Back from Moncton’s FotoExpo

Whew!  Darwin and I capped off a busy fall schedule with the FotoExpo in Moncton, New Brunswick this past weekend.  The brainchild of Maurice Henri, FotoExpo brought in such talent as Daryl Benson from Alberta and local talents David Corkum, Walt Malone and Jean Bertheleme.  One thing I really enjoy about teaching seminars and workshops is meeting photographers from all walks of life; everyone has their own passions and pursuits and I am continually inspired by the creativity evinced by shooters in this field!  Now it is time to kick back in the office, attack the growing stack of papers in my Inbox, and plan out next year’s seminars, tours and workshops.  Stay tuned for future offerings!

On the subject of workshops and tours, I have been thinking a lot recently about the difference between a workshop and a tour and what is required of photographers who offer these kinds of services.  I have witnessed first hand how these products cause confusion not only with potential participants but also photographers themselves.  For example, this weekend in Moncton, Darwin and I were engaged in conversation with photographers who have been shooting on the scene for some time.  The ‘Old Guard’ if you will.  To my surprise, on two separate occasions, two different photographers expressed puzzlement over how to lead a tour or workshop.  They were comfortable with providing a presentation of their images or discussing the mechanics of photography but were at a loss when it came to taking people out in the field with their camera and providing genuine assistance to participants.  At first, I could not understand their viewpoint.  How could you be in the industry so long, taking pictures, making presentations, writing articles and doing the odd workshop and NOT know what workshops were about?

Then it struck me:  they are photographers.  (D’uh, you may have just thought, but often, the most obvious truth is staring us in the face the entire time.)  They are photographers.  They are not teachers.  A common and profound mistake made by most of us is to assume that, because someone can DO something, they are equipped to teach others how to do that something too.  This is so far from the truth!  Think about it.  What makes a great photographer?  Well, unique artistic vision and mechanical proficiency.  What makes a great teacher?  Thorough knowledge of a subject matter and an ability to communicate the essentials of the subject matter to another person at a level appropriate to that person’s own knowledge of the subject matter.  A teacher is able to see the ‘gap’ between their own knowledge and the student’s knowledge and is able to use the tools appropriate to that student’s learning style to bridge that gap.

Photographers rarely make money by shooting images these days.  More and more they are wading into the world of teaching, whether by workshops, seminars, online courses or eBooks.  Although there is a plethora of products on offer, there is no formal process to evaluate the merit of all these offerings.  This means that participants are going to have to do a little research to determine if they are going to get value from a photographer’s product.  What are past participants saying?  How long has the photographer been in the business of instruction?  Don’t make the automatic assumption that a talented artist can teach their craft.  If a photographer doesn’t understand the difference between a workshop (where instruction of some kind is expected) and a field tour (where the photographer is just a guide), then they may not be the best person to help you reach your photographic goals.  Alternately, participants need to be clear on what they are looking for.  If you sign up for a field tour, but are unable to use your camera gear effectively, you likely won’t get much out of such a product and a workshop may be more what you are looking for.

So, back to those two photographers.  I would encourage anyone who is invited to present instructional seminars or lead workshops to really ask themselves if they are qualified to do so.  What feedback have you had from students?  What initiatives have you taken to be a better teacher?  Do you enjoy helping others pursue their photographic goals?  If these kinds of questions are foreign to you, consider getting out of the business of instructing the art of photography.

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~ by Samantha on November 2, 2010.

5 Responses to “Back from Moncton’s FotoExpo”

  1. Nicely said. I’ve been too many workshops and presentations where it was obvious the speaker knew what they were doing, was full of ideas, but they simply could not explain it. “I do it this way because.. well.. it works for me”

    I’m swimming in a sea of new content being produced daily in all shapes and forms. There is no shortage of people wanting my money to teach me something but you’re right – it’s hard to predict the value until the money is spent.

    I personally spend more on books/subscriptions/workshops/seminars/etc then I do on gear (it seems that way anyway) but I definitely tend to buy based on the person responsible much more so then the content description. A solid proven brand and reputation is what I go back to time and time again.

    Teaching and communication is an art form of it’s own.

    I hope to see you on one of your tours some day.

  2. I agree, just because one is experienced doesn’t mean they are able to teach it. There is an art to teaching and not everyone has what it takes to teach a class, seminar etc.

  3. I agree with your comments about teaching. Just because you are good at something does not make you a teacher. Organization is another quality needed to teach. As a teacher myself it has been painful sometimes to sit through workshops, presentations, etc. when the presenter was a pathetic teacher. One must know their subject matter, but not necessarily be an expert. I have seen a lot of so called experts not able to explain the most basic concepts, perhaps it is because they know too much.
    Anyone scared of teaching should also realize another fact of teaching. When you teach you learn. When I have taught adult basic photo courses I have always learned something from the particpants or even learned something new myself while preparing the lessons. And over the years I have learned so much about myself by teaching kids everyday.

    • Wow, so true. Thanks for bringing about another great thing about a true teacher: the amount you learn from others! When we aren’t excited by what we’re seeing from our students, when we don’t learn anything new, then it might be time to question our effectiveness as teachers. Many members of my family are teachers, so I had a bit of an insider’s view growing up. I saw how a lack of support in our culture and lack of resources cause burn out very quickly. Why should a lawyer be elevated in social status over a teacher? Aren’t our children the most important thing in the world?

  4. It is the kids that keep me from burning out. They are always honest and give something new to me every year. I also enjoy a change once in awhile and will teach adult classes. Hey I know some of your family of teachers, Chris and Jodi.

    I sent Darwin an email about working with the kids at our school. Have you guys had anytime to think about it?

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