I’ve had a topic on my mind for a few weeks and yesterday David Ziser spent some time on his blog talking about something closely related. I think that photography workshops are a great way to increase the breadth or depth of one’s photography knowledge. While at a workshop, attendees will have the ability to create some images but the goal of photo workshop attendance ought to be learning as opposed to photo creation.
The context of Ziser’s article was in asking if photographers are “stealing” work. He discusses the scenario where a workshop instructor sets up a photograph (lighting, posing, etc) and an attendee then shoots over the instructor’s shoulder or otherwise copies the photograph. While this is valid as a learning technique, Ziser points out (and rightly so) that an attendee shouldn’t be including that image in their portfolio or otherwise claiming that it’s a photography they created. My friend Doug Kaye wrote a few months back about his experiences at two photography workshops and I chatted with him in person about what he’s gained from the workshops he’s attended. He noted that his goal at a photo workshop isn’t to walk away with a bunch of great images; his goal is to learn skills that will help him create great images on an ongoing basis.
I agree. If one’s goal is to make great photos, a workshop might help achieve that goal by providing knowledge and experience, but an attendee at a workshop shouldn’t plan on walking away from the workshop with a bunch of new portfolio pieces. Work that a photographer claims as his or her own should be just that… his or her own work. I attended a workshop in June that featured a model shoot; I wouldn’t feel comfortable including those photos on my website as my own work since the setting and lighting scenarios were setup by the instructor. On the other hand, the second day of the workshop was an event photojournalism shoot (at a hot air balloon festival) where we were on our own for a few hours to come up with our own images. Each attendee wandered the event to find his or her own angles, subjects, and concepts. The resulting images made it clear that each photographer was doing their own thing. In this case, I have no issues claiming my images (such as the one below) as my own.
Go to workshops and learn how to make better photos. Have some integrity and don’t claim others’ creativity as your own. You, and the rest of the photography industry, will be better for it.