This past weekend I taught a workshop that was based mostly on my approach to photography. I have taken a few workshops and taught a few others and over the years I have compared them to the approach that I use teaching a regular class. They are two different animals, and should be looked at as a different experience. Both are useful, and both are worthwhile, but they are and should be different.
In my classes, I am teaching for the masses about a general approach to photography that can be used no matter what kind of photography the students want to do. I cover the basics, and take as much of a global view of photography that I can. Even when it is a specific subject, I take a more global view of the information that I try to provide my students. I feel that workshops should be the opportunity for the student to have an up close experience with the professional that is giving the workshop. The workshop is where the student can try out a particular approach to photography, or to spend time with a photographer, (in the case where the photographer is well known) who’s work the students wants to learn more about.
But I think the most important part of a workshop is that in this venue, the student has the opportunity to try something different. While I know how this feels, I think that students sometimes make a mistake by thinking that they are going to attend a workshop and make great photographs while in the workshop. I try to think about what I am trying to learn and am more interested in how the workshop may affect my long-term photography than the benefit of making a photograph that I might be able to use. Often I think of the workshop as a way of putting a new tool in my toolbox. I do not think that there ever has been a workshop that I came away with without getting some gem that I could use. Often a comment made in less than a minute will have a profound influence in my photographic future. Sometimes these gems are received over lunch where all the participants along with the instructor have the opportunity to talk informally.
So are workshops worthwhile? I think so, (and not just because I teach them from time to time) as they often give the student an experience that they would otherwise not be able to have.