Dear ‘Big Name’ Photographers: STOP Giving Shi@@y Workshops! (6 tips to creating a photography workshop worth attending)

**Update** after all of the awesome feedback (both here and in private messages)  assuring me I am not alone in my thinking–we have decided to start an online group for reviews.  Just a simple facebook site and we can see where it goes from there. Join us  over here:  🙂 Cheers to finding awesome educational opportunities!
Original Post:
As I unpack my bags after yet another disappointing misadventure in photography, I can’t help but feel like I need to shout from the roof tops “For the love of all things pixel-related—please STOP taking advantage of other photographers with your half-baked, ill-thought out and self-promotion-filled workshops!” Let me back up—I have been to around 10 workshops in the past 4 years (as well as and a few of the major teaching conferences and purchased quite a bit of online training –Creative Live etc) and have in fact learned a decent amount from the likes of folks like Cliff Mautner, Susan Stripling, and Sue Bryce …
However, sadly, the vast majority have been completely underwhelming and a few—just plain insulting. (Note: let me go on the record and state I only consider myself  an ‘intermediate technical photographer.’ I have TONS to learn…and I am extremely eager to learn….so it is not my supreme photographic mastery getting in the way of my learning.)
All that said: I thought I would offer a few tips from ‘your average workshop attendee’: (listen up-yo!)
1.)   As Jessie J. would say…’Its not about the money, money, money!’ If your heart and soul are not into teaching—do us all a favor and just say no. If the idea of ‘just making a few extra bucks’ springs to mind…move on. Workshops are about the attendees learning something—not just fattening your wallet. (Though, make no mistake, I believe GOOD educators should be compensated accordingly.)
2.)   Deliver what you advertised you would: if you say ‘lighting intensive’—make sure we are walking away knowing how to use light. Workflow instruction? We expect to walk away with an improved workflow. Workshops should not be ‘buyer beware’—this is your name. Make good on your website’s promotional promises. #nosnakeoilplease
3.)   Save the ‘dog and pony”: We already respect you/your work. (or we wouldn’t have signed up!) Therefore, we do not need an 4-hour presentation on ‘your story’ complete with resume and ‘look at how amazing this shot is’ review of your portfolio. We’ve probably followed you for quite some time and we were already impressed; we are here to learn. Not be ‘sold’ on why we should be star struck.
4.)   This is not your paid chance at a styled shoot- my demon horns (compete with fire breathing) emerged at a recent workshop billed as ending with a fully styled shoot where the instructors would ‘ensure you walk away knowing how to get it right in camera.’ Instead—I spent a great portion of my time with instructor-Heisman-hand-to-my-face/pushing me out of the way of “getting his shot.” (Note: I have heard the excuse of ‘needing to get the images for the participating vendors.’ I have an idea-shoot them after we leave, hire an assistant to shoot them or select the best images from the attendees. Or better still: actually pay the models/floral designer etc—I mean, we did pay you collective thousands…you can afford a model casting and some flowers.
5.)   Take that book and shove it! – So you charged me over a thousand dollars for your workshop and I see you bring a stack of your books. Awesome! …And then you announce they are $50. Really? Just include the freaking book vs. trying to squeeze us out of an additional few Benjamin’s. (Same goes for your DVD’s, fancy re-branded flashes etc. If we want them.. We will find them at a later date. (Especially if we now value your opinion after an awesome workshop)
6.)   Give a Rats arse about us—if your workshop is small enough, spend an hour or so. Look at our website, see where we are in our careers –get a general sense of you are teaching newbs or more advanced photographers and cater your teachings to that specific class.
**Bonus points: If you are actually a good teacher! (Being a good photographer in no way implies you are a good teacher anymore than me being amazing at eating French pastries implies I can bake them.) Let me say it again–great photographer does not equal great teacher. Know the different BEFORE firing up PowerPoint…especially before charging hefty fees.

Please look at this from our perspective—though your workshop may ‘only’ be $1000. Once you add in flight, rental cars, gasoline, meals etc (not to mention the days out of our studio which =$$) An average workshops is in the thousands of dollars. (and can escalate to 5K+ for the ‘big ones.’) For many of us—this equates to one workshop per year. (if we are lucky)
If a fellow photographer has chosen you (out of the maaaaaany others) giving workshops out there—should you at a minim care to make certain they receive the benefit of some actual education?
Your Average Workshop Attendee
**Steps off of soapbox (insert mic drop)
This is how I feel after spending good $ on a shi@@y workshop:

PS:  Workshop attendees.  How would  you feel about a website  like wedding wire/yelp etc) that allowed attendees to post reviews on specific courses?  I was speaking with a prominent photographer whom I respect and he mentioned someone once tried to start this and it lost momentum.  Thoughts?  Would you want to able to look at reviews that are the ‘bright shiny’ ones posted on the instructors website prior to attending?  (personally–I think educators should be held accountable.  Amazing teachers should be praised and the others…well, should stop receiving thousands of our hard earned dollars for putting out garbage workshops based on having a ‘big name..)


