I like Heinz baked beans. Heinz are so good at making baked beans, that they can put 200 beans in a can and almost guarantee that each one is going to look the same, cook the same and taste the same. Eat them with eggs, put them on toast, maybe even pair them with some filet mignon. Whatever floats your million pound yacht. Either way, Heinz baked beans are the same every time, and that’s what makes them great.
But that shouldn’t be the case for photographers. You don’t want a wedding photographer who’s going to arrive on your big day and take the exact same shots as 200 other photographers in your area. Could you imagine looking through your friend Sharon’s photo book and discovering that you were both told to stand under an umbrella and fake-laugh while someone dropped confetti from a window above?
Well, this is what happens sometimes with those expensive photography workshops you see advertised in the backs of magazines or on event websites. They draw you in with questions like, ‘do you want to make money doing what you love?’ and hope that there’ll be an aspirational novice on the other end answering, ‘yeah, why not?’.
In this scenario, established photographers or photography companies take the place of Heinz. They’re the big shots; the people who know what works for them, so it must work for everyone else. Then, there are the beans: the budding photographers. These are the people who are probably not too bad with a camera, but they’re scared of putting themselves out there, so they book a workshop to build their confidence and knowledge. Then I guess the workshop itself is the tin can. But that doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that these beginner photographers are put in a studio or taken on location, shown the basic ropes and then shoved in front of a couple of models to take 200 versions of the same shot. They’ll then get to take home a few images to put in their photography portfolio and call them self a pro. It seems like a pretty good way to start up, right?
Wrong. There’s no telling how many times the beans - sorry, photographers - will attend a workshop in order to get images for their portfolio. In fact, the whole portfolio could just be a bunch of staged images, but a client will see it as a representation of what the photographer is really like on a proper shoot. This is an imposter portfolio, and they should be avoided.
First of all, it’s not a great way to build experience. Shooting at a real wedding isn’t anything like on a staged shoot. At a real wedding, you have to photograph people who don’t know how to pose. Some of them probably find it really awkward being in front of a camera, but you just have to know how to work with it. When it comes to the creatives, you need to understand how to interact with people, to organise people who would rather be getting sloshed at the reception. And when things go wrong, which they can, you need to be quick on your feet and figure out how to patch things up.
Would I ever run a workshop like these Heinz guys I mentioned earlier? Frankly, no. I shoot dozens of weddings a year. I don’t have the time to run workshops. Not only that, but I have my own style and I’m not interested in passing it along to someone else to copy. That’s not how this business works. In fact, I’m pretty sure Sharon is phoning up her photographer right now to complain about that confetti shot.