Workshops 101

You’ve finally chosen the perfect workshop and now you’re feeling a mixture of excitement, nerves, and…well, the feeling like you just gambled a big chunk of change. The good news?
A little preparation can help you calm those nerves, maximize that investment, and make sure your workshop experience lives up to your sky-high expectations.

Here’s what you need to do before W-Day arrives.

Get your head in the game.

If you only had two days to spend in Paris, you’d do a little research to make sure you didn’t miss anything major, right? Likewise, if you try to wing it at a workshop, you may not get as much out of it. Write down a list of things you’d like to learn or improve upon. Email your instructor and ask if there’s any specific gear or software you need to bring — you don’t want to show up at an editing workshop with CS6 on your laptop only to find out the instructor works in Lightroom. If you received any course materials, read them. Last but not least, try to catch up on your work and get a good night’s sleep before you leave, so you’re not feeling drained or distracted while you’re there.

Don't forget to pack the Essentials.

Pack up.

Check the weather a few days before you leave. You can have frost in Miami, rain in Southern California, or a toasty day in Iceland. Know what to expect and pack accordingly. Here are a few must-haves:

Layers. Bring t-shirts, cardis, hoodies, and one warm jacket, so you can easily adapt to whatever nature dishes out.

Comfy pants. For so many reasons.

Comfy shoes. You’ll probably be on your feet a lot.

Rain boots. If you’ll be shooting near mud or water or snow, you’ll want something waterproof.

Your camera and lenses. Obviously.

Backup gear. Beg, borrow, or buy. That styled barn wedding won’t do you any good if your only camera goes into error-code mode.

Batteries. Don’t forget extra batteries for your flash and triggers, too.

Chargers. For your phone, laptop, camera batteries, and rechargeables.

A small lens bag or camera tote so you don’t have to carry every piece of equipment everywhere you go.

Memory cards. Bring more than you think you’ll need.

An external flash in case a freak rainstorm turns your Golden Sunlight Workshop into a Dimly-Lit Hotel Lobby Workshop.

Plastic bags to protect your gear if bad weather pops up.

Your laptop. As if you’d leave home without it anyway.

A USB drive in case you want to share files and the wi-fi’s being wonky.

Filters. You’ll need them if you’re shooting anywhere that might damage your lenses, like a windy beach, rocky hillside, or dusty meadow.

A notebook and pen to take notes.

Money. Because money.

Even more money if meals aren’t included.

Snacks even if meals are included.

Put your thick skin on.

One thing you shouldn’t pack for a workshop: your ego. If you want to be showered with praise, you can just ask your parents to review your portfolio. But when you’re at a workshop, be open to constructive feedback and suggestions. You don’t have to follow every piece of advice, but listen anyway. You never know what might click.

Don't pack your Ego.

Aim to fail.

No, really. This is the perfect place to take risks, even if it means taking a few nosedives in the process. You’re not saddled with client expectations. You can try new techniques, and if they don’t work out, you have a talented instructor who can explain why you failed and how to fix it. It may be tempting to stay in your comfort zone so you don’t embarrass yourself, but you’re not there to show off what you already can do — you’re there to grow.

Take notes.

When you’re being inundated with information and inspiration, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Write things down. Here are a few tips for taking notes you’ll actually use later:

• Get a notebook you love. There’s something about a Moleskine that’s more inviting than a Mead.

• Don’t try to transcribe word for word. Boil it down to short sentences and keywords.

• If something really resonates, write it BIGGER.

• If you’re a visual learner, feel free to use stick figures or doodles to illustrate what you’re learning.

• Write down any questions you have, so you remember to ask them when the opportunity comes up.

Write it Bigger

Don’t morph into the instructor.

Your photos shouldn’t suddenly become interchangeable with theirs. Take their skills, their posing secrets, their editing prowess, their OCF mastery, or whatever it is you learned, and figure out how it can complement your own style.

Make friends.

Ask someone who just got back from the worst workshop ever, and they’ll probably say, “At least I met some awesome people!” At any workshop, the connections you make will probably be just as important as what you learn. So make an effort — carpool if you can, stay where everyone else is staying, do dinner with the group, and bond until the wee hours, even if you’re exhausted.