sure it is understood that as the instructor, you are completely interruptible when you are working alongside them, make sure they know you are there to help. If you have other priorities, teaching workshops should not be your endeavor.

I've been teaching photography since 1977, and workshop since 1978. I've met a lot of people over those decades. Most all have visual sensitivity that I could understand, most had technical questions that they needed help with. Many had a love for the planet and of being these but they just couldn't help but generalize with wide views possessing little intensity. I worked with these issues for many years, and eventually decided that I would confront some of the visualization and compositional possibilities right up front. So that's what I do, spend the first morning a field workshop, talking, looking, discussing aspirations, form, design, heart and distillation.

In the field, I do my best to wander among my students, see how they are doing, look for hesitations and try to address them. I carry my Hoodman Loop so we can both see what they've done. Impromptu demonstrations of depth of field and composition are turned into group experiences.

In studio classes. the hands-on help is super critical. A real issue addressed when i arises, a solution found, perhaps even a few alternatives. Sometimes I feel a bit like a detective, trying to figure out what is really going, what conceptual connection needs assistance.

I often spend classroom individual time untangling my students from a binding web of internet recommendations that either are about something else, often unnecessary, and working to free my students from a sense that they are supposed to do a bunch of stuff to their image to be a real professional.

It is often shocking to students when I tell them they are over working an image.

Play in Photoshops has its own initial rewards and almost certain longterm frustration. I sometimes walk up to a student's workstation and see dozens of Layers that they have a hard time explaining what they do. Sometime it is characterized as play. I usually stop them, turn off the Layers, look at the file and start by saying, is there something unrealized here, is there something wrong, then addressing those issues leading toward the real question,does of the magic of your intent when you pressed the shutter release?

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Last updated on June 12, 2009. Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2009 Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved.