I have posed this question to thousands of photography students. Some were in my workshops, others had worked with other teachers and many had done both. Base on what they told me, I think I have a good idea what makes a great photography workshop. I am happy to share that, (in what I hope is only a mildly self-promoting blog entry.)
What I hear over and over from workshop students tends to fall into a few broad categories. They say that a good photography workshop should (ideally) include most or all of the following.
• Instruction in a constructive and supportive environment, where the teacher is nurturing and the other students are encouraging. This two part process cannot be emphasized enough. The teacher teaches (duh) but the other students’ support and encouragement pushes each student to grow.
• In depth, nurturing and non-judgmental feedback on images from both a technical and aesthetic point of view.
• Working in an interesting and inspiring environment. The best locations are visually stimulating and culturally thought provoking. Ideally all of these factors encourage (and reward) a photographer’s curiosity.
• Being in a place far enough removed from the student’s daily life so they can concentrate and focus on their photography without too many distractions.
• A workshop where the instructor (and ideally the organizer) have the needed skills to promote all of the above.
The teacher needs to have good technical skills as well as be talented at creatively expressing him or herself as a photographer. The teacher also must be good at conveying these concepts to the students. In other words they must know how to teach, which is often an altogether different skill than just being a good photographer.
The workshop organizer, whether an individual or an organization should have a thorough understanding of and a good connection to the location where the workshop takes place. They should be able to facilitate the teacher and the students’ creative growth.
In my classes, I try to create as many of these elements as possible. You can read a bit about what my students have to say about me as a teacher (and see my future classes) at: http://www.davidhwells.com/classes/