OK this post is long, so before I make you read all of this, (and it's going to be revealing), I would like to tell you that there are excellent instructors in the field. Joe Buissink, phenomenal. Denis Reggie, same. Robert Evans - cutting edge and sharp. Bob Davis, fantastic with lighting. Mike Colon, I haven't heard speak but his images are amazing and he has tremendous skill. Kenny Kim, I haven't heard speak either, but I know he's a person that you can trust. There are many that I would like to list, but this would take a while, and this would only be my own opinion. What doesn't work for me may be great for you. And this is why I have been DYING for somebody/thing to POST REVIEWS of workshops and seminars so that the buyer can be informed.
If there was a place to post reviews, and discuss people's experience with photographic instructors, well that would protect everybody. How did I get so caught up in this drama when my world is all about camera stores and retail trade? Facebook.
I was on Facebook and someone IM'd me (I honestly don't remember who this was, there are many people that IM me) and said that she was so stressed because she went to Scarlett Lillian's first workshop and was devastated because she had paid some large amount to go to the workshop, and not only didn't learn a thing, but was subjected to a disorganized mess of fluff. Her husband was just raging about how it would take them a year and a half to pay off the credit card, and both of them felt that it would be career-changing for her to go to the workshop. Right about this time, one of the workshop attendees named Leann did this post which detailed Scarlett's workshop. And it caused a stir that still hasn't gone away, in fact it's only gotten worse.
In all fairness to Scarlett, this was her first workshop, and I have not seen her attempt it again. Also, what Scarlett accomplished was to brand herself using the blogo/twittersphere into a flash-point celebrity. And that was notable, and an indication of a new hyper-speed movement in photography. As a novice photographer, she was phenomenal at positioning because she became famous so fast. And it could've stayed there had the buying public not OVERREACTED to the experience of being at her workshop. You see, when things get on the discussion boards on Facebook or blogs, etc. things get crazy fast.
Many of you have seen my pot-stirring feeder comments on my Facebook page. As you know, I put these questions out on purpose to get people to show how hot they can get on topics that have no definitive answer. One example question would be, "what is more truthful, faith or science?" In an instant, I get IM's where people say "I'm popping popcorn" - they're waiting for the dependable fireworks. And both sides, while shouting, look unreasonable. And nobody then believes anybody. This is why I am a fan of ratings.
Ratings are what made eBay. Amazon. Tripadvisor. Ratings do two things: 1) it makes the vendor DELIVER. (great customer service, followup etc to protect their approval ratings). 2) it protects the unsuspecting consumer. And until now this has been missing from the budding (rapidly) industry of professional photography workshops.
Nobody is unaffected by poor quality instruction at a high cost. Every WPPI I go to lately (and I've been to 26 of them) the chorus is in unison - the speakers pretty much sucked. And the reason a large part of this occurs is because at WPPI, to get a platform, you need to have a corporate sponsor. WPPI does not pay its speakers, and requires that a speaker have a sponsor for the big programs. So if you see a big logo on the convention brochure, expect a time-and-attention-consuming pitch on the sponsor's products. GARY FONG INC does not sponsor speaker's programs, other than my own, and of course I'm the inventor of my products so my pitch is intimate and real. I've seen photographers give programs for products they don't even use that much, in fact the latest trending direction is photographers who don't really shoot at all, and yet pitch how they "use" the products in their gearbags.
Lately, I've become an unwilling referee/advocate for photographers unhappy with other speakers. I contributed a forward for a speaker's book, because at the time, he was a friend, and I was his confidante (spent so much time guiding and assisting with matters such as monetizing a web presence, assisting with book publishing, how or why or what to invest in gold or the stock market, what to do on a book deal, etc. - hours of guidance.) All I wanted was for him to be successful because I believed in him.
Then came me in the middle. Broken-hearted photographers came to me because I recommended him in the forward of the book - "can you please help me Gary?" I've spent this money and I feel stupid because he won't give me my money back but I'm getting nothing from the consulting or founder's club thing or whatnot. And then to know that this person is not really shooting of any note, completely struggling financially to an alarming degree, the definition of a wipeout in the success category, yet proclaiming to offer a short cut to the big pie-in-the-sky success of the rockstar bigtime of wedding photography.
A caring word of warning from a place of love and concern - the bigtime, big bucks of wedding photography are long gone. With great referrals, you can do ok, but even the best of the best of the best aren't making a fortune anymore. The market has changed, and certainly shitty bullshit workshops on business success, strategies, converting an artist to a businessperson, goal-setting crap is just ridiculous. If a workshop says anything about business success or how to make your business boom, I'd go if it were free. But I'd bring my iPhone just in case so you can listen to music or tweet or go onto Facebook. Or go immediately to Fisheye Connect to score the instructor in a rating system.
Fisheye Connect pretty much does all of the handling of seminar scheduling and fee collection, etc. these days. It seems all of the seminar speakers go through Fisheye connect. And after reading Jeff Jochum's post, where he said "... Today, I did something I haven't done in a long time – I invested in a company I didn't start. That company is Fisheye Connect." And he said that he was acting Chief Marketing Officer and so it sounded like he had invested money, and that it was his baby. Among the executives and people in the photo industry, whenever the name F/E/C came up, they would say, "oh you mean Jeff's company?"
I have worked with Jeff briefly when he was VP/Marketing of Pictage. He was very passionate and understood the importance of community-building and social networking. Jeff nicely put together Pictage user groups, and later, SmugMug's user groups. As a cheerleader and fan of the industry, Jeff made some good moves that was like a big group hug. Being a wedding photographer can be lonely, and Jeff created get-togethers that really resonated in that time, and continues today in some form.
So when I spoke to Kristy Dickerson (founder, CEO and 100% owner of FEC) for the first time, of course I said something like, "Oh, you work for Jeff" and boy did she get mad. I was like, why are you mad? It's on his blog. Jeff's blog post didn't really mention much of Kristy, more of the FEC concept and so pretty much everybody thought it was Jeff's baby. Kristy made it clear that Jeff was never involved, that he was paid a consulting fee, and shortly after that, he departed for another project. Only thing was Jeff never set the record straight, but he has now as he's removed that post from his blog.
Kristy asked me to advise FEC and I'm pleased to do so as explained in this announcement. I've been just hoping that someone, somewhere would put up a rating system, and a discussion forum to centralize this budding industry of workshops and seminars WITH REVIEWS. Kristy has informed me that the programming is nearly done, that they've already collected a lot of reviews and that her programmers are incorporating a discussion forum.
So imagine this. You hear about a workshop. You go to fisheyeconnect. You read the speaker's reviews and discussions about them. Much like rottentomatoes.com, tripadvisor etc. And then you choose based on the reviews of bona-fide people who have gone to the workshop.
This will help do two things that are badly needed: 1) knowing that workshops are going to be "rated" will raise the quality of education knowing that if it blows, they'll get a publicly published thumbs-down and 2) this will protect the unsuspecting customer from being ripped off, which I am afraid is happening too much right now.