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|| News Item: Posted 2006-05-03

The Great Workshop Hunt
By Jim McNay, Brooks Institute of Photography

Photo by

Team producer Lauren Steel (left), from Getty Images, works with students on portfolio reviews late into the night at the 2004 Barnstorm Workshop.
Workshops, workshops, workshops—like bears in Yellowstone, the woods are full of 'em.

There are a gazillion photography workshops out there. The challenge is to find one that works for you.

Workshops are part of the mix of the education photographers want as they start their careers.

Look at the training Very Serious Actors give themselves. They take acting classes. They learn something about movement and dance. They study voice so they can sing a variety of styles on stage. (Sondheim is different from Gilbert and Sullivan, who are different from Rogers and Hart.) They learn tumbling and sword fighting. They learn some dialects and how to speak in a way that makes sense of what Shakespeare wrote on the page. This foundation prepares actors for the many different roles for which they might audition. And after their formal schooling, actors continue to take classes (and workshops!) in the areas where they need to brush up or enhance their skills. They want to be ready when that Great Opportunity comes along.

Similarly photographers want to think about their fundamental training—either in a school program or on their own by reading books, experimenting on their own—and then take other steps to enhance the basics. Internships and assistantships get photographers out in the business and give them a chance to prove themselves and to network. Workshops can be another factor here, to meet new people or to learn new skills. After the basic foundation, internships and workshops help in wrestling with that often-illusive issue of, "How do I Get Known as a photographer?"

For students in school, internships and assistantships are crucial. They can help new graduates move from school into professional photography in a significant way. Internships can be a way to work in a good location or in a very fine company EARLY in one's career, thus avoiding having to start in the Scappoose, Oregons of the world.

(For more on internships, see my series of past articles on this subject and other "breaking in" issues in the Sports Shooter archive. They can also be viewed in the Brooks Institute NPPA website at: Click on the "internships" button on the left rail.)

Many schools do not require internships or workshops for graduation. Because both experiences prove so powerful in opening doors and getting students known in the industry our school constantly promotes both. We always say, "Photojournalism is a small industry. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody talks to everybody." With that in mind, photographers breaking into the business want to start to know and meet those who are already successful.

In a pinch, make up your own workshop. In the past photojournalism students in California have driven to the University of Missouri to observe and assist at the Pictures of the Year judging. In the process they gained incredible insights about the profession and made strong friendships with other highly committed up-and-coming photographers. These bonds have continued as these students moved on to intern around the country and then move into professional photojournalism jobs.

Getting Started: Students and Pros

Photo by

Team Editor Bert Fox, from National Geographic, helps a student to edit her work at the 2005 Barnstorm Workshop.
Where does one begin? Here is a short list of some major contenders in the workshop field. Details on each of these and many others are below.

Best "I-Have-Almost-NO-Money-for-a-Workshop" Experience - The Eddie Adams Workshop
Best New Entrant to the Workshop Family – The seminars offered by the photo agency VII
Best Video Workshop – The Platypus Workshop
Best Overseas Workshop-like Experience – Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan, France

While in school, workshops can enhance the education photographers get in the classroom. School's purpose is to give the baseline understanding, the foundation. Workshops are an add-on to the classroom. Students who have the time and interest to pursue workshops in addition to school will rapidly move their understanding of the profession forward.

Once a photographer is out in the working world, workshops can have a greater importance. They can fill in the gaps of one's education. They can open doors to a new kind of shooting. They can provide the feedback and coaching so desperately desired by working pros who may be working alone and have little opportunity to share their ideas and questions with other professionals.

Professionals might consider a workshop every year or two. Workshops done on this schedule can provide a regular shot of career adrenalin. The time between workshops can give the photographer a chance to reflect and grow. This also gives them time to create new work and develop new questions for the next workshop. And being rigorous with oneself to keep a once-a-year schedule can keep the photographer engaged in the profession and in their personal growth.

Successful workshops have many different components. A key question is: "As a photographer at this point in my career, what training, experience or conversation am I looking for in a workshop?" If photographers can narrow their answer to those issues, the workshop selection gets easier.

For example, some photographers are ready to learn what it takes to get a book published or see if the book they have in mind is in any shape to find encouragement among other photographers who know that side of the business. There are workshops in various parts of the country that address those issues.