  1. Feuza says:

    THAT sucks! and think I know which workshop you mean! the reviews thing is a great idea, I once almost started something for creative live classes.

  2. Jen Snow says:

    I read your blog and I just wanted to say, this is what we do! We have a small seminar, all hands on, no “speakers” our coaches have a 2 hr slot to speak if they want to show you what they have to offer not required of them or no required classes for attendees. All hands on and one on one. That includes just what you are mentioning, bring your laptop show the coach where you are, what you need to learn and they will be able to answer your specific questions about your studio. The shooting bays are open all day and night, have sunrise & sunset shoots. We max our attendance at 150 attendees. We have 20 coaches. Check them out, some are business strong, some can capture incredible images, sports photographers, model photography, children, infants, families we even have video/still in a Lumix bay. One of my attendees told me to check out this blog because no one really seems to know we are out there offering what we do. We are a close group, very comfortable environment with the best coaches that are there because they love to teach. I’m not trying to promote, I was just so taken back by what you were requesting a seminar be and what we offer, just a heads up. 🙂
    Thanks you for your time,

  3. Nina says:

    Thanks for putting out there what I’ve been feeling for quite some time. There are images and other files I finally deleted from my computer because every time I saw them they reminded me of specific workshops and brought back those feelings of being hoodwinked. Very bad juju. At this point I pretty much instantly delete any workshop or ebook offer that hits my inbox. The vast, vast majority are a waste of time and money.

    • Bluesky says:

      Nina–I am with you! (it is actually one of the things that prompted this post. (a comment on a “great” image I took at a workshop I felt the need to post. (I mean–I did pay all of that money so I ‘had’ to show the pretty, right?) The problem was–posting it made me feel ‘icky’ as it brought back pretty resentful memories of 2K poorly spent. …there has got to be something we can do…. thinking…thinking:-)

  4. Julia says:

    Great post! A group reviewing workshops would truly be SO value added for this industry. The many hours we invest in trying to find that “perfect” workshop as well as all the associated costs you mentioned above only to be disappointed in the end could truly be avoided by people posting some honest and necessary reviews.

  5. photo Judy says:

    OMG – thank you! It has gotten ridiculous…. as a professional photographer & professional educator – I am appalled at the amount of workshops by seriously inexperienced photogs with no business teaching.

    • Bluesky says:

      Thank you for your feedback Judy. I am so hopeful we can create some ‘good’ out of all of all of our misadventures and help others locate great education!

  6. Sam Chinigo says:

    OMG..I think you and I are related. Well said. I’ve been to TONS of seminars/workshops and it sickens me to see people just recycling material about marketing, etc. Inform me or inspire me…please.

    • Bluesky says:

      Sam–I wrote this because I think you and I are NOT alone and this is a very real problem that does not get discussed as we are too afraid to to just be HONEST for fear of ramifications from the person holding the workshop. Thank you for your comments and reassuring me that it is not just me:-)

  7. Jen Snow says:

    Absolutely, I’d be happy to hear good and bad. We are very open to making changes as well. When you are the one doing the promoting attendees have no problem telling you how happy they are, I would like to hear both. I appreciate the chance to make it better!!
    Light Pro Expo 2014, Sept. 14-18, 2014 Hilton Head Island SC
    Registration link
    Thank you,

  8. Daniel says:

    I don’t think I took a hands on workshop other than a Super Monday PPA playful one for a few hours but that sounds super disappointing.

  9. Ed Cicenas says:

    You are spot on. I have almost ceased going to workshop due to the glut of exactly what you are talking about. It’s become very hard to choose anymore. One possible solution, and take this as you may, you can get a good judgement of a photographer and how much they really want to teach or share their knowledge.
    Those photographers who do the one-day Super Monday seminars in connection with PPA don’t earn anything for their efforts. I’ve done some and given some — and you can see how much a person really wants to give. I don’t sell books nor do I sell videos. And from the other photographer’s I’ve seen do shows, this has been the case also.
    Food for thought.

    • Bluesky says:

      Thanks Ed! Yes–strangely…some of the best education I have received has been free! I think there is just so little out there for intermediate to advanced…and even harder to get good, candid feedback on the ‘good ones!)

  10. Rain Klepper says:

    Thank you!!!!!
    I so appreciate your points, and sadly, I recently added up money spent on workshops where I did not receive a lot of value, and (sigh) there goes a piece of good glass.

