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What Type of Photography Education is Right for You?

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Investing in continuing education can be a wise decision as you grow and expand your photography business. However, when it comes to photography education, knowing where to start can be a challenge. A simple Google Search for “photography course” can yield a dizzying list of results with the seemingly endless number of workshops, conferences, and course options available.

These various forms of photography education can all be a fit depending on what type of education you and your business need. The key is to narrow your focus to get the most out of whichever educational resource you end up choosing. There’s nothing worse than spending your hard-earned money on resources that ultimately fall flat.

Below, we’ve outlined the most common types of photography education available and the pros and cons for each. We hope our list makes this overwhelming decision easier and gets you back to the aspects of your business you love the most (like printing your photography)!

Photography Conference – Large (500+ attendees)

 
Arguably, the best-known form of photography education is available at the various industry conferences that take place each year. These conferences include big-name events such as WPPI, Imaging USA, and Photo Plus. These conferences are typically attended by thousands of creative entrepreneurs and offer various forms of photography education. Attendees can take part in classroom sessions, photo walks, keynote speeches, and more.

Pros:

- Best ‘Bang for Your Buck’
Photography conferences offer educational opportunities to every level of professional photographer and a variety of industry genres.
- Networking Opportunities
With thousands of fellow photographers and industry professionals in attendance, the networking and socializing options are endless. Join your fellow photographers at happy hours, dinners, and other planned events that are often the highlight of each conference.
- The Conference Tradeshow or Exhibition Hall
Large industry conferences will always include a trade-show to help you discover products, resources, and vendors that can help streamline your business. Event discounts and show deals are an obvious plus to attending the photography conferences!

Cons:

- High Costs
With so many photography education and event options available, the costs of large conferences can often be exorbitant. Add in the travel and accommodation costs and this type of educational investment quickly becomes the only one you can make each year.
- Large Crowds
If you’re a hands-on learner, large sessions and keynotes are not the resource for you. Classroom sessions often host hundreds of photographers and personalized education can be scarce. If you need specific questions answered, niche educational resources may be a better option.
- Information Overload
Industry conferences are packed with information and resources that are all shared over the course of just two or three days. With so much photography education available, it can be hard to glean actionable tips for your business, which means very little improvement upon your return home.

Industry conferences can be a great “first step” to furthering your education, especially if you’re just getting started in the photography industry. If you think a photography conference is the best choice for you, you can learn more about getting the most out of your investment with tips from photographer Jasmine Norris here.

Boutique Photography Conference – Small (500 attendees or less)

If you crave the social aspect of photography conferences without the crowds, a “boutique” photography conference is a great fit. The past few years have seen a surge in popularity of regional photography education boutique conferences hosted by veteran photographers or smaller photography organizations. This includes events such as The Reset Conference, ShowIt UNITED, and Capture! Photo Con.

Pros:

- Focused Content and Personalized Photography Education
Boutique conferences will often focus on one or two genres of photography and feature experienced and successful photographers as educators on the chosen subject(s). These events are perfect for photographers who have one to three years of experience and are looking to further their photography education with a more narrowed focus.
- Networking Opportunities
Boutique conferences still offer the social aspect of larger conferences, but with far fewer people. With fewer attendees, you can develop meaningful connections with fellow professionals and exchange relevant tips and tricks of the trade.
- Registration Cost
Boutique conference organizers often have more flexibility when accepting registration payments and can typically offer a payment plan, or discounts, depending on the number of attendees. Since boutique conferences target regional audiences, you can likely find a photography boutique conference closer to home and skip the high cost of long-distance travel.

Cons:

- Focused Content and Genres
As mentioned above, this can be both a pro and a con depending on your photography education goals. The more specific your needs, the harder it can be to find a boutique photography conference that will meet them. This also pertains to your specific learning style. Boutique conferences will all differ in the way they present the material, so be sure to do your research before registering based on content alone.
- Small or Non-existent Tradeshow
Tradeshows and exhibit halls are not guaranteed at smaller photography conferences, which are often sponsored by only a select few vendors, if any. However, if there is a tradeshow at the boutique conference, this could mean more discounts, giveaways, and freebies due to the fewer number of attendees!

In-Person Photography Workshops – (<50 attendees)

For those who desire a more personal photography education experience, small in-person photography workshops may be for you. These workshops are often hosted by veteran professional photographers and cater to a specific genre, topic, or skillset. In-person photography workshops often limit the number of attendees (10-20 attendees on average) and can vary in the length from a few hours to a couple of days. These in-person workshops are meant to help photographers ‘take their business to the next level’ and are great for professionals who have been in business for at least two to three years.

Some of our favorite in-person photography workshops include Blossom Workshops (newborn & children), Magnolia Wedding Workshops, and The Saltwater Retreat (landscape).

Pros:

- Hands-on Learning and Individual Instruction
Since most in-person workshops limit the number of attendees, the education you receive is often targeted to your needs and focused on the skills you’d like to develop. If the photography workshop offers a styled-shoot or session, the organizer(s) will often provide individual instruction throughout the event.
- Photography Education from Professionals or Organizations You Admire
When considering smaller in-person workshops, the photographer or organization hosting the event can be the biggest draw. If there is a photographer or photography group whose style or message you admire, then attending their workshop is a good place to start. You’ll be more likely to incorporate the tips you learn into your own photography business because you respect the educator(s).
- Portfolio Building and Photography Development
Most in-person photography workshops include at least some element of a styled session or shoot to help build your portfolio or even update your headshot! These sessions are included with the registration fee and can be a pivotal bonus to the classroom-style education.

