In a recent conversation with the photo editor of a well known natural history magazine, Michael was asked, "So who are all those people I've never heard of, advertising in the back of photo magazines offering photography workshops?" The answer is simple; those who can't do teach, those who can't teach, teach photography!
The field of natural history photography is extremely difficult to break into. Having your photos published regularly by national magazines is often compared to making it in Hollywood and can take ten or more years, if it happens at all. One of several methods for generating some income with little or no experience in the field or in the business is to lead photo workshops. While not all top pros are good teachers, you do want to learn from someone at least qualified to teach the subject. NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) has discussed some accreditation standards for working pros. In the mean time, here are some suggestions to look for.
Is the teacher a working pro photographer, or does he/she just teach lots of workshops? Most successful photographers limit the number of workshops per year due to a busy career behind the camera (this is why they got into the career in the first place). If they just lead workshops all year, you may not get good up-to-date info about getting published or other aspects of the business, or even sound photographic advice.
Is the teacher well published? Check their web site or do a web search on the person. Are they published in major magazines (not just a few stock images)? A photographer's credits listed like "published by the Audubon Society" or "National Geographic Society" rarely means the magazine, more often it means a fringe publication or a newsletter. Does the instructor have some article bylines and book credits from legitimate publishers? Are their only publication credits self-published items or books? Are their best wildlife images from game farms and captive settings? Do they manipulate and create their best nature images with Photoshop or can they take great natural images?
Does the teacher do the kind of photography you are interested in and do you like their work? There are a few well-known working pros out there that are "technicians" who have carved a niche with a unique subject and their images aren't very artistic or creative. Does the instructor produce images that speak to you? It's the approach to creativity you want to be inspired by in a workshop since you can learn the nuts and bolts of photography from a book.
How big is the class? If there are more than 15 people it's a cattle feed lot designed primarily to make money, not impart information and inspire creativity in an intimate way.
These are some thoughts to consider if learning from a professional nature photographer is important to you. If just having a good time is your goal, a travel agent might give you more bang for your buck than a workshop with one of the many amateur photographers selling themselves as an established professional.