  11. Rain Klepper says:

    Yes, I agree a “Yelp-type” of reviews would be so helpful to future students BEFORE they hit “submit”

  12. Jen Snow says:

    Do you mind if I share your FB Page on our Light Pro group page? We’ve been having an interesting discussion about your blog there and I think some of our members might want to join or at least check out your page.
    Here is a link to the discussion we were having.
    You don’t have to post the link, on your blog, just thought you would be interested. I will have to accept you into the group to view if you are interested.

    • Bluesky says:

      You are welcomed to share the page. (we are just trying to avoid having instructors really push to haev their workshops reviewed like the wedding world does with wedding wire:-) I will drop in and check out your page in a bit! Thanks for the comments.

  13. Amen Sista!!!
    For years – I too have thought the exact same thing! Our guild (Dallas Professional Photographers Association) every year puts on an event called the Little Red Schoolhouse and 3 years ago a light bulb went off. “Why on earth would we bring in an instructor to give us the exact same “sch-peel” that he gives everywhere else? So we got an idea – why not make our event different, the instructors can’t come with their same canned program, we come up with a theme, we come up with all the wardrobe, props, etc. etc and they show up. And, MANDATORY, that all attendees bring cameras! No platform class allowed! No, “how great I art” speech. We have private model time, we separate in groups for shooting activities, instructors get to supervise OUR shooting. It’s genius and a hit! Check out our Facebook page if you want to see what I mean (too much to write here)
    Thanks again for the marvelous article!!!

    • Bluesky says:

      Thanks Stephanie! I love your ‘school house’ idea. (I am in a smaller group of really talented photographers who are doing something a bit similar this winter in Utah. Cheers to those who truly care about education and helping others!

  14. Sugarncrumbs says:

    Cassandra, I feel you pain, sister. Esp when only the air fare escalated to a few thousands bucks, let alone the workshop fee. 🙁

    • Bluesky says:

      Thanks Sugarcrumbs–I am so hopeful we can create a way to review some of these workshops. We put a facebook page together today and it already has around 10 workshop reviews! 🙂

  15. Guest Speaker says:

    I agree, agree, agree.
    Although I’d had it with disappointing workshops/seminars/conventions, I was considering attending a workshop/convention next year, when I read this review “It’s fun. You get to get drunk with other great photographers, and you get to think about shit you love for 3 days. Even if you hated every presentation, it’s still so fun. Why wouldn’t you go is a better question.”
    Seriously?? Would cost me over $1,500 to attend, and I’d get to see drunk photographers and shitty presenters? Sorry, I can do that from home, for less than $50, by purchasing a case of beer and watching CL with a few friends.
    Very sad to see the state of affairs in this industry when workshops or conventions are being sold as a 3-day drunkfest with marginal, if any, education.

  16. Rick Garcia says:

    I hear you loud and clear!. I must recommend Cliff Mautner’s class. I really enjoyed that one and actually learned a lot about light.

    • Bluesky says:

      Thanks Rick–I agree on Cliff. (I have only been to his WPPI Masters Classa and it was great.) I definitely have his ‘bootcamp’ on my list!

  17. Mike Sweeney says:

    I wanna toss into the ring a slightly different POV. I teach.. there, I said it 🙂 I teach beginning photography, intermediate photography, Photoshop and Lightroom on occasion and an iPhoneography class. Not exactly rockstar status material but it is fun and I meet cool people.
    But, I really, really wish when someone signs up for an “intermediate” class, that at the very least, they read the manual and they know where the hell the knobs are. Sure, for 90 dollars for 3 hours, I can hold your hand but the other 9 people don’t get any teaching from me.
    Every damn camera has a different menu and it’s unreasonable for the teacher to know ALL OF THEM. Again, RTFM
    I really wish when someone shows up for their lighting class, they know how to actually use the camera first. And so on.. and so on.
    Show some enthusiasm, please. I mean, nobody put a gun to your head and said “You vill attend this vlass” or I don’t think someone did. I have had students who really looked like they would rather be anywhere but in my class. It’s hard on the ego when you just cannot get a student engaged at any level.
    I don’t sell a book at the class, I suggest and wish you would buy it.. for the princely sum of 2.99 off iTunes. I don’t sell lights, umbrellas, unobaintum reflectors and the ever popular magic beans that will make you the next hot shot shooter.
    For every “rockstar” out there, I know of a dozen down to earth instructors who charge a fair price for a fair return in teaching. Instead of tossing stones (poor reviews), why not put up the good solid reviews of the folks who work hard and do a good job of it? And do it for a fair price? God knows we have enough stone throwing of late.

