Published on 24th October 2018
Running successful photography workshops and events over a long period of time is a tough business. There is a lot of behind the scenes planning and hard work that goes into ensuring that any kind of event runs smoothly and enjoyably for the participants involved. Over the last two and a half years I have hosted near enough to 200 individual multi day or single day workshops (not including private one on one workshops or private group tours) or events for either Project RAWcast (with @kieranstoneau) or in partnership with brands like Canon, NiSi Filters, Georges Cameras, Digital Camera Warehouse, Fujifilm Australia, Sirui and Foundry College. These events have been in some of Australia’s most iconic locations like Cradle Mountain and Great Ocean Road, or during some of Australia’s most iconic festivals like Vivid Sydney and Dark MOFO. Some of these workshops are purely focussed on the basic technical elements of using any camera, or the use of neutral density filters. Others have been classroom situations for processing using Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, or more creative challenges like during Canon LEAP events. Larger scale public events like “Instameets” with upwards of 300 participants attending on any given day have taken quite a lot of planning.
Every different event poses its own specific challenges and planning requirements. Shorter events of just a few hours allow you to be highly focussed on a very specific topic or challenge. Longer events require you to be on your game for days at a time and be able to adapt to challenges such as weather (and super early sunrises at certain times of the year 😫), as well as essentially also becoming part entertainer and tour guide in the time that you are not necessarily shooting or teaching post processing. I believe that before attempting to run photography workshops, you need to have the ability and desire to be a good educator, and be able to pass on a high level of technical knowledge in an effective way. Just being a good photographer and being able to use a camera does not immediately make you a good educator. And being a good educator also doesn’t mean you are a good planner or marketer.
It has become an almost obvious path for many people in the photography community to learn the technical side of photography, build a reasonable social media audience and then believe they can monetise their skills through hosting workshops. I have spoken to many, many people in the community who want to head down that path but do not consider just how much it actually takes to plan, host, market and run a successful business educating others on how to improve their skills. Just like running any business, it takes a lot of planning to be able to do this long term. There are a lot of things to consider from a legal and logistical point of view. Believing you can just decide to host, turn up to an event and everything is going to run smoothly is a recipe for disaster. Let’s take a look at just 8 things to consider before running photography workshops and events. And this is just the beginning….
1. Timeframe / length of workshop or event
Deciding on the length and timeframe of your photography workshops or events will come down to multiple factors. Firstly you need to define what it is that you are hoping to achieve and what knowledge you are going to pass onto people. All of the factors below will also come into play in this decision. Multi day workshops will have more requirements than shorter events for lead times in marketing so participants are able to plan to attend. Things such as long distance domestic or international travel / flights, accommodation and time off from work all come into play for potential attendees. Shorter single day or multi hour workshops require less time commitment for attendees, but will generally be more localised to a specific region leading to a more refined and smaller potential target market based on the chosen location.
2. Location, location, location
Choosing the location for your photography workshop or event is one of the obvious factors in how successful it will be. In terms of landscape photography many people want to experience iconic locations and learn how to capture images they have seen you (or others) make. Planning the timing of your event is also very important – for example if you are hoping to shoot astro photography there are specific times of the year and within each moon cycle that are best. Knowing the seasonal conditions of any specific location will allow you to maximise the ability for capturing amazing images, comfort of participants and accessibility of specific places. Any potential accommodation requirements will need to be within an easy travel distance to allow for maximising of photography time.
If you are planning classroom events like post processing having the required facilities such as seating and table space, projectors or large screens, the availability of food and refreshments and parking will help ensure your attendees are comfortable and able to focus on learning. Photography studios and lecture halls make great locations for these style of events and they are generally configured for and provide the atmosphere required to teach audiences of different sizes.
The location is also a key factor in your potential target market, as well as the overall appeal of the entire event. If I was to host an event in Kalgoorlie, I wouldn’t be expecting too much in the way of participation numbers. A multi day workshop at Cradle Mountain or single day events in a capital city CBD location will more likely get a better response if what you are offering is appealing.
3. Number of participants
Determining the maximum and minimum number of participants is very important. With multi day workshops quite often you will need to provide transport throughout the event as part of the overall package. How many people with equipment / suitcases can you fit into a van comfortably? What are the limitations for accommodation venues that you are staying at? Can you reliably ensure participants are able to get meals at your chosen locations? How many of you are actually working to host the workshop or event? The more participants you have, the more people you need to look after and ensure get value for money no matter what style of event you are hosting.
Shorter multi hour workshops generally tend to be a lot cheaper to run, but your time will need to be efficiently managed to ensure every attendee leaves with the knowledge they were hoping to get from you. The location and style of event will be a big factor in the restrictions on participant numbers. How many people can you fit into a classroom or studio? How many people can reasonably fit into and move around a specific location if you are hosting a shorter landscape event? What is the availability of any required equipment if your event is specific to a brand or piece of equipment? If you are hosting an event that is showcasing a specific camera, or for example neutral density filters, and not all of the participants have access to these throughout an event, this is probably going to be a problem.
The more people that are part of hosting the event, the more potential there is for a larger number of attendees. I have hosted practical landscape workshops specific to the use of neutral density filters on my own for groups as large as 15. But it has taken me a while to refine the method of teaching and passing my knowledge on in an efficient way that allows the whole group to hear what I am saying. I have hosted post processing workshops with groups as large as 40 on my own in classroom situations, but would be comfortable with much larger groups in the right setting. It all comes down to developing your own systems through experience. When there are more “teachers” or people involved in the hosting, it is easier to have larger groups.
4. Marketing & planning
Ok so this is where the real work goes into your photography workshops and events, and is quite often the “invisible” part of what makes them successful. Good planning means everything will run smoothly and attendees will be able to learn as much or get maximum enjoyment out of what ever style of event you are hosting. And good marketing means you are able to get enough attendees to make your event successful from a business point of view.
