Hi Zack, Do you think that all this abundance of free education is actually hurting new photographers that are easily influenced?
Abundance of education is never a problem. It’s the quality of education is what I sometimes question.
There are a lot of horrible teachers out there teaching new people. I read blogs, watch classes online, sit in the back of talks and workshops and hang my head in shame at some of the crap I hear. I’ve also had a lot of people ask me questions starting with, “I took a workshop and they said….”
There’s two things happening with bad education right now. One is someone has found a level of success and popularity based on who they are more than how good of a photographer they are. When you are new to the craft you don’t yet know how to judge if a photographer is a good photographer. Their pictures are at least some measure better than yours and they have thousands of people following them and they are platform speakers at all the big trade shows so they MUST be a good photographer. Right? If you don’t know… you don’t know.
So the mediocre photographers who are really popular start teaching. Well… they kind of don’t know what they are doing with a camera but they know maybe a bit more than you do so it seems like you’re learning good information. Or you’ll be told that “such and such” isn’t really of technical importance to them so it shouldn’t be of importance to you. So a new army of poorly trained photographers rises up and can’t shoot their way out of a wet paper bag.
It’s horrible. I sometimes feel like a chef watching the most popular cooking show on TV and the host keeps microwaving the food because they don’t really need to be bothered using an oven. It’s the blind leading the blind out there sometimes. Then you have really good photographers… who can’t teach. They can’t formulate into words how they do what they do or why they do what they do. If something isn’t important to them for one reason or another they also can’t articulate WHY it isn’t important.
I was recently listening to a good photographer teach. A question was raised about composition and what they are thinking about when composing a photo. The photographer basically said that since they are self-taught technical things like that don’t matter to them. They don’t use the rule or thirds because it isn’t important to their photography. They just imagine what their picture is going to look like on a page and shoot for that.
First… composition isn’t a “technical” thing. It’s a real thing. It isn’t lighting. Or camera settings. Or noise reduction. It’s freaking composition. AND it isn’t just about “rule of thirds”. There’s far more to composing a photograph than using the rule of thirds. OMG. I went back to this photographer’s site and guess what is all over their photos? Rule of thirds. It’s everywhere through their work. They do use composition. They do think through the framing of their shots. The problem is this photographer had no clue how to talk about it. Didn’t know how to translate their gut instinct into a teachable moment. They passed it off as being a “technical” thing that isn’t important to them. HUH???? WTF does that even mean? So off go some new photographers not worrying about composition because so and so over there is really popular and successful and they don’t worry about it either.
This popular person doesn’t like flash. They think it is harsh and ugly and too bright. They only use available light because the world is in available light. So new photographers go off thinking flash is harsh, ugly, and too bright. Available light can be gorgeous and is the right light for the job. It can also be horrible. Flash can be gorgeous. And it can be horrible. Jeebus. The problem is the person teaching doesn’t know how to use flash. Instead of just saying “I don’t know how to use flash” they come up with some bullshit answer and move on.
I’ve seen photographer’s talk about changing their ISO due to the color of someone’s hair. Wha?
I’ve heard photographers teaching others to never use 1/3 stops on their aperture or shutter speed. You have 2.8, 4, 5.6 etc. Then there are 1/3 stop increments like 3.2, 4.5, 5.0, etc. They said you shouldn’t use those. Just use full stops. I wanna slap a fool when I hear that stuff. So if a recipe calls for 1 and 1/3 cups of sugar you should only use one cup because that third of a cup is bad? FOOLS!
Blind. Leading. Blind.
That’s the problem in our industry right now as far as education goes. There’s a lot of really bad education. I’d go so far as to say there’s more bad education right now than good education. If you are just starting out how are you to know? Then you have workshops that make you feel good but then leave you hanging when you run out of light, your subject is a pain in the ass, and you have all of 1 minute to get the shot. All that feel good motivation doesn’t mean shit if you can’t get the job done when it’s crunch time.
I’d like to say the free market takes care of it. Bad workshops die and good ones thrive. I’d like to say that but it isn’t the case. There are so many people entering the industry that the bad workshop leaders just need to keep getting new people and not worry about what previous students are doing or missed from attending their workshop. Or watching their DVD. Or whatever.
