Just before I bought my first SLR I posted a question on a London forum about photography training courses. Someone responded to tell me not to bother going on training courses and that I would learn more by looking at pictures on Flickr and reading photography publications like LIFE and National Geographic and that I should practice, practice practice.

I understand where that person was coming from – there is an awful lot to be gained from looking at other people’s work and there is plenty of free information out there about photography skills – but I whole heartedly disagree with the sentiment that training is unimportant.

Even if you have nothing left to learn from a technical perspective, there is so much to learn from others about creativity and there is so much to be inspired by. I really do believe that if you have stopped learning you have hit a creative dead end and you may as well give up. I would be on every training course going if I had the time and resources.

When I got my first SLR I immediately booked onto an introduction to photography course that covered the basics of aperture, composition, shutter speed, ISO, depth of field, focus etc and the way that these things could be used to create different types of picture.

I have since attended various photography workshops and completed an AS Level in Fine-Art photography (oh how I want to go on to finish the A Level and then study Fine-Art photography at degree level And I will when I have fewer other balls to juggle too).

I also have a plan for this year and the types of training/workshops I want to attend to move both my creativity and my business forward.

I think inspiring creative workshops are really important, especially if they force you out of your comfort zone. For a long time my work was entirely documentary so I was used to recording the world around me. When I attended The Mango Lab’s Learning to See in Photography, I learned a lot from working to a weekly brief and the Fine-Art AS Level I did worked on a project basis, which made me work in a conceptual way.

It terrified me that AS Level. I had no clue what I was doing and I was going through a rough time personally and those things combined made it a pretty rocky road for me – I spent the majority of the year doubting myself and wondering why I was bothering but I stuck with it and my photography came on leaps and bounds, as I learned to look at the world around me in a different way.

Workshops I’ve attended have done the same thing. I’ve attended workshops by photographers whose work I admire, including wedding photographer Steve Gerrard (not the footballer…) and fashion photographer Rossella Vanon. This has given me an opportunity to learn how other people work and to adapt my working practices.

Steve’s workshop in particular made me think about light in a way that I hadn’t previously and Rossella’s workshop was so far removed from what I usually do so I found it immensely enjoyable (pop back on Monday when I’ll be blogging the images!).

I think it’s really, really important to cast your net widely when deciding what training will help your development. If, for example, you are a baby photographer and you only attend workshops relating to baby photography, you’re missing a whole world of creative inspiration that could influence the way you work and make your work stand out from the crowd.

Of course getting the basic skills right is hugely important and if you’re struggling in that area you should make it your number 1 priority but once you’ve got the basics down, personal experimentation and learning from other creative people will help you to take the rules and break them to create something wonderful.

Workshops I’d like to attend this year will include a creative one (I’m thinking something around fine-art nudes or some other sort of fine-art workshop that pushes me to work in a different way) and I’ll also be doing something around business planning, sales and marketing which doesn’t get me all that fired up but is necessary, I think, to develop my business.

What do you think about training and workshops? Have you been on any that have really stood out for you? What do you have planed for this year? I’d love to hear what you’ll be doing to develop your photography.

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January 21st 2012
Hi Hannah, I enjoyed reading this and I'm with you in that going to workshops/courses is important. As a photographer you never stop learning and you have to stay current in able to survive. Workshops not open your eyes to working in a different way or seeing things differently but allow you to meet like minded people who share your passion with you.
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    January 21st 2012
    My name's Laura! But thanks for your comment. ;) x
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January 21st 2012
Yes back in 04/05 I only used film and mostly medium format I shot a lot of landscapes and I developed my own film so I went and studied the zone system. You just can't learn that sort of knowledge by yourself!
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Cathy Pyle
January 21st 2012
Couldn't agree more about the importance of training. I've done a couple of generic camera-skills and composition type courses, plus a studio workshop, and have learnt lots from all the different sessions I've been to, and competitions I've taken part in, at my local camera club - and in February I'm starting a course on photographic styling - soooo exciting! After that, a portrait photography course is next on my list ...
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Cheryl Field
January 21st 2012
The person who gave you that advice was me. :) It actually came from my boss at the time, who took beautiful photos and I wanted to be as good as him. I said I was thinking of doing a course and he said not to - he advised getting up early and experimenting when the light was good, and looking at what I admired and seeing how I could try it out. I do think that taken out of context, that advice sounds anti-courses and almost arrogant. I don't think that's what he meant though - I think he thought it was what was right at that point for my interest in photography: ie the very beginning. I took it in the same way I did when I told people I wanted to write: they told me the best way to learn was to read loads of different stuff and to write what I know about. I think the point whatever the creative leaning is the same: get to know yourself, find your own and original voice (style) before doing anything technical - as such - to improve. I definitely don't think you then shouldn't go on to do courses, otherwise how can you know what you don't know if you don't explore? I think courses are like consulting: I know this, you know that, let's swap. It's a good thing. And what's good for you five years ago (is it that long since I worked for the boss who could take beautiful photographs?!) isn't what's necessarily right as you journey further in. Share, explore, learn: do it in whatever way keeps that original creativity that is uniquely you, alive. Hope you survived shooting while you were poorly! :) x
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    January 23rd 2012
    See I think where Photography is concerned it takes a pretty long time to find your voice. I know my own personal style is something that's very much developing and an ongoing process. Because of that I think it's so important to learn the technical basics first. Of course an approach that works for one person may not be at all the right approach for another and we can only ever do what we think is best for us at the time! Shooting while poorly was ok. I'm feeling the after effects today though! x
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      Cheryl Field
      January 23rd 2012
      True but I do think you took something I said a long time ago out of context. I'm not anti-training. Not in the least.
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        January 23rd 2012
        And I totally didn't mean it to sound as though you are. More that the advice at that time was probably right for one person but, personally, I think the training I've done has been really important (and necessary!) for me. x
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January 21st 2012
Training is vital to understand your work and give yourself the edge...be that photography or business related. Steve Thirsk Director - The Guild Of Photographers
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    January 23rd 2012
    Thanks, Steve. I think so too. x
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January 22nd 2012
Very useful post and helps reinforce some of the thinking I've been doing. I guess its about not being too silo'd in your approach to development and to get your eyes open and be open to learning from a variety of things you see, people and experiences. Thank you for this post.
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    January 23rd 2012
    Thanks, Becky. I'm glad you found it useful. x
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January 23rd 2012
Really interesting. I would love to do some courses but am a bit on the broke side whilst studying my other passion. Did you do your AS through correspondence and if so which institution. It sounds like something that I could be interested in in the future. Thanks.
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January 23rd 2012
Its never too late to train and you can never train too much. I still do it after 30 years as a photographer! If you can pick up one new idea from someone it will help!! Good luck in your search for your style Mike
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