hi there! i'm michelle, southern california based photographer and curator of the coco gallery.

welcome to my blog where i share my life, my latest adventures, photo projects, random nuggets and the occasional stray thoughts.

for clients: to view my portfolio just click on this link - theCOCOgallery.com. to book sessions please send me a message through theCOCOgallery.com or contact me via michelle@thecocogallery.com | 949.734.0604

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

mila | learning photography on a budget

i've been teaching basic photography classes (at seed market in costa mesa ) and lightroom (at the irvine fine arts center) these last few months and have been asked about what workshops and classes i recommend for new photographers.  i always approach this question with caution.  learning can be expensive.  in my world i measure the amount of expense not just in monetary terms but also in time and effort.  sometimes even free can be viewed as a waste.  with only so much of myself to give and a limited budget to support my choices selecting the places to be, the things to do and the people to see becomes a tactical maneuver.  each selection has to be carefully weighed and scrutinized for return on investment.  value is a personal choice and so very highly subjective.  everyone has a different knowledge foundation so it only makes sense that what i view as a lesson worth learning maybe considered useless to someone who already has that information. 

as a general rule i want to suggest that for the 101 courses like photography 101 don't spend your cash.  even $200 sounds like a lot to me for this lesson but it's your money go for it (as i cringe) if you want but don't spend more than that.  i believe that you can go the cheaper route for these lessons like shadowing a photog friend, enlisting some buddies, reading books, looking online, signing up for a class at a community college or adult ed classes hosted by the city.  the 101 information is readily available everywhere.  save your cash for the more advanced courses or the lessons on software like photoshop, in design and lightroom which are necessary tools in the growing photography industry.

anywayz... here's some suggestions on where you can go:
  1. PHOTOGRAPHY 101 - be the master of your camera not the other way around. 
    • BOOKS - not everyone's cup of tea but great for reference!
      • i read my camera's manual cover to cover coz i'm a nerd like that.  
      • understanding exposure by peterson - excellent book!  i would read a chapter and then practice that chapter.  one chapter a day / week.
      • scott kelby's 3 volume set called digital photography - i'm a cut-to-the-chase kinda person.  limited on time i don't have a lot of patience for fluff.  well, maybe i'm just short on patience but whatev.  scott kelby's books are almost bullet points.  each page is a lesson and concise.  i LOVE it!
    • ONLINE
      • have you heard of digital photography school?  it's a website choc full of photog tips and it's awesome!  sign up for their newsletter and get a regular email with some really awesome information
      • strobist is another website that is ah-ma-zing and it's all about lighting
      • forums like [b] school and open source photo are excellent places to learn.  it's a place to go with any questions you may have and sometimes you don't know enough to ask a question.  this is a great way to learn from other people's experiences, mistakes and quandaries.  note that [b] school charges a nominal fee to join the community.
    • WORKSHOPS / CLASSES - some of the places in my hood
      • the school of continuing education in orange county - i attended a series of classes with dave rosenberg who has a 20 year history of working with canon.  it was a great intro class and totally affordable for an 8 week course.
      • irvine fine arts center - dave also teaches here and so do some other really nice people with some really fun photog classes... oh and then there's me.  i teach LR 2.
      • calumet
      • orange coast college - this school has one of the best photog departments in socal.  i attended this college for a handful of semesters.
      • seed market - you get me (shameless plug).  i teach on occassion a 3 hour crash course on photog fundamentals thru craft kitchen.  i'm told i'm pretty good ;)
    • SOFTWARE - this is where it starts to get expensive.  as if it wasn't enough to dish out the dough on the equipment you need or to have a good computer and buy software too!  and what do you mean the software doesn't automatically do everything?!?!  groan.  i do believe that the money spent in learning the software is money well spent.  if i can use the lessons immediately and see results in my time management and in my work then it's 3 thumbs up and i'll borrow kaya's thumb to give it that extra OK.  
      • BOOKS
        • kevin kubota's digital photography bootcamp - oh i love this book!  he is the photoshop master and i bow to him.  this book tells you just what you need to know without overwhelming you
        • martin evening's lightroom 2 - my bible.  i read this one cover to cover while i was in the philippines and it now rests permanently by my computer.  note that LR 3 will be coming out soon (dunno when) so think about that before buying the book.
        • PS classroom in a book - i took a beginner photoshop class once and was waaaaay pissed off when the instructor simply read to us from this book.  i can read.  i don't need help with that.  and when i asked for more information on certain functions she couldn't even answer them.  seriously, what a waste of cash.  i suggest just buying the book and following along.  when you get past this phase and you still want to know more and can't find the answer on the internet then it's time to sign up for a more advanced class.
        • i took a lightroom class through PPOC who sponsored some classes by Jack Davis.  best money spent!  they also have a meetup group you can join for info on future workshops.
        • irvine fine arts center offers classes on photoshop and lightroom (i teach that one ;))
    there are soooooo many workshops out there right now given by a host of photographers on a million different topics.  you've got everything from the business aspect of photography to the technical side, style vs function, niche specific lessons like boudior, wedding or children's photography.  with so many to pick from it gets overwhelming.  here's some pointers i like to consider:
    • what is my ROI (return on investment)?  will i make the money back by applying the lessons i learned?  this is my number one question for any of my expenditures.  this business is expensive enough as it is without me adding to it.
    • do i admire the work of the instructor?  actually, more than that... am i blown away by this person's work?  it wouldn't make sense for me to spend money trying to learn from someone who's work i don't even like.
    • does this person make their information available for free?  most photographers have a blog and are very helpful with tips and tricks on their blog.  if i can get that information for free why not just stick to that route unless i really believe that the workshop they are hosting will give me even MORE insight.  again... ROI.
    • am i going to be learning style, technique or anything useful?  i personally don't believe that i can "learn" someone's style.  i can emulate but i cannot be that person.  if i want to know about their style then i can just look at their photos to figure that out.  i also don't want to attend a workshop that only gives me insight on who the person is or how they got to where they are today.  i can read a blog for that and i'm past paying for inspiration and/or a cheering squad type workshop.   but if they are teaching posing techniques, lighting techniques, tips on working with clients, etc. then that totally works for me.  again... ROI.
    • how much is it?  this is sometimes the make it or break it question and to me the duration and location of the workshop feeds into the answer.  is it a 3 day, 5 day or just a quickie?  do i have to travel?  do i even like the location?  so many questions...  but something to ponder over. 
    i hope this helps and feel free to add your own 5 cents in the comments.  i'm sure there's more things that i should consider and i'd love to pass the information on.

    here's a photo that i took of curtis n me while we were in the philippines last year.


    1. Awesome advice. Thank YOU so much! Gonna pass this along to my friends!

    2. Thank you so much for this information! SO helpful for a beginner like me. I know there is so much information out there but with limited time I feel like I waste so much time just trying to find information that I can really use. I already know of a couple of the above places, like open source photo and have been contemplating joining the [b] school.