I can’t tell you what to look for and what to look out for. I’m not going to start naming names. Look at their work. Look at their experience. Look at what they are doing right now with their life. Does it add up to being someone who knows what the hell they are doing? I think the bad photographers who run good business should just teach the business part. I think the good photographers should just teach the photography part. You can learn a lot from some of these successful and popular photographers about networking, blogging, and the like. As soon as they start teaching the photography part you’re screwed. There are great shooters who try to teach networking and blogging and social media to all 2 people who follow them. And one is their mom. They just need to stick to teaching the photography part.
At the end of the day though…. nothing. And I do mean nothing… replaces experience. Go. Learn. Pick up things from many sources but go shoot. And shoot. And shoot. And shoot some more.
Some of you reading this are the next leaders in the industry. You’re going to be asked to teach and speak and make videos. Just as you had to learn how to shoot and run a business you need to learn how to teach. If you don’t know something then say you don’t know it. If you don’t use a certain aspect of this craft in your work then say WHY you don’t use it and give an example of why you would if you were doing another type of photography. If you can’t articulate how you compose a photo then say you have a difficult time articulating how you compose a photo. Learn some key points to the academic discussion of composition and learn how to relate that to your work and to others. Ok? Be an open book. An honest open book.
Hi Zack be honest - why do you host seminars, teach, etc? Is it because you really want to disseminate knowledge or make more money? I mean...I haven't seen Greg Heisler open up a website in recent times...or host live teaching for that matter. So why do you do it? Thanks!
Honestly… I want to help people. I’ve sat in workshops before that I left confused or frustrated by. Either the workshop leader talked in circles and seemed to only give half of the needed information because they wanted to keep their cards close to their chests or the workshop was just a big infomercial for gear and other teaching material that could be bought. Some photographers are great photographers and bad teachers.
That stuff bugs the crap out of me. If you’re going to teach then teach. Let it all out. Don’t hold back. If people are paying to be there then make it worth their time and their money. Give them something that they can use to make that money back. Don’t use teaching as a platform to just sell more shit to people who just bought your shit.
I’ve also been in great workshops. I learned some key things that I could plug into my life or into my shooting right then and there. Spending the money to learn there was truly an investment that paid off. I’m thankful for good workshops. They really do help and have value in my life.
So there’s that. I wanted to develop a workshop that wasn’t a traveling advertisement. I wanted to make something that showed you what to do and not just a taste of what to do but ultimately leave you hanging because I left some things out. Photographers who teach bad workshops typically don’t see their students as their clients. They go above and beyond for a photo client and then treat workshop students as plebeians. If someone is giving you money for your time… guess what? THEY ARE YOUR CLIENT!!!! STUDENTS ARE CLIENTS!!!! Get that through your fat heads you bad workshop teachers. Your “brand” is on the line whether you are shooting a client or teaching a client. You serve your clients whether they are brides, editors, or students. Plain and simple.
Then there’s the income part of it. Teaching sure has helped fill in some gaps for me in my career. It started organically for me though. I never went out to start a workshop. Some friends in Tampa asked me to come down for a day and show them what I did with lights. Then someone else asked me to do it. Then someone else did. Then I sat in some horrible workshops. After a few bad workshops I decided I had something to offer. I found that I really enjoyed teaching. So I launched my workshop.
I did my workshop here and there for awhile. I’d let it just sort of fill in the gaps from time to time. I was still really busy in working with bands and musicians. Then the bottom fell out of the music industry. I mean… it effing fell out from under my feet over night. I went from busy to zero in about 60 days. I ramped up a few more workshop dates to float my boat while I figured out what the heck just happened to all the music work.*
Then teaching took off. I was getting requests to travel the world and teach. It was awesome. I loved it. I went and did that for a couple of years. Then I got depressed. I was working on my portfolio and realized that all of my favorite images recently were all shot at workshops. I wasn’t in the trenches so to speak. I wasn’t booking the type of client work I wanted. I didn’t have time to do the personal work I wanted. I was traveling too much. It was time to quit my “day job” of teaching and dive back into photography. I made an exit plan and put my workshops on hold for this year. I’ve done a few here and there. Mostly ones that I committed to already before I decided to take a break from it.