I have said this many times before and I will no doubt say it many times again – some of the best photographers in the industry are terrible at marketing themselves, and some of the best marketers are not necessarily the best photographers. You need to become both, or at the very least have a good team around you to assist with any shortcomings in any of these requirements to successfully run events. If you are hosting events with others, having hosts that compliment each other’s skill sets and personalities will be a huge benefit.
Having a large audience will allow you to market anything you like. In terms of business, your audience forms part of your overall marketing platform. A big enough platform means you can market anything. Marketing through as many channels as possible (social media, website, mailing lists, magazines, offline channels, radio etc) will maximise your potential client base. Brand collaborations will help in reaching people outside of your existing marketing channels and potentially assist with long term repeat business. With brand collaborations there is an expectation of return on their investment in you. What can you deliver any brands you are working with that they cannot get elsewhere?
The pre event planning is just as important as what happens while you are actually running the event. Have you ensured availability of accommodation for all participants? Have travel and food arrangements been effectively made? Are all venue and location requirements being considered? Have you got contingency plans for weather events? Is all the required equipment available? Are location licenses and business / equipment insurance requirements all in place and valid? Is all of the information participants require being delivered in an effective manner and timeframe that allows them to plan their attendance? Are your chosen locations / venues suitable for the physical abilities of your attendees?
No matter how much you think you have planned everything, there is bound to eventually be something that comes up that you haven’t thought about. Having the flexibility and ability to react to these things is important.
5. Target market / style of workshop
Knowing your target market and ensuring you are marketing an event that suits your own skill set is going to help ensure your events are successful. I am sure there are plenty of photographers out there who can cross over into different niches without necessarily being “specialised” in any, but an example of this would be me not attempting to host a portrait workshop with the aim of teaching flash photography. This would just not be a great event. Not only would I be fumbling around pretending to know what I am talking about, but any participants who would have been crazy enough to pay for that (based on my current knowledge at the time of writing this) would not be getting value for money.
Stick to what you know best. If you are a successful landscape photographer, this is most likely the style of photography event that would appeal to people. If you are good at business marketing or effectively using social media, this is a potential style of event that may work for you. If post processing is your thing and you have the ability to break this down into a teachable skillset, again this may work for you. If you have a highly focussed skillset for a camera brand or piece of equipment, this is again a potential target market for you.
6. Licensing / legal requirements
There are many landscape / outdoor locations that require special permission and licensing to be able to operate any form of commercial event on their land. For example all of the state operated national parks throughout Australia require you to have commercial licenses in place that are “park specific” before hosting events on them. In Australia these are known as Commercial Visitor Services Licenses (CVS) and each specific piece of reserved land you wish to use will require an individual license. There are also separate licensing arrangements required to be able to operate passenger vehicles and commercial transportation on “crown land”, which quite often have to be obtained through state / local government tourism agencies, as well as separately through state government transport boards. Council owned land can quite often also require special permits and permission before using any location for commercial purposes. Some of these different types of licenses may require extensive background checks into your driving records/ criminal history before they are granted.
Many require a specific type of business structure (e.g incorporated Pty Ltd company), specific insurance policies and different levels of first aid training to be in place. There are long lead times, application fees and ongoing licensing costs to consider with each type of location specific license you have in place. Ensuring that you are conforming to any specific set of localised legislations or laws will protect you legally and prevent any potential for fines, court action or long term bans from any locations you choose to host events on.
Depending on the type of event you are hosting, you may require specific types of insurance policies to ensure you are protected both legally and financially in the case of any unfortunate events. As mentioned in the point above, there are some locations that will require you to have a specific type of insurance policy or inclusion protecting those that operate the land you are on. All of the national parks and most major councils throughout Australia require you to list them specifically as an “interested party” on a public liability insurance policy before they will grant a license. This means they are fully protected in the case of any injury or property damage incurred on their land and that you are ultimately taking responsibility for any incidents that do occur. Most of the major brands I have collaborated with require proof that you have public liability insurance before they will work with you. Even though they may have their own liability policies, there may be the requirement that you have your own cover in place.
If you are hosting an event in a studio, theatre or other indoor space it is a good idea to check with the venue owner / operator what they are covered for and where any liability crosses over to your responsibility. Even if there is a very small likelihood of any incidents occurring, it is still a good idea to understand any legal requirements if the unfortunate does occur.
Some public liability insurance policies also come with a set amount of equipment insurance protecting your business assets. Specific equipment insurance is also a good idea if you want to protect yourself against any loss. You can obtain once off insurance policies that are specific to an event, or ongoing policies that allow you to be covered for any events that you choose to operate. It is a good idea to seek legal advice and ensure you understand exactly what you are covered for with any specific type of policy.
I highly recommend that you state that attendees on multi day workshops get their own travel / equipment insurance policies to protect themselves for any incidents that may happen on the way to or during any events you host.
8. Pricing / expenses
So now that we have considered all of the points above and have a fair and reasonable understanding of any costs associated with the planning, marketing, accommodation and travel requirements, food, car or venue hire, licensing and insurance costs and any other outgoings, it is time to have a think about what your time is worth and how to price your events. Something else to consider is what other income can be derived from your events? Is it just the price of the workshop itself, or is there any possibility for income from product sales and brand partnerships? Up selling through ongoing education and external tutorials / subscriptions?
Knowing how to price your time and understanding your target market is very important. It’s not just the time spent during the actual event that you need to consider. It’s all of the outgoings including marketing expenses, taxation requirements and time spent during the planning stages that you need to account for. This is your business and potentially your livelihood. There is a lot of time put into running workshops and events that people do not see. Account for this as well and ensure that you are not underselling yourself.