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A Warning on Workshops: Confidence Does Not Take Pictures

A lot of new photographers go to workshops, where they buy up the appearance and candor of skill and resell it through their cameras in the form of pictures in varying degrees of quality and creativity, and exactly the same expression of confidence. This article is written for both the photographer, and the person who might hire them.

Let me paint a picture. In the early 2000’s there was a “drop-shipping” craze. If you weren’t into entrepreneurial and tech trends at the time, you might’ve missed it. Basically, wholesale businesses were cropping up that would allow you to sell products from their catalog directly to customers. There was no inventory to keep, nothing to ship and no returns to handle. It was so easy, all you needed was a website. Now, granted, in the early 2000’s, getting your hands on a website was a lot more mysterious than it is today. Nevertheless, it was a low barrier to entry. You just had to have a better website than the next sucker, and get people to look at it.

Something like that is happening right now in photography industries in the form of photography workshops aimed at hopeful photographers.

Now, before I go on, let me return to my drop shipping comparison for a moment. There were some people who leveraged business savvy, tech savvy, time and energy, and transformed simple drop shipping opportunities into multi-faceted enterprises. And likewise, there are some clever and ambitious people who find a seed of opportunity in an over-promising photography workshop and grow that into the kind of success they want. But like the drop shippers, they were the exception. So many others thought there was nothing left to do when inventory, shipping and returns were taken care of. Just like so many people attending these photography workshops thinking that with a camera, a few posing tricks, the right verbiage, and a source of confidence, there’s nothing left to do, but succeed.

Unfortunately, that is far from being the case. It’s the overly optimistic, budding photographers who end up discouraged when they realize they’re not going to take the photography industry by storm any time soon, and their unsuspecting clients responding to their feigned confidence, who are suffering and ending up jaded. You might think an established photographer would get a certain satisfaction out of watching situations like these implode. But, I don’t. I think it’s sad.

It’s sad for the photographer, because there’s a good chance they bought into a workshop making a series of promises that were way too big. They paid good money to go to learn “everything they need to know”—-maybe decades worth of knowledge—only to realize, while hiding behind their camera in front of a huge bridal party or rambunctious group of children, that they are ill equipped for the reality of those situations and their “confidence” has evaporated in the face of that anxiety.

A workshop can never replace experience and it can never provide resilient confidence, but it’s easier and it comes with a spokesperson telling you the experience is overrated and confidence can be bought, so a lot of photographers fall for those big promises. In truth, it would be more beneficial for that photographer to shoot a lot of stuff for 50 bucks a pop. They’d get all the same knowledge, grow genuine confidence, and actually make some money that they could put toward equipment, or invest in a technique-specific workshop or class. Instead, a lot of them end up discouraged, or worse, thinking that photography in general is not for them. As someone who believes photography has something for everyone, I think that’s sad.

And, its unfortunate for families, couples, individuals, and the appreciators of good photography, because they’re going to spend more money on crappier images, with crappy experiences, more often. They’ll practically need the insight of a photographer, to know whether or not to hire this photographer. They’ll grow jaded over time, thinking that the industry has nothing to offer them anymore, and they’ll settle for photos on their phone that never make their way from Instagram to their walls.

So, whoever you are, try and keep these things in mind:

If you’re a photographer

  • Stay in your britches while they still fit. You can’t buy experience and you can’t learn a decade’s worth of skill in a day, or a weekend, or a week or a year. Work on gaining skill and confidence organically. Remember, if you’re learning from a session with a client who’s paying you (anything), they’re paying you to learn, which is seriously awesome.
  • Stay away from workshops that make promises. No workshop anywhere, ever, can guarantee anything about what you’ll get out of it. If they do, it’s just trying to make the sale and nothing more. The value of all education is based squarely on what you do with it when you leave. Rest assured, no matter what the workshop is, you will have to do something with it in order to take it from theoretical knowledge to active skill. E.g., practice, and tons of it.
  • Look for technique or skill-specific workshops. You don’t want a workshop that teaches you, however enticing the all-in-one may be, “how to be a wedding photographer”. You want a workshop that teaches you “how to work with large groups of people”, or “how to use an off camera flash during a party”, or ”how to manage event booking for a photography business”, I could go on, but you get my drift.
  • Look for workshops that continue to hold your hand. An excellent workshop should provide some line of support for you as you try to implement what you learned. This is akin to a college helping graduates land a job, and it shows a commitment to actually helping you learn and grow.

If you’re going to hire a photographer


  • Know some of the people you’re considering are probably faking it. Over-promising workshops have grown like weeds, and they’ve made it harder for you to tell who actually knows their stuff and who’s just figured out the right language. Pause on everyone.
  • You don’t always get what you pay for. While taken in a broader context (e.g., reviews, social media presence, portfolio), a high price often indicates the quality of a photographer. But realize that a high price does not promise one. Many workshops cause photographer’s to artificially inflate the value of their work, sometimes going as far as to directly instruct them to price themselves higher because it will make people think they’re of higher quality. You need to thoroughly research your photographer.
  • Ask to see actual deliveries. No, a portfolio is not enough. I can’t express how easy it is to pick out 50 portfolio-worthy images out of 10,000 spray-n-pray photos. What you need to know is how many great photos they can make for you, before you get tired and fatigued, or before time runs out. Ask your photographer to show you some actual deliveries they’ve made for other clients.
  • Ask them to tell you their professional story. You should try to find out where they gained their experience and skill. That story should include plenty of ups and downs. It should include some successes and some defeats. It should include a lot of practice. It should probably also include some workshops, or workshop like activities, but they ought to be little more than a footnote in the grand scheme of their story. No real professional actually points to a workshop for their skill—they point to everything they did after the workshop.