I could be teaching full time right now and circumnavigating the globe with it. I’d make more money than I am right now if I did that. But I’d be miserable. Vincent Laforet was once asked why he wasn’t teaching more. He replied something along the lines of “I’m still in my 30’s. This is the time I need to be creating my life work. Not teaching.” That hit me between the eyes. I need to be creating my life work right now. Not teaching. I was hitting the workshop circuit as one who was talking about doing it more than doing it. I don’t want to be that person. If I’m teaching I want it to be from a place of daily experience. I don’t just want to sell bait to the fishermen. I’d rather you find me fishing. I’ll show you what bait I’m using, how I’m using it, show you the fish I just caught, and, you know… if you want to buy some of my bait I have a bucket over there. I’ll sell you some but you kind of have to ask for it. I’m not going to shove it down your throat. :)
I see people bitch and moan that workshop leaders are just taking advantage of emerging photographers and are in it for a money grab. They’ll see someone offering a $1,000 workshop to ten students and say, “They’re making $10,000!!” Uh. No. They aren’t. I can’t speak for everyone but my workshops cost a lot of money to put on. Travel. Assistant. Food. Drink. Models. Location/Studio rental. Hotels. Then I have someone who helps me on the backend with scheduling and all that. Then there’s taxes. Effing taxes. Then I there’s the time I’m gone from my studio and family. There’s my overall overhead to deal with. I also have to replace my gear more often due to the rigors of teaching. And then… after all of that… I need to make a bit of profit. Keyword “bit”. If you simply multiply the cost of the workshop by the number of students and think the teacher is making that number then you need to take a business workshop my friend. :)
I’ll get back into teaching again. I really really do enjoy it. I’m glad to have taken some time off of it though. I want to re-work my workshops. I want to develop some new things. I want to take the OneLight and split it in two. One is an inexpensive lecture and one is a hands on shooting only workshop. I have a few other ideas up my sleeve. I’ve got some new videos I’m working on. I have a new Dedpxl in the works. It’s fun stuff. Just know that I’m not an opportunist schlepping crap because I can. I spent a lot of money on shooting a Photo 101 video 2 years ago. At the end of the day it sucked. Hours of footage… dead in the water. I wasn’t on. I wasn’t teaching it correctly. I couldn’t release it. Lost a good bit of change on that one. I’d rather lose that money then put a crap video product out. Lord knows there’s no shortage of crap teaching material out there in the world.
Sidenote - What happened to my music work… $3+ a gallon gas happened. I was shooting bands on a weekly basis and then I was shooting maybe 1 band every six weeks. This happened inside of 60 days. The first 30 days went by and I thought it was just a glitch in the matrix. Then the next 30 days went by and I panicked. I started calling other folks in the music industry. Everyone was slow or dead in the water. We all had wind in our sails and then we had nothing.
I talked to one seasoned music producer and asked him if things were slow. His immediate reply was, “Yep! Gas prices man. Seen it before.” I shoot independent musicians for the most part. They make their living on the road. They aren’t touring in a Prius. They’re usually touring in a 1983 Econoline van that gets 10 gallons to the mile. The sustained spike in gas prices hit them hard. A perfect storm was brewing at this time anyway. The economy was turning south. People were going to fewer shows. Spending less at the bar. People wanted downloads instead of physical CD’s. They spent less on buying stuff like t-shirts. Venues were paying less to the acts on the bill. More places went to free cover charges just to get people in to get bar tabs up. The national music industry was in a tail spin as well. Everything was sucking.
The $3+ a gallon gas issue was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Photos weren’t as important any more. I became a luxury item. I could have slashed and burned my prices to get work back in but I had worked long and hard to get my pricing to where it was and I wasn’t going back. I stuck to my guns and diversified my income. Workshops. Headshots. Picked up some commercial work. Etc. Whatever I could do to stay alive. The good news is things are picking back up again. By the end of this month I’ll have shot four press kit packages. It’s picking up. We’re on the upswing…. knock on wood.