Other shooters want to study with a particular photographer or with someone from a certain organization such as National Geographic or Magnum. Photographers such as Sam Abell, Joyce Tenneson and Eugene Richards all spend some time giving workshops. Someone considering a workshop might form a key question such as, "I wonder if my work rises to the level where it would get the attention of such a person—or if they could tell me how to grow in that direction." Photographers in workshops can sometimes develop a relationship with a veteran photographer at such a company or group such that they have an advocate for their work inside the organization. Yes, some photographers have been "discovered" in workshops.

Another standard to consider would be the location/vacation issue. Some photographers are just ready for a workshop in Sedona, Arizona, or in Key West—and they don't care who is the instructor. This is the phenomenon called, "I want to do a workshop in Tuscany—with someone!" That's a great reason to go, because it will give the photographer new training and a new set of experiences with which to grow in the months ahead.

The working pro may want to work with a new camera format. Or they may want to try fashion for the first time. They may want to do a course in movie set photography in case that might add a new career option to what they are already doing. Maybe someone with experience wants to take a workshop that deals with working for international non-profit organizations and NGOs.

Key Factors: Time and Money

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Robert Hanashiro works students at Sports Shooter Academy 2 in southern California in April of 2006.
As always, two considerations are time and money. Workshops run the gamut in both.

Low cost and short-term workshops include the National Press Photographers Association's (NPPA) Flying Short Course. This fall program has been around several decades and traditionally offers two days of excellent presentations. One day has a national traveling team of speakers who fly in from out of town. A second day often has presenters from the local community where the course is held. Traditionally the national team has visited five cities from coast to coast over an eight-day period, allowing photographers on both coasts and in between to get to this program.

NPPA also has a series of weekend educational events that will not max out a photographer's credit card. The Northern Short Course on the East Coast, the Women in Photojournalism Conference and even the organization's annual business meeting often have excellent educational presentations. Each programs moves around the country or its home region each year, allowing access for those who do not always live near by. The organization also offers longer courses in picture editing and television news photography and reporter-photographer teamwork.

One of the great new kids on the workshop block are the offerings of our very own Sports Shooter. The occasional weekend luau and the Sports Shooter Academy are excellent.

Even the relatively new photo agency VII has started to do weekend long workshops around the country with their incredible line-up of members speaking and showing their work. And these are not bait-and-switch presentations. The members of VII all show up, all speak and all show their work during the weekend. Every member. Yes, really!

The Julia Dean Workshops in Marina del Rey near Venice, California have both short-term courses and longer experiences. And this organization regularly brings in the "big names" that one sees elsewhere around the country.

Several longer courses, but still not bank account breakers, have been around for quite some time. The Mountain Workshop hosted by Western Kentucky University not only offers a week of intense shooting but has a separate program in picture editing training. And the faculty members are all top working professionals from the world of photojournalism.

A similar program with an intense concentration on making new pictures is the Missouri Photo Workshop, sponsored by the University of Missouri and held in a different small community each year. Again, the faculty line-up is outstanding. Workshop veterans throughout the country verify the impact of the program.

Somewhat higher end experiences on the financial scale are also available, the BMW's of the field. Among these is the Maine Photo Workshop in Rockport, Maine. There is a very heavy summer schedule, with a lighter one at other times of the year. Nearly any of a photographer's personal heroes will probably teach in Maine, if not this summer, then next summer. This allows photographers to meet people they admire and work with them.

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Students James Lang and Gabe Hernandez listen to instructor Matt Brown during the Arena Lighting class for Sports Shooter Academy II at the Pyramid at Long Beach State in April of 2006.
Another financially high-end workshop with similar experiences is the Santa Fe Workshop. If you miss your heroes on the East Coast, they may well show up in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe catalog of offerings is stunning. It is hard to look at either of the programs at Maine or Santa Fe and not scrap all other summer plans to make one of these happen.

Rich Clarkson, the former National Geographic director of photography and well-connected entrepreneur, offers several workshops. Clarkson has long been known as one of the more innovative thinkers in photojournalism, whether it is about getting access to subjects or designing projects that have a chance for marketplace success. His programs offer great training and instruction for very serious photographers. He brings a range of top-flight speakers, photographers and editors to each course, being careful to include solid veterans and up-and-coming young talented pros who are blazing new trails in photojournalism. Among his offerings are Photography at the Summit and his sports photography workshop.

A program more like a conference or a convention is the FotoFusion weeklong program at Florida's Palm Beach Photographic Centre. Top pros, including major photojournalists, offer dozens of short-term courses and lectures during an intense week.

