One of the fastest ways to become a way-better photographer is to take a really good workshop. Now I’m not talking about some three-hour sales $99 pitch offered up by a teenage store clerk in a crowded staff kitchen (sitting beside the garbage container can be really unpleasant). Or even a night-school course that goes over several weeks. I’m talking about shooting with the best photographers working in the field today.
For these workshops I’m talking about packing up the equipment in a decent photography bag (I LOVE MY THINK TANK BAGS. I’ve got two of them (The ShapeShifter for travelling with an enormous amount of equipment including my 15″ MacBook Pro which I still can carry onboard an aircraft) and the Speed Freak (which holds a couple lenses and a body and allows me to carry it in front of me for speed or around my back – like a fanny pac – for comfort or over my shoulder for casual strolling). These bags aren’t cheap but they’re built like…well…tanks. The ShapeShifter especially has so many pockets I have to be careful not to overpack. If you are an avid amateur or pro (our community newspaper photographer uses Think Tank) then these are the bags for you.
I’m getting really into audio and video production, while I’m shooting stills, so I’m thinking it’s time for another Think Tank bag! The Multi-Media Wireup 20 is a contender. BTW you can see these bags in action at any of my workshops on basic photography.Last year I took two big workshops. One was a day-long with David Tejada, Small Strobe Big Results Workshop when he offered it in Buffalo. I highly recommend David and this workshop. You will not be disappointed. In fact, I did some of my best shooting of the year at this workshop. (You should understand how to use your flash on your DSLR for this workshop so as to get the most out of it. David is a master of using speedllights to get big studio looking images. Really cool.
The other workshop was thanks to Outdoor Photography Canada magazine where Marion and I went to Algonquin Park to shoot the fall leaves with Ethan Meleg. If you can possibily swing it (and if they run the workshop again) this is a great opportunity to come home with iconic images of the Canadian wilderness (all pretty much shot from the side of the road at 5:30 am. The trick is to know where and when to be and then how to use your equipment. Ethan is a wonderfully gentle teacher who does not intrude too much in the photograpy process but makes sure newer students (like Marion) get just as good images as the pros (like me). And gentlemen, trust me on this, you want someone like Ethan teaching your significant other or new squeeze and not you!!!!!
So what are the good workshops?
Of the bunch, if I could only take one, I’d look at one of the 200 workshops offered at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. Not cheap but you get what you pay for (an education and great images).
BTW for any of these workshop you’ll likely need a tripod. Now there are two ways to buy a tripod I’ve been told by Ethan Meleg (That’s his shot of the elephant seal that appears on his blog post for this week). The expensive way where you go out and buy a really good carbon fibre Manfrotto (which I have on around $550) or a $1,000+ Gitzo (which Nathan has) with a really good ballhead (mine is the matching Manfrotto. Not great but good enough for my purposes. Ballheads range from $50 to $2,000. ) and the really expense way where you start out buying a $75 tripod (I got one I still use for my video camcorder than I got for $8 at a garage sale). Then after a few years you go out and buy a better tripod at around $500. Now you’re starting to appreciate what a good tripod can do for you and your images. Maybe you want one that will allow the legs to splay out flat for macro shots so it’s back to the store for the tripod and ballhead you should have bought in the first place 🙂
I went the more expensive route but now I have two really good (but not great) tripods for Marion and myself and a couple of crappy ones for video (which I will be changing out soon). I also own two very good monopods.
Finally, if you’re shooting landscapes you will need really good filters to get the same beautiful images as we got in Algonquin Park. Ethan used Singh-Ray Filters which are the best. Here’s a link to their brochure. And thanks again to Ethan for letting us borrow his when we were shooting with him. Can’t tell you how nervous I was to be passing plates of very expensive glass back and forth over the rocky shorelines we were shooting from. Don’t think we dropped any but I was glad when the Ethan’s filters were all back in their cases.