A comprehensive guide for photographers on how to teach at a photography workshop.
I am writing this post because of one common truth - we are photographers, not educators, and we most likely have no idea what we are doing in a teaching environment. So, let’s change that.
If you have been asked to teach at a photography workshop and said yes, but are now experiencing a lot of stress trying to decide how the heck you are supposed to teach, or even turned it down because of said stress levels, then this is for you.
If you have already taught a photography workshop but your content didn’t land well and there was kind of a disconnect or disorganization within your content, and all you can think about now is what you did wrong, or you just gave up teaching altogether because of this vulnerable experience, then this is also for you.
If you have been asked to teach at a photography workshop, or have already been teaching for multiple years, and you are confident that you are killing it, this is definitely also for you.
So let’s get into it.
First, I want to set up a few expectations on the content you are about to dive into.
This is not a guide of how to put on a photography workshop.
This is not a guide of how to teach a mentor session.
This is not a guide of how to teach posing, camera mechanics, or any kind of hands on activity.
This is a guide on how to teach the lecture or talking portion of a workshop.
Before you start.
There are a few basic questions you should be asking before you create your content.
Time. How much time do you have to teach? Is there any flexibility with going over your time limit?
Materials. What resources do you have access to for use as teaching aids? A projector? A computer? Nothing at all? Are you inside? Are you outside?
Audience. Who are you talking to? Are they beginners? Years into their business? Wedding photographer or family photographers? I like to do some good ol’ instagram stalking of the attendees to gauge where everyone is at, so that I know exactly who I am talking to. If you have a good idea of who your audience is, it’s going to dramatically decrease your level of stress when writing your teaching content, and your content is going to land effectively because it connects with your audience.
Creating your content.
The topic of what you teach on is going to vary dramatically, but using the following guidelines that have been taken from actual experiential educational resources can help you discover a clear idea of what your topic is and how to best deliver that.
Your title. It could be how to become a destination wedding photographer. How to create emotional imagery. Creating an efficient workflow. Creating connections with your couples. How to grow a six figure business.
What are your goals? Sometimes the title is also a description of your goals, but in case it’s differ’s take the time to write down what your goal is in teaching this particular topic. My goal is to teach students how they can become destination wedding photographers within 2 years, no matter where they live in the world. My goal is to share how I have created a workflow that allows me to backup, cull, edit, deliver, blog, and pin my work within 1 day. You get the idea.
What are the learning objectives? This is what you want your students to learn, but use more descriptive terms. I want students to create a list of tangible goals to reach within 1 year, to discover why they are wedding photographers, to calculate how much money they are making based on how much they are charging, etc.
Trust me, just being able to sit and answer these 3 questions is going to give you a bulletproof outline of what you are going to teach on. There is so much backend work that goes into teaching that is so often missed, and implementing all of these into your teaching material is going to transform your experience.
Ok, let’s talk about what should be within the structure of your teaching.
The most important thing about your talk is that it is true to you. But, the most common mistake I see in other educators is that they teach how they learn, yet not everyone learns the same way.
There are 3 prominent types of learning styles that should all be incorporated within your talk to ensure you are engaging your entire audience. Do you remember sitting in school and having no idea what the hell your teaching is saying while you blankly stare at them for hours? Me too. That’s because I am a visual/kinesthetic learner. I need to be stimulated by hands-on or visually engaging content, or my focus lasts for about 10 minutes and then it’s gone. So let’s look at learning styles.
The visual learner - learns through pictures, words, illustrations, writing things down, emphasizing key points to write down to remember later, telling stories associated with pictures, etc.
The kinesthetic learner - has the hardest time sitting for long periods of time just absorbing information, they want to put it into practice (which is great during the practical portion of the workshop, but taking care of them in this portion is important too), taking stretch breaks / bathroom breaks, sharing practical ways to engage in the content.
The auditory learner - will probably be the person recording the talk on their phone to listen to again later, talk about what they are going to learn, conclude with what they just learned, discussion, reflection, verbalizing what they have learned.
But wait, there’s more.
Because we are talking about a photography workshop, we are in the field of experiential education. And there is a crucial aspect of experiential education that differs from every other kind of education.
The teacher vs. the facilitator
A teacher is someone with knowledge: this is a fact, this is how I do things, I have all this knowledge that I must pass on to you.
A facilitator creates an environment for the student to “self-learn.” They are asking questions instead of giving answers, they value a judgment free zone, all ideas are welcome, you allow the student to create their own experience.
So, how can we allow space for our students to “self-learn”?
I cannot emphasize enough how important reflection is in the process of learning.
This can be facilitated at the end of your talk through a basic Q+A, by ending with asking questions that the student can take the time to discover in their own private space, through open discussion on specific ideas and topics, etc. Create time for this kind of learning.
At least read this.
How are you feeling after this fire-hydrant amount of information on how to teach a photography workshop?
If everything that I shared in this post feels a little bit of a blur, at least read the following if nothing at all.
What to include in your talk.
Who are you? Don’t assume that everyone there knows who you are or is familiar with your work (especially if there are other instructors who are also teaching).
Share your teaching objectives - remember when I talked about this above? Telling your students what they are about to learn gives them a roadmap of how to follow what you have to say.
Use a visual aid, with words, questions, and tangible ways to engage with the information - access all 3 of those learning styles. I love using keynote for all my presentations, you can add presenter notes for key ideas you want to touch on, and the presentation tracks how long you have been talking so you don’t have to constantly look at a clock.
Include stories - stories create emotional connections and are 1000000% more effective than just concepts and ideas.
Be real - do you know the number one thing that a student needs in order to really hear what you have to say? Trust. Trust comes from being open, raw, and vulnerable. No one is perfect, and trying to be so just because you are an educator is going to be exhausting. Don’t be afraid to show your real side. Talk about the struggle, share your mistakes. Vulnerability feels weak and hard, but it’s powerful and brave. Read research done by Brene Brown if you doubt this.
Give time for reflection - leave space at the end of your talk for questions and discussion, or leave students with questions they can take time to process.
Be available - This is probably the hardest part of teaching for me because the moment I am done with my talk, I want to hide in a room and cry for 5 minutes because teaching is really vulnerable! Know what you need, take that time for yourself, and then come back to the community. I’ve even just straight up asked students or my workshop coordinators for feedback because I am desperate to get past my HOLY SHIT WAS THAT OK feeling and move into being involved with the group again. Do whatever you need to do to become available.
You’ve got this.
The reason why I decided to write this post is because I want more great educators our photography community! It doesn’t have to be terrifying or disabling, and you have great things to share, so hopefully this post can give you some structure on how to share it well.
If you found this article helpful, I would love it if you shared it with your friends, left a comment below, or posted it on social media. Let’s spread the word and create good educational experiences! I want your next workshop to be GOLD and to have your educators know how to teach you well.
If you want to see where I will be teaching at this year, follow this link to see the list of workshops I will attending + teaching at!