A workshop like no other—largely because it is done for just one photographer in the "class"—is the White Cloud Workshop. This is offered by picture editing veterans Bryan and Mary Jo Moss out of their home in Indiana. An applicant sends work from a variety of assignments or projects as part of the application process. Then during the workshop consisting of several days of one-on-one self-examination and coaching by the founders, the work is reviewed at increasingly deeper levels. The experience, while exceptionally penetrating and valuable, has been likened to voluntarily having one's molecules rearranged. The workshop's theme might be summed up as, "Just real pictures of real people."

Not to be overlooked is the breakthrough experience in video storytelling known as The Platypus Workshop. TIME magazine's former senior White House photographer Dirck Halstead founded this workshop to assist trained still photographers in a transition from still to video storytelling. The experience is something akin to Marine boot camp. On the other hand several graduates quickly produced "ABC Nightline" pieces based on their understanding and workshop training.

Out of the Country

At least two overseas experiences are worth mentioning. The Toscana Photographic Workshops brings top talent from the U.S. and Europe for a set of workshops in Tuscany. Those who have been there rave about the experience.

While Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan, France is more a conference than a workshop, considerable educational growth can take place here. The event runs for two weeks, with the first being the focus of professionals. Photojournalism shows and presentations take over the town and every possible public space. Many agencies, photographers, magazine and book publishing editors attend and essentially are looking for talented photographers and interesting projects. This is one of the best photojournalism networking opportunities anywhere, especially on the continent.

One Success Story

Any workshop provides the opportunity to get known, to get on an instructor's radar screen. A photographer's world expands, one's network grows and if one keeps in touch, the impact can lead to on-going conversations, feedback and coaching years down the road.

A recent classic example comes from an experience sponsored by a U.S. workshop offered in San Miguel de Allende. This jewel of a Mexican town is the home of many retirees, expatriates and a well-known fine arts school. Recently a photographer in one of the courses did particularly well with his assignments, so well that he impressed two high-level well-connected "names" of the photojournalism world.

Before the week was out, one of these instructors made several calls to magazines and agencies in New York, telling editors, "You have to see this person." And the student was told, "You have appointments in New York—next week."

Obviously once in the door, this photographer was on his own and would rise or fall on the editors' reactions to the pictures and to him as a person. But he DID get in the door—as a result of work produced in the Mexico workshop. This is the kind of opportunity workshops may provide for very talented photographers on some occasions.

Photo by

Eddie Adams Workshop Director Alyssa Adams (front), and the other 150 participants at Barnstorm watch presentations at the 2005 Workshop.
A Tuition-Free Workshop for Emerging Talent

One tuition-free workshop of major significance has an application deadline coming up soon. This is the Eddie Adams Workshop named after the Pulitzer Prize winner known for his famous picture made in Vietnam.

About to enter its 19th year, this workshop accepts 100 photographers each fall. Fifty of these are students currently in college. The remaining 50 are working photographers with less that three years professional experience. Thus the focus of the workshop is to advance the cause of what might be called "emerging talent."

The faculty draws from the top photographers and editors in the major magazines and newspapers often located on the East Coast. For anyone who aspires to be a freelancer and work for the major magazines in this country, this workshop is a must. The possibility for industry connections here are truly off the scale.

The workshop is held in October, with a mid-May application deadline. Despite being a tuition-free workshop there are some costs involved: a plane flight to New York, several nights in a low cost upstate hotel, the cost of a bus ride up to Eddie's farm, and a $25 application fee.

While in college, this is THE premier workshop for students, due to the low cost and the incredible array of photographers and editors who participate. As they say in Spain, "Students and recent grads: Miss this workshop at your peril!" (Or move to Norway!)

Finding Workshops: Among the best of the best (in alphabetical order)

Eddie Adams Workshop:
Julia Dean Photo Workshops:
Maine Photo Workshops:
Missouri Photo Workshop:
Mountain Workshop:
NPPA educational programs:
Perpignan Festival "Visa Pour L'Image:
Photo Agency VII:
Platypus workshop:
Rich Clarkson's workshops:
Santa Fe Workshops:
Sports Shooter workshops:
White Cloud Workshop:

Photographers, particularly those in school or seeking to break into the photojournalism, are welcome to send ideas for future columns to Jim McNay at

Questions about getting started in photojournalism that might be answered in future columns are also welcome.

Related Links:
Workshop / Seminar rankings
Brooks NPPA Student Chapter
Brooks Institute of Photography
Jim McNay's Member Page

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