Header image credit: Miki Photography
I'm probably a bit of a workshop junkie. As well as going all of the way to California last year for Photo Field Trip I also attended workshops with Jeff Newsom, Daniel Aguilar and a week long summer school at Central Saint Martins with Karl Grupe.
2014/15 was a record year for investment in my training and development and I probably won't spend that much this year but I will be spending a reasonable amount.
As part of my business planning I'll be sitting down shortly to work out my budget for 2015/16, where I want to allocate it and specifically within that I'll be identifying key areas where I'll be investing in my training or development.
But why is it important to prioritise this as an area for spend? I asked this question over on the SNAP Facebook Page and no one put it more succinctly than Kerry James who said, quite rightly, “no investment, no return”
Before I was a photographer my training and development needs would be assessed as part of my annual appraisal. It was assumed that everyone from the CEO to the admin team would have new training needs each year. Changes in good practice and emerging techniques all need to be communicated, as well as meeting the individuals aspirations for growth and inspiring them.
For me investing in training, development and even inspiration is as crucial as making sure I have cameras, lenses, a computer and software. I believe I will still feel that way in five, ten or even fifteen years time and if I ever get to the point where I do not believe I have anything to learn from other photographers or creatives, it'll probably be time to hang my camera up for good. As they say “You don't know how much you know until you know how much you don't know”
A few other photographers I asked felt the same. Jessica Roberts believes that education is power and told me that since starting her business almost 4 years ago she has invested nearly £5,000 in courses. The most expensive was in her first year and the cost was £900 for the day.
“At the time I was considering how I was going to market myself. I had been looking at traditional means such as magazine and wedding fairs. It seemed expensive and a bit of a gamble. I could put a one page ad in a wedding magazine or I could go on a one day course and learn how to propel myself forward and learn how to blog and market myself online. Guess which I choose? Yep the course and it was the best start I could have asked for”
It's not just about what you learn though. Some of the most valuable things I have personally gained from courses and workshops have been the communities that I've become a part of. I'm in referral networks, intimate Facebook groups where we can discuss our day to day challenges and even a group that's mainly made up of photographers from the US who I have regular google hangouts with.
None of these things are the reason I initially signed up for the workshops but they remain some of the most important things I gained from them. An added benefit that remains long after you've integrated any practical skills into your day to day workflow.
In marketing this is known as intangible value and the brilliant thing is that the intangible value you gain from development and growth becomes an intangible value for your customers. They benefit from your increased confidence, the knowledge available to you through your networks and your increased creativity and motivation.
Attending workshops has directly led to bookings and referrals, raised my profile within the industry, given me friends all around the world, given me a crazy fun annual holiday with my Welcome Home friends and of course I've gained skills that have helped me to drive my business forward, as well as leaving me feeling inspired.
It's also reduced the stress and isolation that we can experience as freelancers because I have people who are in the same position who I can bounce ideas off of.
One of the people I met at the first ever workshop I attended is Mick Shah of Miki Photography. As well as coming along to SNAP in April he is just about to host his own workshop, Nine Dots, in collaboration with SNAP speaker Andy Gaines and others. He believes that training is an important part of self development.
"In fact I would go as far as to say it's invaluable. To take a sporting analogy: even the most gifted sportspeople require trainers or coaches to help them further their self development or fulfil their potential. For me there are three main reasons training is key 1) inspiration: seeing top people in action or hearing them tell the stories behind their work always inspires me to be better. 2) different perspectives: there's always a different take on things and it broadens ones horizons to at least consider them 3) experience: experience is a great teacher but sometimes someone who's further down the road can highlight their experience and tell you in one moment what has taken them (or would take you) years to figure out. That kind of advice is definitely worth investing in. Whether you've been on several training type opportunities or thinking of going on your first one my advice would be: do it!!!"
Not everyone is sold on workshops though and many people need to carefully consider making such a big investment.
Marianne Chua tells me she isn't usually the workshop type
"I tend to be quite reserved about splashing my cash. In my opinion a workshop is a learning experience that should give you and your business a return, so it’s got to provide the right benefits for the right stage in your creative development. I took the plunge with Snap because I felt it covered both technical elements that I want to gain confidence in like the off camera flash and light painting workshops with Olympus (details soon to be announced) and creative inspiration from some of the greatest in the UK who shoot in styles I aspire to (like Ross Harvey and Alan Law). I'm also looking forward to the branding workshop with Andria Lindquist. To top it off, there are photographers who shoot outside of the realm of weddings who I think will provide a more unique kind of growth for me. Looking at non-wedding photography and films can really help you to look beyond the usual”
Daniel Aaron Sprague agrees that honing your technical skill is crucial. “Natural talent/vision or not, the most important thing is to understand the mechanics of your medium so that you can apply that vision. Trial and error can get you there, but that takes an immense amount of time. Time is money. Investing in a steep learning curve can give you the knowledge you need and your jump start your ability to launch a successful business”.
But what about people who have their skill set nailed and who don't need training? Catalina Jean believes that training and the inspiration that can be gained from workshops can get you out of a creative ruts and break habitual approaches you may have developed in your shooting. “Are you unhappy with how your images look but just can't seem to change it? Getting out of your house, away from the office, and shooting with others can be the thing that breaks through the creative barrier that is holding you back”
Maybe you're you're not unhappy with your images but that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider trying a new technique or approach. That skill or approach might not be something you carry over into your own work or it may completely set your world on fire and give you a new tool for your creative tool box.
Meagan Lindsay believes that “one of the best things we can do in this industry is to learn from each other, not to become more LIKE each other, but to inspire and propel us into new directions. Without risking the money and opportunity to make these types of connections, it will be harder to evolve your business into something great.”
I quite agree. Investment in your training and development is an investment in your growth as a creative, and an investment in the development of your business.
The benefits of increasing your skill set, building your networks, making friends and finding referral sources are a brilliant pull in their own right but when you add all of the other activities you can take part in, the chance to take time out of your day to day life and our awesome end of festival closing party, you can see you'll get amazing bang for your buck.
Sign up to SNAP today and get your 2015 off to an inspiring start. You can check out the schedule here and here's the line up of awesome teachers who are ready to inspire you. What are you waiting for? Apply here to join us.