Cons:

- Lack of Education/Knowledge Diversity
When you attend an in-person photography workshop, you’ll typically learn from one or two instructors throughout the entire event. This can be great if their teaching style and advice meets your needs, but limiting if they do not. At large and/or boutique conferences, you’ll hear from numerous photographers and instructors who can offer more varied tips and perspectives.
- High Registration Costs
With fewer attendees comes higher prices to help the organizers with overhead costs. If a photographer or organization has worked hard to put a valuable event together, the cost to attend the event will reflect the effort. With in-person photography workshops, you often get what you pay for.

Online Photography Workshops- (unlimited attendance)

 
If you want to further your photography education from the comfort of your own home, then sign-up for your next online photography workshop! We’re referencing the live or recorded workshops that are often webinar-style sessions requiring your virtual attendance at a specified date or time. These workshops are free online courses (in exchange for your email) or paid depending on the depth of information offered. These online courses can be hosted by a single photographer or, more commonly, a photography organization that features presenters who cover various subjects and genres.

Pros:

- Location Independence
When you register for an online photography workshop, you can tune in from anywhere around the world, provided you have a stable Wi-Fi connection and the time to dedicate to the content.
- Unlimited Options
With so many online photography workshops available, your educational options can seem endless. If you can avoid feeling overwhelmed, then choosing an online course (or five) is a great way to continue your education without too much interruption to your daily life and business.
- Live Recordings
Since most online photography workshops will take at least an hour of your day, educators will often provide recordings of the program after the event. Even if they’re only available for a certain time, event recordings can make distractions, interruptions, and schedule conflicts a non-issue. Be sure to ask the instructor before registering if you know you can’t attend the entire event.

Cons:

- Lack of Individual Instruction
Online photography workshops typically don’t enforce an attendee limit so you’ll be learning alongside hundreds of other photographers and creatives. This can prove tricky with little time for Q&A, or if you require individual instruction that is unavailable in a live format.
- Limited Flexibility
Live photography workshops often run on strict schedules to provide the education within the allotted time. If you cannot attend the event at the time and date scheduled, or the instructor doesn’t offer recordings, you may need to look for an alternative educational resource.
- Abundance of Distractions
When you physically attend an educational event, your focus is on the lessons and speeches offered. When the education is virtual (and watched from home), the many distractions of daily life can derail your focus and detract from the overall takeaways.

Online Photography Courses & Resources

For most photographers, hands-on learning and direct course instruction is desired when developing new skills. However, online courses can offer an “at-your-own-pace” learning experience that allows for the complete time flexibility that many entrepreneurs need. Some online photography courses and resources include free tools that provide a high-level view of the subject while the paid programs are best for a complete and immersive learning experience.

Some of our favorite online photography courses and resources include the Katelyn James Education Suite, SLR Lounge Courses, and CreativeLive Courses.

Pros:

- Time Flexibility
The biggest advantage of online photography courses, especially for busy entrepreneurs, is time freedom. With online courses, you can learn the material at your own pace and plan your schedule to fit the courses into your weekly workflow.
-Location Independence
When you purchase access to an online photography course, all you need is a reliable Wi-Fi connection and the time to view the content. No transportation, accommodation, or socializing are needed!
- In-Depth Information
Depending on the course you purchase, most online resources will offer numerous parts within their programs that provide “deep dives” into various categories of their chosen subject. For example, a photography editing course may have parts that cover camera settings, culling, post-processing techniques, and more.

Cons:

- Lack of Individual Instruction
Like online photography workshops, online courses lack the individual instruction that in-person events can offer. Since most online resources are recorded, the information cannot be modified, updated, or elaborated on without direct communication with the photography education instructor outside of the course.
- Instructor Limitations
When purchasing an online photography course, be sure to check that the instructor’s teaching style, certifications, and experience meet your requirements. A good online course will typically offer “sneak peaks” of the recorded videos which will help you determine if their teaching-style is right for you.

One-on-One Mentorships

 
The final, and perhaps most involved, photography education option is one-on-one mentorships. Many veteran photographers who have seen success with their own businesses will offer mentorship packages for new photographers. This individual instruction can be invaluable to any photographer just getting started in the industry, or those struggling with specific aspects of their own businesses.

If you believe this type of instruction is best for you, we suggest you get started by contacting photographers who inspire you and see if they have mentorship programs available.

Pros:

- Individual Education and Guidance
The benefit of one-on-one mentorships is the dedicated education for you and your business. Mentors will work directly with you to determine aspects of your business that need improvement, or to help you build your business from the ground up. If you’ve chosen the right mentor for your needs, this style of photography education can be invaluable to your success as you continue to grow your business.
- Long-Term Mentorship
If you invest in a one-on-one mentorship, most mentors will offer continued support and guidance after the formal photography education program is over. This not only provides long-term benefits, but helps you establish a beneficial relationship with a seasoned industry professional.
- Time Flexibility
Like online education, mentorship programs are often flexible with session times as they’ll need to work for both you and the mentor. This means you’re learning at a slower pace and provides you with a photography education schedule that works best for your needs and keeps the distractions to a minimum.

Cons:

- Substantial Investment
Personalized education often comes at a high price point given the time and effort required from the mentor. If you are serious about starting or growing your business and know that individual instruction is best for you, then investing in a mentor can be an easy decision regardless of the cost.
- Location Limitations
Most photography mentors will enforce a strict location limit for their mentorships. Since mentors educate photographers within their same genre, they can choose to only work with people who establish their business outside of a certain location radius. This is essential to their continued business success, as well as your own. This can mean your desired mentor may be unavailable to you, depending on their location radius limits.

Overall, continuing your photography or business education is an essential part of developing your skillset and growing your business. The photography industry has an abundance of resources available for any learning style and for any level of photographer. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, we hope it has helped you learn the various forms of photography education available to you, and the many reasons they may (or may not) be a great fit!