    • Bluesky says:

      Thank Mike! Just a quick note there are lots of amazing/caring/talented instructors out there….an this does not apply to them:-) And have you looked at the reviews page? The majority are positive. (though that is not a requirement to post…just honest) Its not about “tossing stones”…its about access to good, quality feedback. Which, I think has been really hard to find good/honest feedback so we end up attending workshops that are subpar because we didn’t knwow any better. PS: I hate that you have had folks sign up for a classes and not be enthusiastic! How strange! (why sign up for a workshop you are not excited about??) And I completely agree on not signing up for an advanced workshop if you do not knwo how to turn your camera on. lol Thank you for your comments.

  18. Laurie says:

    SPOT ON!!!!!!!
    I will definitely be following you. I have been to several just as yourself and the one program that got it right is no longer….After Dark.
    Instructors were not put above the attendees and they were NOT allowed to sell their wares during class…only a specified period of time. It was a community, not a worshipping!

  19. Laurie says:

    PS…I can not find your facebook page!!! please HELP!

  20. Jenn says:

    I LOVE YOU!!! 🙂 I am one of those secret readers, where I soak up what everyone is writing and then move on my mary way without leaving my two cents. But I wanted to say thanks for writing this blog post, I stopped going to overrated workshops about 2 years ago because it was the same disappointment time after time. Spending that many dollars, to learn maybe a tip or two, was not worth it. And yessssssss……just because you are a great photographer who has a full production team, doesn’t make you a great teacher. Some of my best teachers have been fellow hard working photographers just like the rest of us!

    • Bluesky says:

      Aw, thanks Jenn:-) I was so hesitant to write this post but I am happy as did as I think so ‘good’ can come out of it. I have had great responses from folks about creating the review page and hope we get tons of reviews. (and perhaps instructors can learn to better from the feedback) Thanks for the comment.

  21. Corinne says:

    Thanks for this post! I just signed up for a workshop (my first) I HOPE I’m not let down in the end. Just requested to join the FB group 🙂

  22. I’ve been to a few workshop around the North East region of the United States, and I’ve witnessed at one time or another any one of the issues of this blog, until I came across a New York photographer named Dallas J. Logan. His lighting workshop called “Light Is Light” was by far the most intuitive workshop I have ever attended. He was concise and clear with his instruction. It was never about his life story and whenever a subject was broached, he never let the lesson until everyone grasped the knowledge of the situation. What made it so amazing was we then actually applied our lessons in a real time by shooting models. It wasn’t about the teacher constantly shooting while we sat there and watched, it was hands on.
    And even after the fact, he stays in contact with you and answers any questions you may have. That in itself was great customer service.

    • Bluesky says:

      Awesome Golden–I will check out Dallas Logan! (And we’d love for you to join our facebook group and do a review for others to see!) Cheers to money well spent of QUALITY education:-)

  23. dayle says:

    I have also indulged in workshops with great names and considerable costs. It is inspiring to be in the same room or location with these people and it is also great to be in a group of attendees who are all talented and so eager to learn more. However, I have come away with the feeling at times that I bought the name, like a bottle of Chanel perfume which is special for the brand and the magic associated with it, but in reality the ingredients costly. Besides being a photographer , I have been a professional flutist all my life.I know that great teachers can give you knowledge that will get you to your goal 100 times quicker than if you are left to discover it on your own. I have also had famous teacher’s who never told me anything I could personally use after hours of lessons. Great teachers know where we learners are at and what we need to progress, each one of us. Can this be done in a large workshop and if so how can the instructor organize a workshop which really caters to people’s needs? For a fee of 1000 euros or more it is well worth thinking about if and how this can be best achieved.

  24. Ed Lane says:

    I believe if you are going to teach a seminar you should be Critiqued I dont care if you are a PRO PRO or just starting out if you charge $$$$ you should back it up with Professional Content that one can take and learn from… If you are a speaker that wants to sell your product or sponsors product… we did not pay to listen to advertising we deserve 110% quality content and all speakers should really pass out a critique sheet after every seminar…and yes have a place for ALL photographers to post the pro’s and cons…. and cassandra all your shitty workshops should have made the FB page of pros and cons … do not be afraid to post bad reviews cause if you are having a shitty workshop then maybe all the attendees are also… so the best thing for all attendees it please please be honest and do a thourough review of all your workshops What do you think Thanks Ed

    • Bluesky says:

      Thanks for the feedback Ed..I completely agree and these workshops WILL be added to the new site:-) I hope you will also provide some of your feedback. Best, Cassandra

  25. Andi says:

    I was seuolrsiy at DefCon 5 until I saw this post.

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