This article is entirely self-serving and I wanted to say that up front. I’ll be in Thailand from June 22nd through July 20th and am making myself available for workshops. If I book enough workshops I’ll extend my stay. The primary reason for my visit on these dates is to photograph what is looking to be an awesome wedding in Hua-hin complete with elephants and all the trimmings. The bride used to be one of my models and the groom a client. One of my best workshops ever!
However, this article isn’t about just my photography workshops. It applies to what you should look for and expect from any workshop and the benefits you receive for your time and money. Of course I’m biased and if in the course of the article I’m describing how it should be, then that’s the way I conduct my workshops. I’ve done this for a long time now and I’ve fine-tuned what works and what best serves our time together.
At the core, the primary purpose of a workshop is to condense lots of information that traditionally takes weeks or months to learn, into a very short time. Accelerated topical learning. Obviously we can’t learn everything there is to know about photography in a day, so I’ve learned to segregate different skill levels and different skill sets into one day workshops.
One day is often all people have while visiting Thailand so I’ve carefully organized blocks of information into a relaxed one day segment. Topics might be: Use of Flash, Portraits, Landscape photography, Time Lapse, Low Light, Street, Macro, Wildlife, or other areas. There is one exception and it’s turned out to be my most popular workshop.
The beginners workshop is for someone who doesn’t yet fully understand how all the controls on their camera work, what lens to use in specific situations, what makes a good lens, how your settings of ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture, and what exposure and autofocus modes work best and when. At the end of what is usually a very long day you’ll be familiar with all of the above, and be able to choose the best settings and exposure and autofocus modes for your desired subject. You’ll also understand depth of field, the elements of a composition, and finally how to put it all together. Finally we’ll sit down on a computer and learn basic post processing skills, how to resize images, and get you comfortable working with RAW images.
It’s a lot. And we work hard in the field for a good 4-5 hours and back on the computer for another 4-5 after a dinner break. Most people are exhausted at the end of the day. We can break these areas up into two days if someone prefers, but since I charge by the day most choose to cover the material in one day and they do fine.
We usually start with emails. You email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about my fees and availability, and I’ll ask you about your goals, learning objectives, if I can see any of your previous work, and I’ll get a feel for what venue will best serve your personal workshop.
This is where I should make clear that I’m not a tour service. There are hundreds if not thousands of better qualified Thai tourist guides who will take you around the town to interesting sites for a lot less money. Our goal is learning photography. I do ask what attractions you’d like to visit and I’ll do my best to get you there if it serves our learning goals. If it doesn’t I’ll tell you and offer alternatives. I’ll do my best to take you to a desirable attraction, but the priority must be a venue which serves our learning objectives.
After we’ve set our learning objectives and settled on a venue, we’ll travel there in a vehicle I’ll arrange for. When I lived full time in Thailand I had my own large SUV or 4 door Pickup and drove myself, but this time I’ll either rent a car or hire a van and driver for the day.
Usually the drive to the venue is our getting acquainted period. I’ll ask questions about your life and your likes and dislikes because it helps me learn which analogies you might respond to better than others, and it helps me better fine tune your expectations. We’ll talk about your photography, answer questions about your gear, and maybe talk about new gear you’re interested in.
Once there we’ll park outside the venue and then use the cool air conditioning and quietness of the car to go over what we’ll be covering once we’re in the venue, what to expect, and I’ll answer any remaining questions you may have.
Because we’re learning and discussing what are often complex concepts, mathematical formulas (disguised as fun ways to learn), and artistic intent, a venue where we can hear each other and not be distracted is mandatory. This is one of the features I look for when we talk about venues. I’ve done workshops at Chatuchuk Market, MBK, and other busy areas and it’s doable and even desirable for certain learning objectives, but for this basic first day we want more quiet and less distractions so you can learn the information and apply it in a relaxed way.
One of my favorite such venues is Wildlife Safari. It’s not too far of a drive, it keeps us in a cool air conditioned car where we control the noise level and distractions, and we can shoot everything from landscapes to wildlife to portraits. It’s almost a perfect first class venue and I’m sure there are many of you who have taken my workshops before who remember it well.
Face it, Thailand is hot and humid and often uncomfortable, and this impedes learning. The more comfortable I can keep you the better you’ll learn and the more you’ll remember. The more comfortable I keep myself, the more kind and gentle I am.. ;o) We even bring an ice chest and stock it with your favorite drinks, soft hand towels to wipe the sweat from your face and gear, and if we’re shooting the same brand gear I’ll make sure to have extra batteries and the like just in case you forgot.
You won’t be rushed. We go slow, we carefully cover the basics, and past clients can tell you I reinforce them over and over again until they can recite the formula for DOF in their sleep. Years later when you’re coming to after a surgery the first thing you’ll tell the doctor is “focal length, aperture, focal distance, sensor size…”
Above all a workshop must be fun. You’re on vacation to have a good time, not subject yourself to a rigid training environment. I personally believe most amateurs will most enjoy photography if they find it fun and rewarding. So I do my best to use analogies tailored to your own frame of reference, and I’ll share stories, some I’ll bet you remember forever. If any past clients are reading this I’m sure they can recount the story of the killer peacock and Bob Dylan word for word.
