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Getting the Most Out of a Photography Workshop – A Participant’s 10 Responsibilities

I teach a lot of workshops throughout the year. Every so often a workshop participant asks: “How come I’m not getting the shots that the other photographers are getting?” That is exactly what happened on one of my Alaska workshops during a four-hour encounter we had with some killer whales who were teaching their young how to hunt sea lions.

I’ve seen this happen on all different types of workshops – wildlife, people, landscape and so on. I’ve heard this comment from my fellow workshops instructors, too.

The answer, sometimes, is equipment. In some situations, a certain lens, say a 400mm or a 15mm, is indeed needed. Processing is also a very important part of getting a good image, as it can save a shot or turn a good shot into a great shot.

In other situations, it’s luck.

Of course, sometimes the photographer is a novice and has not yet acquired the skills to get specific shots.

Sometimes, and this is the main thing, it’s the photographer’s responsibility.

Here is what I call “A Workshop Participant’s 10 Responsibilities.” You can follow all of these guidelines when attending a workshop, and most of them when you are out shooting by yourself.

I’ll use some of the photographs that I took from our killer whale encounter to illustrate my points.

1. Know your camera – especially when it comes to fine-tuning the exposure with the +/– exposure compensation control or by dialing in the correct exposure manually. After all, for every photograph, there is only one correct exposure. I fine-tuned the exposure of the opening photograph for this post by setting my exposure compensation to –1/3 to maintain details in the highlight (white water) areas of the scene.

2. Stick like glue to the instructor. To get this shot of a sea lion that was trying to avoid the killer whales by swimming under the boat, I moved quickly, but carefully, from the top deck of our boat down to the swim platform. While I was on the move, I yelled to the team, “Stick like glue!”

If you stick like glue to the instructor, you’ll see what he or she is doing to get the shot.

3. Ask to see the instructor’s photographs, and the photographs of the other workshop participants. After I took my shots, I shared them with the students, and asked to see theirs.

I explained that it is important to use the camera’s light meter, the histogram and to activate the camera’s highlight alert warning, which, in this case, would show if the white water was overexposed and washed out.

4. Know that the instructor is not a “mind reader” when it comes to your needs. Simply put, you need to speak up and know that no question is too basic for an instructor.

5. Show the instructor, and the other participants, your pictures as often as possible on your camera’s LCD panel. Know how to activate the exposure information (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) in the viewfinder and/or LCD preview screen so the instructor (or you if you are out shooting alone) can see what settings might need tweaking.

6. Be part of the “team” – and join in the fun, as well as the work.

7. Ask questions. Ask about ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings. Those settings – the exposure triangle – will help you convey your creative vision.

For the next photograph, I used an ISO setting (of 500) so I could hand hold my camera (as opposed to using a tripod), fast shutter speed (1/1600th of a second) to freeze the action, and an aperture of f/6.3 so the background would be out of focus. I chose to shoot with my Canon 100–400mm IS zoom lens so I could zoom in and out for creative composition and for much more flexibility than a fixed focus length lens.

(Note: Canon calls its image stabilized EF lenses “IS,” while Nikon calls them “VR” for Vibration Reduction. Your camera or lens may use a different nomenclature.)

8. Do your homework on the location you will be visiting before leaving home. Visualize what lenses you will need. Learn about animal behavior. Check out the weather and what to wear. The better prepared you are, the fewer the number of unpleasant surprises you’ll encounter.

9. Sit with the instructor during Photoshop and Lightroom sessions and see how your shots can be improved. Here is the original image from which I made the opening image for this post. In Photoshop, I cropped the file, adjusted the exposure and added some contrast for a much-improved image.

10. Set goals and, better yet, a specific goal. My personal goal when we first spotted the killer whales off in the distance was to take a series of images that told the story of the training exercise.

So my friend, speak up, join in, ask questions, know your camera, do your homework, don’t assume anything, set goals, stick like glue . . . and you’ll get the most out of a photo workshop and when shooting by yourself. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out, which is the case with most things in life.

Rick’s Upcoming Workshops

Excerpt from Rick Sammon’s Creative Visualization for Photographers: Composition, exposure, lighting, learning, experimenting, setting goals, motivation and more by Rick Sammon © 2015 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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