Member Responses to the Article
Bill Silliker, Jr.
I don't have time to write a whole article in rebuttal, but I think that Brenda's opinion definitely needs a counterpoint. Her saying that this is the way it should be reminds me of the captive vs. wild argument. So here's a rebuttal:
While I share with Brenda Tharp in questioning the worth of workshops taught by the few who are only there to shoot for themselves, every one has to do what they think is right in such things. It's just not true that to shoot while teaching diminishes the ability of ALL instructors. We should keep an open mind that others might well be able to pull it off while doing it a different way.
The proof is with the students' satisfaction.
I also absolutely believe that as an instructor I NEED to be looking through the viewfinder, and not just for the moment, to ensure that my advice to students is working. To really hone his or her instruction skills, a teacher needs to be able to do it too, and especially with wildlife photography, there's no guarantee that it's ever going to be the same way again.
And while I am in agreement with Brenda that instructors shouldn't allow their own shooting to interfere with student shooting, I honestly believe that you can do both. But then, maybe that's from my old musician days as a professional drummer who had to have independent foot and hand stuff going on at the same time?
Seriously, if my students are set and shooting, without problems, why not shoot? Many people want to see how a "pro" shoots, how they use a long lens, a tripod, what they meter from, how they approach an animal or a scene - the list goes on and on.
Some also want to be able to say that they shot with so and so.
After 12 years of doing it that way, I have no complaints that I neglected students. To all who feel the way that Brenda does, I respect that. Just please don't ever sign up for one of my workshops – I don't want you to feel slighted in any way.
Josh Taylor, Jr.
Students Come First was a timely article. I am a workshop presenter myself, and thoroughly agree with Brenda Tharp's views that students come first in workshops. Since the first weekend in January, through June, I have given workshops every weekend, and this gives me familiarity and a voice of authority on workshops. I would shudder at the thought that a workshop participant of mine would comment that I was more interested in making my own images rather that assisting the group and other individuals. However, in a group of workshop participants, there are different learning styles. We, as workshop presenters, must be mindful of this at all times. In some workshops, I've had participants who are independent and like to explore new concepts on their own, while others want to see, feel, and hear instructions.
In the field with participants, I'll set the camera up on a tripod to make a point. After everyone has had the opportunity to look through the viewfinder and ask questions, occasionally, I'll say, "Since I have this shoot already set up, I'll shoot a few frames to show in the critique session." Also, the day or week before the workshop, I visit and photograph at the shooting sites where I take participants. Therefore, I find no need to use participants' time shooting images. Workshop participants have paid for the instructor's undivided attention.
Thanks for the opportunity for me to express my views.
Carl Heilman II
I wholeheartedly agree with Brenda. As a more recent photography workshop instructor here in the Adirondacks, I've been going through various experiments of what seems to work best for both participants and myself. I've found that after a group introduction and instructive discussion, folks are anxious to begin experimenting with their own cameras. Then I can offer much through working individually with each person in the group. I limit the number of workshop participants to 6, so I can give each person a reasonable amount of individual attention throughout the rest of the day. On occasion I have taken a couple of photos during a workshop, partly because I do 360 panoramic photography and folks like to see my panoramic gear and partly because I felt there was the time to do so. I've also missed a number of photo opportunities while working with participants. Ultimately I feel people come to my workshops to learn, and not to simply watch, and I want everyone to leave feeling informed and inspired. That's when I feel best about my own role in the workshop.
I have had the pleasure of taking a few workshops from Brenda in the past and value her teaching technique, her enthusiasm, and her opinion. I can personally tell you that she practices what she preaches.
I have been teaching Intro to 35mm Photography at the Community College level for 21 years and leading Workshops and "Learning Group" mini workshops for the past 12 years. One of the first things I learned in teaching was the different ways that people learn and the various rates of learning among a group.
Initially I was guilty of carrying camera and tripod to each site to set up compositions for students to view and discuss. It was all too easy to get caught up in â€œmy own photography." The majority of students would never say anything as they stood back and watched. If they had a question they wouldn't ask because they didn't want to disturb me. When I left my gear in the vehicle and went from camera to camera spending time with students as personal instruction time, their feedback and enthusiasm was overwhelming. What a lesson.
No photographer can resist wanting to photograph a beautiful subject with great lighting, but I would be less of an instructor if I did not observe, encourage and respond to the eye-opening self-awareness and pride shown by students as they create a fine photo.
I have to keep reminding myself to leave my gear, even though most in my groups are intermediate to advanced photographers. I believe that they paid for my time and knowledge, and my time should be theirs 100 percent. Even the advanced members need a little help or an occasional "atta-boy" or "atta-girl".
Students do come first, and their photographic development is the instructor's highest pay.