Sifting Through the Noise of Photography Education

Sifting Through the Noise of Photography Education

We live in an age where education is abundant. No matter what we want to learn about our photography business, from bookkeeping to social media marketing, from posing to shooting manual, there’s a class, a workshop or a guide to teach you! If you’re fairly new to the industry, you might not realize just how incredible this is… even as recently as ten years ago, these kinds of resources were still hard to find.

The bad news is that there are so many people offering workshops and classes and guides that it can be really difficult to know which ones are worth investing in… and exactly what you can expect to get out of it. If you’ve been in business for a few years, we’re willing to bet that you’ve gone to a workshop that wasn’t a good fit for you, bought a pdf “book” that you probably never even read or took an online class but never implemented any new ideas. Don’t feel bad… we’ve all been there.

Today, we’re going to talk about how to sift through all the noise to find the right educational fit for you. We’ll cover three ways you can pre-evaluate a workshop, why knowing what you want out of a workshop is so important and how to evaluate true value after you’ve taken a workshop.

Before you even begin looking into workshops, it’s important to decide exactly what you need out of your educational experience. You’ll find that you are seeking some combination of knowledge, inspiration and community. Every workshop will offer varying degrees of knowledge, inspiration and community, as well as varying degrees of value within each of those categories. Sometimes, you’ll be perfectly happy attending a workshop simply for the community aspect and inspiration, even if you don’t go home with a list of newfound knowledge.

So how do you know how to rank the three? A lot of that depends on where you are in your entrepreneurial journey. If you’re fairly new to photography or new to a specific genre, you’ll find that knowledge will rank first for you. If you’ve been in business for many years, but find yourself getting burned out each year, you’ll find that inspiration might rank first for you. And if you’re looking for community, well… that one’s pretty self-explanatory.

Really though, now is a great time to spend a few minutes deciding how knowledge, inspiration and community rank for you. And we recommend you take it a step further and list out exactly what you want to learn under your ‘knowledge’ category. We promise this will make it so much easier for you to find the perfect workshop for you!

Now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s talk about types of education. There are so many different ways to learn that are available to us! There are big conferences like WPPI (link) and small conferences like Foundation Workshops (link), in-person workshops that focus on business or shooting, live online classes that last four hours and downloadable self paced classes that last four weeks. And we can’t forget about pdf guides on every topic imaginable.

So where should you begin? For workshops and conferences, you’ll find out about upcoming events mostly through social media and hearing your industry friends talk about the conferences. We also recommend visiting Photography Workshop Reviews to find out about the latest popular workshops.

For online classes, we highly recommend taking classes from trusted photo education resources. We’ve rounded up our favorites so there’s no guesswork on your part.

Maker Mentors is a community of successful creatives that have joined together to offer free webinars on topics like getting published, monetizing creative projects and using Kickstarter to fund your next project. They also offer a 2 day paid online conference.

Pros: The mentors are a good mix of makers from various creative industries, all the webinars are free & they’re recorded so you can listen to them later and they cover a variety of topics.

Cons: Webinars are roughly 30 minutes each so they are more of an overview than a detailed plan and because Maker Mentors is still fairly new, there isn’t a huge amount of content available yet.

Creative Live is an education resource for creative entrepreneurs that offers free live streaming classes. Creative Live attracts some of the best speakers across all creative industries and is well known for consistently putting out great content. Classes are available for purchase after the live broadcast.

Pros: Classes are free if you watch them live, classes are often available as bundles for a discounted price, classes are often hours-long and very detailed on a specific topic.

Cons: You don’t get the bonus workbooks and content unless you pay for the class, it can be hard to carve out time to watch the free live broadcast. Classes are unedited, so it often takes a long time for speakers to deliver actionable content, especially if they are new to teaching.

CMUniversity is a division of Clickin Moms that offers online interactive learning for photographers of all levels, specifically for women. They offer classes on all topics related to photography and running a photography business and even offer 1-on-1 coaching.

Pros: Every class has a dedicated online forum so you get the community aspect right away, CM offers full participation that includes instructor critiques or study along that is more affordable and you get to keep class materials forever.

Cons: There are hundreds of classes available so it can be difficult to find the right fit for you even if you are looking at a specific topic.

Define School is an online photography school offering self-paced and interactive classes. Classes are three to five weeks long and include plenty of instructor interaction throughout the course.

Pros: Define School offers a wedding track as well as a core curriculum so you can take multiple classes in one category without overlap, they offer unique class topics like un-branding and all classes include a private dedicated forum.

Cons: It can be difficult to determine which courses are beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Self-paced courses and/or comprehensive pdf guides are another great way to learn about specific topics in a budget-friendly way. You won’t often receive the community aspect with your educational experience, but you’ll receive the most bang for your buck in the knowledge category. At Design Aglow, we offer a large variety of comprehensive guides on business topics such as pricing, studio policies, workflow and marketing. All guides include multiple contributors, so you do not feel you have to do everything the same exact way as the instructor. We also have our first self paced class, The Ultimate In-Person Sales Course, which is getting rave reviews already.

By now, you may be overwhelmed by your choices. And if the workshop creators have done their job correctly, you’ll likely be thinking “this is exactly what I need!” after reading the marketing pitch for just about any class or conference. But it’s important to dig past the marketing page to determine if this class or conference is right for you. Don’t worry… we’ve got this all mapped out for you!

Step 1 - Research the instructor(s) or speaker(s)

  • How many years have they been in business? 
  • Are they still actively working in the industry? (i.e. if a photographer, are they still shooting? If a CPA is speaking about taxes, are they still actively in business?)
  • Do they have a clear bio that lists their experience and qualifications?
  • Are they known for having a reputation for excellence on the topic they are teaching?
  • Is their content based solely on their own experience or do they bring in other experts?
  • Does their photography (not teaching) website inspire you? What's special about it?

Step 2 - Evaluate their past performance

  • ask around on social media for reviews of past workshops
  • check for positive and negative reviews
  • read their blog, newsletter and social media posts to get a feel for the quality of their content
  • have they written a book or has their work been published on well-known platforms?

Step 3 - Evaluate their workshop content outline without emotional bias

  • print out the course content & put an ‘X’ through everything you have a solid understanding of
  • circle the topics you need help with and put a star next to the things that are really important for you to learn in the next six months
  • if you find that you’ve crossed out most of the topics, this workshop is probably not a good fit for you in terms of learning things that will help you grow your business

Once you evaluate a workshop and decide to invest, we can’t stress enough how important it is to show up and do the work. No workshop will ever be worth your investment if you sign up and don’t complete the work start to finish. Once your workshop is complete, we feel it’s important to evaluate how the course matched up with what you were hoping to get from it. Hopefully, if you followed our step-by-step instructions in this post, you did a great job of picking just the right workshop. Keep it up and you’ll never have to worry about investing in the wrong photography education again!

P.S. In our humble opinion, the classes and workshops that will show you the highest ROI (return on investment) over the years are business focus workshops. We believe in helping photographers build successful, sustainable businesses and it’s tough to do that if all you invest in are photography focused workshops!

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