If you want to make the leap from the photographer you are now to the photographer you want to be, what’s the best way to make that leap?
What is the fastest way to learn techniques that will separate you from the crowd? Where can you spend quality time and develop personal relationships with the people who have the power to hire and recommend you for the work that you really want to do? Where can you find the freedom to take some risks and grow as a photographer?
In my opinion, the fastest and most effective path is attending a workshop.
Going through life as a professional photographer provides a richness that would be difficult to match in any other career. I often like to say that photography is the reason that I get to have incredible experiences, meet inspiring people, and then do it all over again the next day. The pictures then become a souvenir of those experiences and a reminder of why I became a photographer in the first place.
“Moving beyond the growing crowd of photographers takes specific steps and a specific plan to get to that elite level.”
Photography is a career many want, but getting to the level you desire can be difficult to achieve unless you have some help. The camera part is easy, of course—buy a camera, acquire some lenses, read the manual, take lots of pictures. But, moving beyond the growing crowd of photographers takes specific steps and a specific plan to get to that elite level.
One of the best ways to grow a career quickly is through a technique called modeling. Modeling is simply the process of finding someone who does the kind of work that you want to do, finding out how they achieved the success they achieved, and then copying it step-by-step. Attending the right workshop can offer unparalleled access to the very people you wish to model.
For example, if you want to be one of the world’s best sports photographers, learning from someone who routinely shoots professional and Olympic sports will give you the insight you need to help reach that goal. They can teach you about lens choices, remote cameras, event preparation, sideline etiquette, and career possibilities.
If you want to make refined and unique portraits of athletes, celebrities, and business people, sitting down with someone who is already making the kinds of portraits that you want to make is one of the best ways to get from where you are in your career to where you’d like to be. They can share their knowledge about the different kinds of lighting, working with cases of studio gear or small speed lights, posing techniques, mixing sun and strobe, hiring models and stylists, or how to make an action portrait. And a workshop is the perfect place where those techniques can be learned and those conversations can take place.
What if you want to work for elite publications, picture agencies and wire services?
Everyone knows that getting quality time to show your work to the editors who have the power to give you the assignments you crave is a challenge. In New York, it’s next to impossible to meet with an editor and give them a chance to get to know you and your work. But at a workshop, those very same editors are actually there looking for talent to add to their list of photographers that they can depend upon to make exemplary images. It’s a rare opportunity to get some face time and some feedback from people who look at pictures for a living.
There are countless workshops being offered these days, but most are usually limited to a single instructor over the course of the week. One of the advantages of a workshop that offers a diverse faculty is that you can choose which instructors you’d like to engage with, how much time you’d like to spend with each, and what you’d like to focus on while you’re there. The Sports Photography Workshop is structured in exactly this way so that you can achieve the goals that are uniquely yours.
For example, if sports action is where you want to grow, you could choose to spend the entire time learning from an elite action photographer. If you feel that lighting is a skill that you’d like to develop, sitting in on a few portrait sessions might give you the confidence to pull out those flashes and attempt some lighting techniques that you’d been reluctant to try. If working for a national magazine or wire service is where you’d like to be, signing up for a personal portfolio review might lead to a breakout assignment down the road.
“Without a client or an editor to please, you can stretch yourself and take the risks necessary to make magazine-quality images to add to your portfolio.”
One of the most valuable benefits of the Sports Photography Workshop is the access to athletes and sporting events. There is often a huge variety—from professional baseball to motocross to rock climbing to Olympic athletes—available for both action photographs and portraits. And without a client or an editor to please, you can stretch yourself and take the risks necessary to make magazine-quality images to add to your portfolio.
Finally, there is the opportunity to develop valuable professional relationships. Several of the publications I continue to shoot for were first introduced to my work through this workshop. Many, many of the of the manufacturers, assistants and resources that are crucial to my work were first introduced to me at this workshop. I’ve even been lucky enough to make a handful of deeply personal friendships at this workshop that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.
The workshop is the perfect environment to share time in the classroom, over dinner, or even deep into the night over cocktails. It’s also not uncommon to continue to share stories and pictures with other students and the instructors long after the workshop ends.
Each year’s workshop is truly a life-changing experience and I hope to meet you there someday soon.
(Each of the images in this post were made at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs during a single week at the Sports Photography Workshop)