I am frequently asked the question, “Pye what is the best place or best way to learn photography? Book, DVD, Workshop or School?” Being the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge, I am fortunate to get review copies for photography books, DVDs as well as Workshop review invitations.
There is no right or wrong answer, each format has its strengths and weaknesses which I wanted to share with you all. Knowing what to look for in educational content will help you save precious time and money.
Pros – Books are one of my favorite sources of educational content. They are cheap, accessible, and if you stick to the more re-known authors and publishers the content is almost always well planned and executed. There is also a large variety making it quite simple to find a book on a specific area of photography (i.e. food, nature, landscape, etc)
Cons - While photography books can teach you a lot, they can’t teach you everything. Such a large part of photography is experience, trial and error. Knowing what works and what wont in certain situations is something that is learned from experience and over time. In addition, for portrait, wedding, headshot or any other type of photographer that photographs people; communication and subject coaching is the majority of your job. These hands-on skills are very difficult to learn from books.
Also books can get out of date quickly, especially if they cover workflow or a specific photographic style. So be sure the book is still pertinent.
Be Aware Of – Be wary of books and in particular e-books from small time authors. Photography e-books are all over the web. While some may provide genuinely useful informational content, others simply give you generic and useless information. In addition, small scale photo e-books are generally much more expensive than their physically published counterparts. Make sure what you are purchasing in a $50 e-book isn’t something you could get for $10 on Amazon.
Pros – Well-made instructional DVDs and videos is my favorite source of educational content. IF (and I do emphasize the IF) a DVD is well planned and executed, a 1-2 hour DVD can cover as much if not more content than a 8 hour workshop. Not to mention, you can watch and re-watch as many times as you want. DVDs and video can also convey things that books cannot. Client interaction, coaching and guidance are very easily shown through video, while being extremely difficult to communicate through a book. This, along with the ability to watch, pause, and replay to my liking make DVDs my favorite source for photography instruction.
Cons – DVDs are generally more expensive than books, and if you are looking into purchasing professional level photographic instructional DVDs, expect to pay quite a bit more. The largest limitation of the DVD format is simply that you cannot take your information with you on a shoot in a convenient form. If traveling, I can take along a book on photography and access it easily whenever I need information.
Be Aware Of – Many photographers are self-publishing instructional photography DVDs. These typically have very large price tags. While some may be worth the $200, $300 or even $500 cost; the majority are not. These self-publishing photographers are assuming that these instructional DVDs are worth so much money because it shows others how they run a successful business. However, the majority fall short with lack of genuinely valuable information (stuff not in a $10 book on Amazon), poorly planned instructional direction, and shoddy production value. While production value can be forgiven if the information is valuable, it is generally not the case. I remember a few years ago I saw an instructional DVD made by Doug Gordon on Flow Posing. The DVD cost over $150, had poor production value, but the information and content made it worth every penny. Be aware and try to research a bit before purchasing. Look at the author and their previous publications and products; do they have a reputation for putting out solid educational products, or just fluff?
Photo Credit Dave and Charlotte @ daveandcharlotte.com
Pros – Photography workshops have become extremely popular in the past few years. A well planned and executed workshop can provide you with wonderful hands on experience from photographers you admire. One of the other benefits is that it allows photographers to connect with others that are as passionate about photography, and may be willing to build a long-term supportive relationship. One of the most valuable things you can gain by actually going out and meeting people is a “business friendship” that can help hold you accountable for progress, etc
Cons – There are a laundry list of cons when it comes to workshops, so let’s get started.
1) Cost vs. Benefit – The majority of workshops are not worth their hefty cost of admission. Often timeâ€™s workshops cost around $1000 or more for a single day or even a few hours of instruction. The important thing to ask yourself is “will I walk away being able to make significantly more money in my business than the cost of admission?” or “will I be able to take significantly better pictures?” Unfortunately, the majority of the time the answer to this question will be “no.”
2) Unqualified Instructors – I have seen countless photographers enter the industry, literally shoot a handful of weddings, and then start charging $500 a head for workshops. Unqualified and inexperienced instructors should be avoided, always. Meaning, do not make the decision based on the photographer’s popularity or success but based on the REVIEW and RESULTS. The information gained from these workshops is extremely general and worth the price of a $20 Scott Kelby book at best.
3) Disorganized Content – I often see workshops taught by truly amazing photographers who are not so amazing when it comes to organizing and instructing. These end up being very scatterbrained workshops covering topic after unrelated topic. An instructor needs to be a talented photographer and educator to truly get the most of a workshop.
4) Classroom Setting – Workshops are a classroom setting which leads to having students at all different skill levels. If it is an open classroom setting (able to freely ask questions), then the class can only progress as fast as the slowest student. If it is a closed classroom setting, then you may not be able to ask the questions you need to ask. Some students will invariably find the class a waste of time, while others will find it very helpful, and the remaining will find it “above their heads.”
5) Misleading Portfolios – Workshops are often held to “build your portfolio.” Be extremely cautious of these. Typically these workshops have an experienced photographer setting up perfect lighting with beautiful models in an amazing scene, then helping each photographer get their shot. These types of workshops are the most dangerous for you and your career as a photographer if you don’t truly understand exactly how to recreate such an effect. Why? Because placing these images in your portfolio is misleading. Clients will book you based on images that you may not be able to recreate. That only leads to unhappy clients, which leads to bad reviews, which will quickly end your career.
6) Networking? – Some people tout the networking side of workshops as being a bigger benefit than it truly is. While it is great to meet other photographers that are just as passionate as you are, most of the attending students are going to be in the exact same position as you as far as their business and career and are not really in the position to be helping each other out that much. Keep in mind that to network, you can attend plenty of photo walks, groups, and shoot outs in your area at little to no cost.
When it comes to workshops. Look at the instructor and the success of the workshop. Ask past students what they thought of the experience and be informed before spending $1,500 on a class when you would have been better off with a new $1500 L or Nikkor lens and $20 photography book.
Pros – If you have the drive and the money to attend a photography school such as Brooks, it can be an amazingly rewarding experience. Every Brooks graduate that I have known has had an incredible knowledge of photography, lighting and posing. It is also a great way to break into some of the harder to break into photographic circles. Such as fashion photography or photography in the film industry.
Cons – The cost of attending prestigious photography schools is extremely expensive. In addition, the likelihood of becoming a big time photographer after attending such a school is just about as likely as becoming a big time producer after attending film school, not guaranteed and not even good in fact. Just like in Hollywood film making, there are more successful photographers that didn’t attend a photography school than those who did. In fact, I have often seen the prestigious education get in the way of a photographer becoming successful in the form of a “holier than thou” attitude that makes them difficult to work with. Working as a professional photographer requires you to be just as good at business as you are with your camera. I know plenty of educated photographers who take amazing photos, yet still can’t make a living. While on the flipside, I know even more uneducated photographers who take OK photos that make an amazing living because they know business.
Be Aware of – If you do decide to go this route, be sure to attend the larger and more prestigious schools that provide traditional education with plenty of hands on experience. Stay level headed and motivated after you graduate. In this industry, your success will be based on your skill, attitude and perseverance over the fact that you attended a prestigious school.
To conclude, my favorite formats to learn new photographic techniques are well made DVDs followed by high quality books. Hopefully you guys have found this article helpful in guiding you along your photography education. We want to help you all to become better photographers while avoiding the pitfalls that surround you. Enjoy and be sure to share your thoughts and experiences regarding this topic below as well!