Another benefit of a well ran workshop is if the instructor will make gear available to you. I personally don’t require you to bring your own gear. I encourage it, because if you have your own gear you’ll want to know how to use it. But what if you haven’t yet invested in a camera and you want more experience before doing so, and the benefit of a professionals opinion on which gear will suit your personal needs the best?
This is where I’ll bring several levels of cameras from the latest compact point and shoot, a mirror-less large sensor from our newest genre, a beginners DSLR, an enthusiasts DSLR, and if you ask ahead of time I can bring professional level gear. If you’re interested in portraiture and shoot Canon I’ll bring an assortment of lenses best suited to portraiture, or maybe wide angle landscapes are your thing, or telephoto..
The point is, an instructor should make gear available whenever possible to help you decide what best serves your needs. I can't even tell you how much better this is than just reading a review and mail ordering what you think you need. I’ve had countless clients either decide they want a lens or body after using mine, or tell me they’re glad they tried it, that it didn’t fit their expectations at all. And if I did my job, I introduced them to a lens that did. Gear selection is an important part of photography so it should be well covered. Demand it.
Once our field work is done we’ll head back. In the past we headed back to my condo in the sky where I’d make a guest room and bath available, feed you dinner, and once fed and comfortable we’d spend a few hours on the imaging workstation I’d provide until you felt comfortable with post processing. But now it’s different because I no longer own a condo in Bangkok. I’m hoping to rent a place and make it available, or we can return to your hotel and I’ll bring a portable workstation we can use in the lobby or other common areas.
The goal is to cover monitor profiling, post processing, and any image processing questions you may have. You won’t need your own computer because I’ll provide one, but I do encourage you to bring your own and if the monitor isn’t profiled I’ll bring what we need to show you how to profile your own monitor and you can see the difference.
That’s the first day, the hard day if you’re just starting out or renewing your interest in photography. We can do it in two days, but this information works well together so I recommend one.
Follow on workshops? Sure, I often do 3-4-5 days with one person. However, if time permits I recommend you take a few days after each workshop to go out and practice what we covered on your own. Invariably you’ll have questions, or forget something, and we’ll go over all that as the first part of the next workshop.
Follow on workshops are more specialized. Learning how to use portable strobe lights to photograph a model is very popular and a much shorter day. I can’t tell you how much fun this is. Cameras, a beautiful woman, the photography chemistry, it’s not unheard of for a client to fall in love with the model and marry her.. ;o) If you’re a man or woman, it will be your choice of model. Photographing a man is different than photographing a woman, we’ll cover both if desired.
A landscape workshop is fun as well. Many want to prepare for their trip to Angkor Vat so we’ll head to the closest ruins in Ayutthaya and spend the day going over the various aspects of landscape photography, from wide angle lens basics to using long telephotos for landscapes. Depth of field, anchoring the foreground, rule of thirds, we talk about and practice the various techniques and learn when each will be the most appropriate.
Built in flash and factory speed lights have long been confusing if you don’t use them all the time. Once you understand their use they couldn’t be more simple. In a relatively short day of 7-9 hours we’ll show you how to use fill flash in the daylight, full flash when ambient light is dark, and even how to fake a pretty good studio quality portrait using your flash and improvised light diffusers you can find anywhere.
Do you have a hankering for photographing artistic nudes? I’ll direct you to where you can arrange for a model, and after verifying her age and helping her understand a standard model release (written in both Thai and English), we’ll combine your knowledge of lighting, DOF, and other related skills and make some great images you’ll never forget.
Street photography is difficult. You’ve all seen Stick do it for years, but you might not appreciate the level of difficulty it presents. You need to be a good multi-tasker, completely understand how to best use your gear in street conditions, know the local culture well enough to not insult and bring unwanted attention your way, and you should have already completed a workshop in low-light photography. We’ll take all this knowledge and show you how to stay aware, not get your gear ripped from your hands, and how to remain low-key while making great street compositions.
I could talk forever about all the different areas we cover in a workshop, but why don’t you email me and let’s talk about the areas of most interest to you. I’ll be in Bangkok from June 22nd through July 20th, and I’ll make another trip over the Christmas holidays. But if you can’t make it to Bangkok for a workshop, then please consider a workshop in your home area.
What about the cost? Workshops in the west start at $400 a day for a group environment and can go up to over $5000 a day for professional level training. My rates are baht 10,000 per day and I haven’t raised this price in over six years. The exchange rate and economy has taken a good beating so I try to keep it as reasonable as possible. When you consider that you’re learning what sometimes amounts to years of knowledge and experience in the space of a single day, or maybe 4-5 days for an extended series of workshops. You learn enough to make the right gear purchases, learn the software, profile your monitor. I try to make it the best value you’ll find.
If you want to know more please email me at email@example.com and I’ll be happy to discuss your personal workshop. See you this summer!