Photography: Doug Beasley
Everyone seems to be doing workshops these days, says Doug Beasley, a former fashion, advertising and commercial photographer who now specializes in fine art projects. With a living as a photographer increasingly hard to come by, teaching enthusiasts and professionals has come to look like both a lucrative way to supplement commissions and license sales, and an enjoyable way for photographers to benefit from their expertise.
Beasley’s workshops though started long before the digital revolution hit the world of photography. He’s been teaching for more than 20 years, initially running classes locally in the Twin Cities but soon stretching further afield as offers came in to teach people as far away as Guatemala and Peru.
“When an offer of a new location came, I became good at saying ‘Yes!’” he recalls.
After a career that stretched to include shooting annual reports around the world, Beasley now puts on between twelve and fifteen workshops a year through his website VQPhoto.com, teaching classes that range from five or six students to as many as sixteen. Any larger than that, he remarks, and it becomes difficult to give each student the one-on-one time necessary to get to know them, to understand their creative blockages and to help them grow. Students’ backgrounds range from beginner to professional but Beasley does prefer that students know how to operate their cameras so that he can skip the technical lessons and focus on the creative process.
Photography: Barb Prindle
Read Poetry to Improve Your Photography
The workshops are made up of photo assignments and visual exercises but also include short writing exercises and analyses of why certain photographs work and how to improve images that failed. Participants will even read poetry as a way of releasing their own creativity. The emphasis is on developing the eye and deepening vision rather than on teaching aperture settings and exposure times. What really makes Doug Beasley’s workshops stand out though is the range of locations in which they’re held.
Between January of this year and March of next year, Beasley will have held workshops in New York; Oregon; Yunnan in southwest China; Big Island, Hawaii; South Dakota; Big Sur, California; Santa Fe; Wisconsin; Maine, Cortes Island, Canada; and Guatemala. He’ll visit some of those places several times.
The travel to exotic and picturesque locations isn’t necessary but it is important. While it’s possible to teach photography in a studio,
“it’s a lot more fun to be in an exotic location together with a great group of people! Also people tend to open up in new and beautiful ways when they are in unfamiliar territory,” says Beasley.
Fun it might may be and being in an inspiring location with a group of inspiring people who have a passion for photography is always likely to foster new ideas but it also makes the workshops harder to organize. Producing a syllabus, finding models, arranging insurance and marketing a class is difficult enough when you’re holding the event in your own space; it’s a great deal harder when you’re trying to bring people to southwest China or central America.
For Beasley, the logistical work is conducted entirely by his studio for some of his workshops, such as those in the Badlands of South Dakota and in Hawaii. For other workshops though, he can usually partner with art organizations that operate locally but have a national base, such as Santa Fe Workshops or Maine Media Workshops.
“They can organize the logistics and deal with the money, freeing me up to concentrate on helping students expand their photographic skills and vision,” he says.
The benefits of the workshops spread in both directions. By the time the course has finished, students should be able to respond more visually, with greater confidence and with a clearer unique voice. They learn to go deeper within themselves to find the answers, says Beasley, and they discover that the puzzle of representation can have more than one solution.
You Choose What You Learn
If all that sounds almost as spiritual as it does creative, that’s another of the advantages of putting on a workshop: the photographer gets to set the subject and can explore topics that they find interesting. Beasley’s own photography focuses on the expression of the sacred; his workshop titles include “Zen and the Art of Photography,” “The Sacred Landscape” and “Spirit of Place.” As he leads his students’ exploration of the subjects that inspire his own photography, Beasley’s ideas are refreshed by their reactions and their interactions.
“I get to participate deeply in the creative process. That is always so exciting and such a privilege,” he says. “I get to feed off of their energy as they react and feed off of mine. I get to be part of that group bonding process. I learn new ways of seeing, doing and being every time.”
Putting on a workshop then can be as attractive as it looks. Fill up the places and the income can be lucrative. (The price of Beasley’s workshops range from a few hundred dollars to almost $5,000 for those with the biggest expenses.) But they can also be inspiring for the photographer as well as an education for the participant. They aren’t easy to put together, however, or even to run once they’ve started. Beasley recommends that teachers develop a strong outline but be prepared to ad lib when they reach the field. They should know how to read the energy and needs of the group, lead strongly but sensitively, understand what they have to teach, and never underestimate the intelligence of their students. And students too should be choosy. They need to make sure that the teacher is reputable, has the experience necessary to lead a group, and has work of a high enough standard to inspire others.
And that’s the big disadvantage of putting on a workshop. Not only is the organization a lot of work but as more and more photographers see teaching as an enjoyable way to create an additional revenue stream, the competition is only going to get tighter.