Are Photo Seminars Worth Going To?
© Jim Hutchison, June 8, 2005

I'm not a crowd person. Call me paranoid, agoraphobic, or just plain anti-social, I'm a home-body that prefers solitude to socializing. (My wife calls me “grumpy-bum”… that give you a hint?) Therefore, attending photo seminars is somewhat out of character. Not totally though, because I didn’t have to pay for the last one… I’m cheap too!

Kidding aside, I was gifted a complimentary pass to Wayne Lynch and Darwin Wiggett’s 2-day seminar on “Outdoor Photography – Tips for Beginners and Advanced” and “the Business of Photography – How to Turn your Hobby into a Business” in Calgary, Alberta. These guys know how to deliver, as the two days were filled with information, entertainment, advice, and some good socializing. All through their talks, we were encouraged to interrupt and ask questions… not always typical of some instructive environments.

Both gentlemen have Ph.Ds, so you can imagine how thorough their coverage of the material was. We went past scheduled deadlines all weekend, in particular the critiquing of the audience’s slide submissions, which was very instructive as well. Comparing your work to others’ is an education in and of itself, and well worth the risk of embarrassment, no matter how real or perceived!

So that gives you a general idea of what happened. Now what about the actual relevance of the material to yours truly, or anybody else for that matter? That depends on WHY you went, and your level of skill. I found the first day not as exciting as the second, perhaps because of the exposure I’ve had to some great material, instruction, and tutoring. Even if my productivity as a photographer doesn’t match that of these high-level pros, my head-knowledge of technique is enough to satisfy myself at this point. I just need to get out shooting more often. Others were gobbling up the stuff like turkey at thanksgiving, proof that each person’s learning requirements will be different based on their background.

The second day was described by Wayne and Darwin as “a real downer”, because they pulled all the stops out describing in realistic terms what it takes to be a full-time outdoor photographer. Funny enough, this was the day I took reams of notes, compared to the half-page the day before. I didn’t realize how much stock photography interested me; in particular “conceptual” photography. We’ll see where this goes! As well, Wayne talked alot about the importance of being a good writer; that many people are very interested in other's experiences. He even suggested that writing a review of their workshop would be a good exercise... Here you go Wayne!

So, to be a successful full-time outdoor photographer (in Canada anyways), you have to diversify; nature shots alone don’t cut it. They discussed stock photography, detailing the reality of various agencies’ requirements and technical restrictions, and other related areas such as lecturing, book sales, and photo tours. Seemingly a good “bang for your buck” is stock photography, though it’s not easy money. Certain images only garner $150, yet others can rake in as much as a decent annual salary. The injection of reality here is that it can take years of work to realize any income from any given image. It’s a numbers game!

What can YOU walk away with from a photography seminar? Lots, if the instructor is someone you know of, and you admire their work. I don’t go to a lot of these functions, but I’ve heard there are workshop junkies that never move beyond a certain skill level, yet are the keener wanna-bees that don’t tire of these weekend seminars. To each their own I guess! But if you’re serious about gathering good solid instruction to help yourself evolve as a photographer, you can be inspired. I know I was.

Pretty good for an old grumpy-bum like me.


Jim Hutchison is a part-time photographer who resides in Burnstown, Ontario with his wife Moira.