Selecting a Satisfying Photography Seminar



Seminars suck, workshops are worthless, and most out there can’t teach worth a lick! 

That’s a pretty bold collection of statements, and each point has some merit to it.  Of course, these are generalizations, and not true all the time, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left a seminar, workshop or other “learning session” having not learned a thing and thought to myself “there’s 4 hours of my life I’ll never get back” or “what a collosal waste of time that was”!  Meanwhile, others around me may have thought  “Gee, that was great!” or “I learned so much!” or some other positive thing.  So, seminars don’t really suck, workshops aren’t really worthless, and there are some fabulous teachers out there.  It’s all in how you learn!

The Premise:  Learning is Good

That’s right, I am always in favor of learning, and I certainly hold no corner on knowledge.  Having said that, I have been a teacher, instructor, and trainer in several capacities for over a decade.  I will never stop learning, and if anyone ever tells me they’ve learned enough, to me that means your mind is closed.  Never stop learning, because that is the day you start dying.

There are many ways to learn too.  Take a continuing educational class.  Read a lot!  Books, articles, magazines, and yes, even blogs are great learning resources, and with the internet being where it is today, there is a ton of content online to learn from.  A lot is accessible for free (assuming you have the connection of course).  There is absolutely nothing wrong with learning from free content or sources.  Heck, I’ve even learned over the course of writing this blog.  Actually, I’ve found that there’s no better way to learn than trying to write about something yourself!)

Then, of course, there are seminars.  Seminars are classes set up where one person gets up in front of a usually large group of people, and talks about something for a few hours – maybe even an entire day, and then those that gathered take their handouts, go home, and things are done.  This is quite different from a continuing ed class, a college course, or even an online class, because content is built up over a substantial amount of time – say at least a  couple days.  Usually classes like those go for at least a few weeks or even longer!  So, the question is – how do you know if a photography seminar or workshop is worth they money you’re spending on it?  The problem is that seminars are not the best medium for learning.


The Problem: The Medium

The problem with seminars is three-fold:  time frame, persona, and knowledge.

  • Time Frame:  Seminars, by definition, are usually very short in duration.  Content is super condensed and simplified for quick delivery so details and nuances are often left out by necessity.  This also means that there’s no time for hands-on, and discussions or Q&A are limited to one-off type questions (if you have time), and you can usually also forget about the chance to learn from your fellow attendees.   Quite simply, the format is just not really suited to learning most types of material.  Now, within the context of this blog, I am talking very specifically about photography seminars, but the same holds elsewhere too.
  • The Leader:  Most often, seminar leaders have no formal training in how to educate others.  I’ve seen others try to teach in high school, college, graduate school, and the professional corporate workplace.  However, in my experience, the percentage of those who actually were able to effectively communicate the topic in a meaningful capacity is exceptionally low…I would estimate in the single digits based on my own experience:  Throughout high school, college, and graduate school (over 50 educators), only 4 really ever stood out for me.  That’s only 7%!  How on earth can we expect a higher percentage of skilled leaders outside of education?  We can’t!
  • Knowledge base:  Never ever confuse knowledge with teaching skill.  Just because you know the crap outta the content, doesn’t mean you know how to teach others.  Teaching requires training, development and learning on its own.  Students don’t care if you know everything there is to know about a subject.  If you can’t effectively communicate that knowledge to someone else, who knows less than you – you are not a teacher!

The Solution:  What to Look For

As in any statement, there are exceptions.  At the start, I said that seminars suck.  For the most part, they do.  The environment itself is not conducive to learning.  The person delivering the content is not skilled in the delivery.  And to top if off, expertise is often confused with teaching skills, which is almost always false  Yet, amidst the pile of crappy coal, there are a few diamonds.  How do you find them?  Here are some key things to look for:

1.  Limited content area – anyone trying to teach you everything about photography in one day is setting you up for failure. But if it’s a seminar on lighting, or even better: one-light setups, the odds of success are now tilting in your favor.  Similarly, watch out for seminars that try to teach you all of Lightroom (or Photoshop) in a day.  I’ve been using both for years and probably am still scratching the surface.  I can give you the basics (and some advanced stuff), but I’ll never be able to teach you everything about either.

2.  Limited class size – instructors who limit class size recognize the golden rule in teaching.  Here the idea is that one person really can only engage effectively with no more than 20-30 people at a time.  This allows for the teacher to gauge attendee comprehension, ask questions, get feedback, and either ramp things up, or dial things back to meet the needs of the audience.  In a room of 500 people, this just isn’t possible.

Some may argue that the smaller model kills profits, but I’d venture 30 people who learn a ton are better than 500 people who learn very little.  They are better for word-of-mouth advertising, are more likely to return, and become soft sales reps more than most realize.  You’ve built a community of followers with every class of thirty you are able to really teach!

3.  Photography Workshops – Look for workshops that masquerade as seminars.  Many often mis-use the terms workshop and seminar.  A workshop will usually last more than a day, has a schedule (you can preview these) and includes time for hands-on, classroom stuff as well as “field” stuff.  Anything worth teaching (or learning) deserves some dedicated hands-on time.

