Something happened last week, which reminded me of how important it is to find the right company to take you on your next photography workshop. We were discussing a recent workshop that had just concluded—going over the client feedback, reviewing details to see if we could improve the workshop, and going over the budget of the completed trip.
We immediately realized that we had spent less money than we had planned. Accommodation, food, and other costs came in lower than we had budgeted. Without missing a beat, it was decided to give something back to all the workshop attendees, as a discount on a future workshop. And it wasn’t like the clients did not have a great time, all of their feedback was very positive. They thought the photo opportunities were fantastic, that the instructors went above and beyond. It was another successful workshop.
I mean, COME ON!!! How many tour operators would give money back to eight happy clients without being asked? I know of at least one. LOL.
So, how do you find the right photography workshop company? How do you make that critical decision?
First thing you could do is to look at the images they use to promote their trips. Some images may be better than others. This may help you narrow down your options, but it won't get you to a definitive choice, not yet.
Next, you read the itineraries. Many will be very similar in their routing. Some may be more suited to you. Maybe the accommodations are upgraded on a few. Some will include food, some will leave you to buy your own food. Perhaps the transportation that is offered varies from old Russian minivans to rental cars, to luxury mini buses. Some included tips, and some make you figure it out on your own.
Then there are the client testimonials. Sure, they are helpful. But, REALLY, has anyone ever posted a negative testimonial on their website?
It may be at this point that you realize some are called a “workshop” and others are called a “photo tour”. Which is for you? Do you need help learning photography on location, and with your post-processing? Or do you just want to be taken around and left to your own devices? And if it is labeled as a workshop, do the instructors really teach? Or are they more interested in taking their own photos, then help you after they got “THE SHOT” they wanted?
Prices can vary greatly, too. But how do you really know where the value for money lies by reading a website about a location you’ve never been to? Of course the "best deal" may not turn out to be once you pay for all the extras, or learn that the workshop doesn't carry the proper permits, etc.
Then there are the instructors. Most look great on paper. Their bios claim how great they are. Their photos are amazing. But without first-hand knowledge, how do you know what they are really like?
I’ve guided for a lot of companies here in Canada. I’ve talked to many Professional Photographers over the last 7 years about how they run their tours and workshops. And, I have gotten feedback from thousands of clients on other instructors. I’ve heard the good, the bad, and the very ugly.
Three years ago, I was looking for partners to work with as their guide, and I did a very similar search for a photography workshop company that you would go through when choosing one for yourself.
Here is the process I went through to find what I consider, “The Best Photography Workshop company.”
Go to their Facebook Business Page. Look for clients that are interacting with them. Send them questions about the company. Ask about the trips, the instructors, find out how the office staff handled the bookings.
When I was looking, I found that Muench Workshops clients all loved their experiences with the company. Some of my clients had also traveled with them, and they gave me some insight into why Muench Workshops' trips were so well put together. Down to the smallest detail, they made sure that everything was taken care of. It was impressive. I also knew of many of the instructors already, and many of them I had watched and admired for years. So, I knew Muench Workshops liked to work with top tier photography professionals.
On the company’s website, look up the instructors, and who the owners are. Look at the photography instructors’ personal websites to see what kind of photos they take. Do they photograph in a style that you want to learn? Look and see the background of the owner(s) to see if they are just a photographer, do they have a business background, do they have tourism experience?
What really appealed to me about Muench Workshops, in addition to their very experienced trip leaders, they had someone full time in the office who is responsible for all the bookings, working with clients on logistics and being that central point of contact for all the clients when I would be on the road.
I also liked the variety of experience in the ownership group. From excellent business acumen to a true love of photography, years of experience leading and inspiring teams, to the customer relations, sales, and marketing experience, it all was impressive.
Call the company and have a phone call. Interview them. What are their philosophies about running trips? Do they teach? What do they teach? How long have they been running workshops to the location you want to go to?
I had several conversations with Andy Williams. As much as he was interviewing me, I was also asking him questions about the company. Then when I watched him work on my itineraries and make them more well rounded. I knew I wanted to work for them.
That was now three years ago. I am consistently reminded that I made the right decision to come and work with them. I have learned how to lead a better trip, I’ve become experienced in more camera systems than my own, I’ve become well versed in photoshop, lightroom, ON1, and NIK software, and I’ve learned a lot about customer relations.
I genuinely believe Muench Workshops operate the best photography workshop company today. And when I see things like the owners giving money back, versus keeping the additional profit, I know that not only are the trips the best, but the integrity of the owners is something I am proud to be a part of.
There are many MANY workshop companies out there. Do your research. Make the right decision for you as I have made for my clients and me.