Updated: May 22
Street photography workshops come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, so it’s important to be able to select the right one for you. I know my style of workshop will not be for everyone, so it’s really important to me that it's super clear how things work, so that I can manage people’s expectations, as well as also attract my kinda people!
If you are thinking about taking a street photography workshop, or any photography workshop for that matter then stick around as I'm going to cover these bits and bobs:
1. Can anyone learn street photography?
2. The questions to ask yourself when choosing a workshop
3. Some shameless horn tooting!
"To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them." - Elliot Erwitt
© Copyright Polly Rusyn
1. CAN ANYONE LEARN STREET PHOTOGRAPHY?
You might say "What's to learn?! It's just life on the street isn't it?"... Yes and no. I recently wrote about the definition of street photography, so I won't go into it again here, but I recommend reading the article.
Henri Cartier-Bresson had the opinion that nothing worth knowing can be taught! I wholeheartedly disagree (sorry Henri!), and believe everything is teachable and everything is learnable - but it depends both on the ability of a teacher to teach and a student's desire to learn. In my view, natural talent is simply a head start, that's all. Although, no doubt there will be exceptions where somebody is just terrible at something or life is simply not long enough to put in the hours necessary to learn. For example, that would apply to me and my desire to learn parkour or capoeira!!
Ultimately though, hard work and practice will get you somewhere. So a workshop could be a great step for you to take (as long as it's the right one to suit you as an individual), whether you are starting out in street photography or whether you are just a bit stuck after doing it for a while. Learning should be lifelong after all, whichever way you choose to do it.
"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." - Henri Cartier-Bresson
© Copyright Polly Rusyn
2. THE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN CHOOSING A WORKSHOP
Here goes! I'll probably put some people off booking with me, but that's cool - everyone has to find their tribe.
Who is leading the workshop?
This is obvious right?! But you need to know more than their credentials and whether you like their work, it's also good to get an idea of who they are (if you haven't already met them). Ultimately, people are people and not all people like all other people! So do you like the way they "sound" on social media and on their website? Would they be someone you could see yourself hanging out with? I run weekend workshops, as well as one day workshops and short meet-ups, so you would have to like me a bit to be able to deal with me bossing you about for a whole weekend! How good or bad are their jokes for example? (mine are terrible, by the way!).
Am I looking for something technical or creative?
Some workshops teach you the technical side of photography, others keep it creative, and some do a mix of both. I would describe The Photo Weekender workshops as being focussed on the creative with some technical bits thrown in here and there. Many people starting out in photography feel they need to master aperture sizes, shutter speeds and ISO before they can move on to actually making pictures. Personally, I think you should stick your camera on auto, get creative, and learn how you can use the tech to your advantage as you go along, and before you know it you will know your way around your camera.
What is my preferred way of learning?
We all have different learning styles, and workshops have different teaching styes. It's important you find the right match! For example check to see how much of the workshop is classroom based (it may be part powerpoint seminar, part practice on the streets). This is something I decided against when I set up The Photo Weekender mainly because I didn't want to keep people in a classroom whilst in a stunning European city for a weekend. So the "seminar" parts of the workshop are divided into small chunks throughout the day, and are briefed on the streets, followed by specific assignments.
Also it's important to check if there is any one to one time if this is important to you - don't assume there will be. Some people prefer the autonomy and challenge of "seeing" for themselves while out making pictures, while others benefit from some hand holding. There is of course merit in being shown an opportunity for a photograph, but for me it always felt like if someone showed it to me then it would be their photo taken with my camera even though it would be composed by me... People who attend Weekenders tend to prefer autonomy, but every so often someone needs some extra help seeing, and I'm very happy to assist - but I want to teach them how to see for themselves, so there's no formal one to one time.
Do I want to learn how to edit (make selections) and how to post-process?
This is not something I include on a workshop, although I do offer it on a one to one basis after if anyone needs it (although that's not included in the workshop fee). Again I don't want to enforce laptop time in a city that's meant to be explored, and once we sit down for dinner as a group, and that first and most refreshing drop of beer passes my lips - I am off the clock! I also feel that photos should marinade for a few days before you go in for the cull! There are other workshops that will cover all of that for you whilst on the actual workshop, and I know that is of great value to some people. Again, it's all about learning styles, and also I guess how you want to spend your time.
Is feedback included?
This is super important, and again it's something I don't do until after the workshop (participants have a month to select their top ten and submit them, but this is included in the fee). Feedback is essential for any workshop to provide, whether it's during or afterwards. Of course if selection sessions are included then the feedback will be happening in tandem.
What about the social side?
This is so important to The Photo Weekender, and a big part of what happens on a weekend away. Because the workshops are planned around a sightseeing itinerary, and has everyone regrouping regularly as well as eating lunch and dinner together, it creates a super social environment. The result is a lot of repeat participants, who end up becoming friends, plus no-one needs to feel awkward trying to find someone to have dinner with. All the restaurants I book are carefully chosen for a variety of culinary experiences, and we always eat local!
How much do I want to spend?
With street photography workshops you can easily spend a small fortune if you book a spot with a Magnum photographer for example, but you don't have to max out your bank account. Group size can also make a difference to price - you may pay less with a slightly bigger group. I cap Weekender workshops at 12 and that seems to work well for the social side, as well as for the way the workshops are structured. And I keep the price competitive as I want to encourage people to join me more than once, and some people book two Weekenders a year in different cities, and get something new from each experience. Plus, the (bad) jokes are totally free!
© Copyright Polly Rusyn
3. SOME SHAMELESS HORN TOOTING!
So yes, I've been pitching my wares in this blog, I'm not going to deny it, but I mean it when I say I would rather you chose a different workshop if mine was not the right one for you. To find out more about how it works on a Weekender then please explore the website - there are flamingos! And you can learn more about me, Polly, on my portfolio website too.
Anyway, the pitching hasn't stopped yet (nearly there!) - you can find more testimonials on the home page but below are a couple of quotes - one from a regular participant, and one from someone after they attended their first. AND, a group photo from the last Weekender I ran in Seville!
"I had a fantastic time, Polly you were awesome as always in organising it all from finding great inspiration for us to get ideas from to finding the perfect locations and great places to eat and relax, the whole weekend photography wise was challenging and fun in the same measure. Always a super friendly group as well which makes it even more fun." - CARL G.
"Can’t thank you enough for the LOLS and learning Polly. It smashed my expectations." - PHIL D.
Team Seville (Autumn) 2019 #groupphoto
I think I've covered everything - let me know if I haven't! Basically, you need to find your tribe, and figure out how (and where) you like to learn. And try all kinds of workshops - there'll always be something to take away.
If you'd like to recommend any street photography workshops that you have attended that are a different flavour to The Photo Weekender then please do drop a link in the comments below. I'm happy for other photographers who run workshops to get shout outs, as we all do our thing in our own way.
"The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation." - Susan Meiselas
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All photos © Polly Rusyn | Words by Polly Rusyn - Boss at The Photo Weekender and an Official Fujifilm X-Photographer.
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