4. Certain leaders are the exception:  Look for names that have been doing seminars or photography workshops for years and continually sell out.  They will likely be the Hollywood style leaders in a certain field, but they are also usually very skilled at delivery too through years of experience.  Some examples of excellent photography seminar leaders that I’ve both experienced and heard through respected opinions of colleages include David Ziser, Syl Arena, David DuChemin, and a few others…(click their names to hit respective websites for their photography workshop and seminar schedules…



Consider these thoughts before you sign up for your next photography seminar or photo workshop.  How long is the class?  What is the subject? How long as the teacher been doing it?  Are they an expert in the field?  What do others think who took their classes? Finally, consider your own knowledge levels.  If you are already fairly proficient in a subject (say Lightroom), would a workshop showcasing the latest version (Lightroom 5 for instance) really be of benefit to you?  What will you learn from that photography workshop or seminar that you couldn’t get elsewhere?

Most importantly, ask yourself:  Are you drawn by the leader, or the content they present?  If it’s the latter, the seminar will probably not educate as much as you hope!

LDP Podcast #69: Camera Wars – Mobile Versus Mirrorless!

Kerry's Union Station

I’m so excited to announce the latest podcast (it’s been quiet for a while…) is up and ready for listening.  I’ve brought back my good friend Kerry Garrison to the show, as we got together a few weeks ago here in Delightful Denver for a bite to eat and a spontaneous photo walk.  He walked along with his new Sony NEX 5N, and I played the part of tour guide on our well-reknowned 16th Street Mall.  Within minutes, of course, I could not contain myself and pulled out the only camera I had with me – my iPhone!  Thus began the camera war between mobile phone camera and mirror-less camera!  I say this in jest of course, because it wasn’t really a least not a close one!  But, the results and our analysis may surprise you.  Check out the podcast where we give you the skinny on how these devices stack up in a head-to-head match up.  Take a look at some of our similar shots from the excursion below (and the show notes!):

Kerry – Aerial Perspective

Kerry - Shot #2

Jason’s Similar Shot

Kerry’s Horse Shot

Jason’s Horse Shot

Jason's Horse Shot

Kerry’s Dog Shot

Kerry's Dog Shot

Kerry’s Building Shot

Kerry's Gates Building

Jason’s Building Shot

Jason's Building Shot

Kerry’s Bridge Support Shot

Kerry's Bridge Cable

Jason’s Bridge Support Shot

Jason's Bridge Cable Shot

Kerry’s Union Station

Kerry's Union Station

Jason’s Union Station

 Jason's Union Station

Kerry’s Night Shot

Kerry's Night Shot

Jason’s Night Shot

Jason's Night Shot

So, what we were taking into consideration for how we defined image quality includes:

Color Range

Tonal Range



Resistance Is Futile

iPhone 4s

I’ve long been fond of my status as a “vendor-neutral” blogger.  Shortly after beginning this blog I realized that it’s not the camera that makes the photographer good, it’s who’s behind the lens that matters.  I’ve got many friends who are Nikonians, others who are Pentaxians, and even a few Olympains out there.  The camera doesn’t matter.  I still shoot Canon-centric gear…

Equally, I’ve worked my way up the heap in a predominantly Windows-world.  Beginning with Windows 3.1, 3.11 for workgroups, then on to 95, 98, the worst idea ever – Millenium, then on to XP, Vista (a.k.a. Windows 7 beta), and finally to Windows 7, I’ve become intimately familiar with the inner workings of each of these operating systems.  During that time I also became pretty familiar with Apple systems:   Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, and today’s Snow Leopard.

Last but not least, my phones started with the LG Flip Phone, before I migrated to a Blackberry, then an  HTC.  On the heels of that, I’ve also used the Samsung, Motorola Droid, Motorola Droid 2, and last but not least, the Motorola Droid X.  This past weekend, I finally caved…

iPhone 4s

I now am the owner of an Apple iPhone 4s.  The circle has been completed – working from home primarily on an Apple Macbook Pro, an iPad 2, and now an iPhone 4s – this Windows certified technology geek is now pretty much an Apple fanboy!  I gotta admit – it is pretty cool gear!  I do still work with Windows systems, primarily XP and 7 (along with the server equivalents), and am still pretty well-versed on the Android systems as well (I did a roll-out of over 250 phones on my last contract job including Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry, and Apple devices.)

I’ve resisted the single-source ownership of computing devices for as long as I could – but the deal was just too good to pass up (psst…thanks Verizon for being out of the iPhone 4….the 4s is a great device at the discounted rate I got!)  Why did I switch?  Touch screen more than anything else.  Every smart phone I’ve had (primarily the Motorolas), the touch screen has lost sensitivity to the point where I have found it difficult to even unlock the phone or answer a call.  My upgrade window at Verizon kicked in Jan 1st.  I debated long and hard about it as the iPhone 4 was a $100 upgrade cost, and the iPhone 4s was a $200 upgrade.

After trading in my Droid X and an old iPod Touch, I had about $94 in credit due…so figured for $6, I could try it once.  A visit to the store and I was told that the iPhone 4 was out of stock – would I be interested in the 4s?  Well sure, but I had not intended to pay more than my original upgrade cost.  Well, Mr. Anderson, since you’ve been a faithful Verizon customer for so long, let’s see what we can do.  I walked out of the store with the 4s for $6!  Sort of a no-brainer…

Are you resisting the trend?  What are your platforms?  Am I joining your fold or have I betrayed the open sourced cause?