Gary Fong Wonders If Photo Workshop Instructors Can Handle The Truth

There are photo workshops you should attend and then there are photo workshops you should avoid. That’s just a fact of life.

I have been to a great many of them and in a future post, I’ll list them all. I’ve always been careful about picking the ones I’ve wanted to go to. The instructors are all typically working professionals, not professional workshop instructors. Each had something to teach me that I could incorporate in my business or craft immediately. Every instructor promised me their full attention and delivered on it. I of course did my research. I asked my peers through forums, Facebook and Twitter. I checked their websites, blogs, forum posts and their public persona. I took mental notes on how they explained topics. Were they patient with people or did they cut people off? Did they invite discussion and conversation or was it all about them?

The ones I chose to attend seemed like they would be a good fit for me at that time. They taxed my premium resources – time and money – but I chose to spend it because I was convinced I would be a better photographer or better businessman.

But in the past few years, I have read a spate of bad press by frustrated photographers attending workshops, produced by those with little experience and clearly “rockstar” motivations. In one workshop review, I read how the instructors made more time for the video crew filming them than the workshop attendees who had paid top dollar to learn from them. That’s plain appalling.

Photolovecat, a blog I respect a great deal, has occasional reviews of workshops and their presenters. These are unbiased and not anonymous, which I think gives the feedback some credibility. So that’s one place you can go to see how a workshop you may be considering fared in terms of meeting or exceeding or failing expectations.

FishEye Connect, run by Kristy Dickerson, is also a great place to research workshops. So check that site out too.

Today, on Twitter, I saw Gary Fong Tweet this:

Gary calls it a “Disclosure Declaration” and it’s for workshop attendees to send to their workshop instructors. Will workshop instructors fill it out? Can they handle the truth? Will workshop attendees forward this form to their instructors to fill out prior to signing up for a workshop? Hard to say how far this will go, but I think Gary is on the right track.

I suspect that the PDF Gary has started to distribute is either a part of his third book – “So You Want To Be A Rockstar Photographer” or it is meant to lead up to it. At this time, I don’t know what the book is about and I haven’t read Snaps or Accidental Millionaire: How To Succeed In Life Without Really Trying, his first two books. If you have read them, post a comment below and let me know.

What we need to get back to is a promise or a commitment from the teacher to the student – to freely impart information without bias, malice or agenda that will in the end be of benefit to those who have come to learn from them. When workshops are covers for flimsy work or shady business practices, credibility and trust for all workshop instructors suffers. Do you agree? Sound off below.

Would you like to see a Tiffinbox branded photography workshop? If so, what would you want it to be about? Go on, humor me!

Seshu | Editor, Curator & Publisher
Seshu is an Avon, Connecticut based family photographer who creates intimate, sentimental and natural portraits for families who want to celebrate the love they have for each other. He also edits and publishes Tiffinbox, yep, this very blog you are reading now!
Seshu | Editor, Curator & Publisher


As a photographer, I'm intrigued by how families and children express themselves. I also publish, a blog for inspired photographers.
So @ShootQ, nothing happens when I click on the HELP button under Atrium. At point I saw a message saying my account was suspended. - 9 hours ago
Seshu | Editor, Curator & Publisher
Seshu | Editor, Curator & Publisher

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  • mymusea

    Great post Seshu! I’m seeing the same thing in the industry and when the idea for the Gathering first came to me, I had to consider the current climate regarding photography workshops. Like anything else out there, we have a huge selection to choose from and workshops are the same way. It’s getting harder and harder to find quality workshops, but I firmly believe they are an important aspect of our industry. The bad ones will eventually fall away because of the poor reviews and the good ones will rise to the top. When I selected photographers to teach at the Gathering I had to dig into their work history and see what type of people they are. Much like you do when you try to see if an upcoming workshop is worth your time or not. I think you hit the nail on the head though, with your comment about attending workshops lead by working professionals instead of workshop professionals. Those are the exact type of people I invited to the Gathering. Thanks for your positive voice in the photography industry and all the hard work you put into Tiffinbox! I appreciate what you are doing!

  • Spring Smith

    I agree 100%. I had a really hard time recently watching an online workshop that was a total rip off of someone else’s workshop. I was appalled that they could sit there and take credit for these ideas and share them as if they were their own. I actually taught my first workshop this year and LOVED it. I by no means wanted to take a ton of $ from people just to promote myself but there were people out there who told me (publicly on my blog no less) that I was wrong for wanting to teach that I “had no clue” and was a “wannabe”. I was really hurt by the comments but at the same time I understood that maybe they were just worried I was trying to be a rock-star and pretend I had all the answers when I clearly do not (i’m only in my 4th year of owning my own business). But what i was teaching was a “Newbies” workshop- something aimed at people who want to do this but have no idea how to start. We talked about workflow, we talked about websites, basic equipment and some basic technical things… I was teaching what I knew I knew well. There were questions I didn’t know and I was honest and said “hey i’m not a lighting master so i can tell you what I do and i can tell you it doesn’t’ always work” and i then referred them to people I know and trust that are lighting masters. My goal was to give newbies access to ask questions, to hear what the first year of business is like (it’s not all happy go lucky success its a lot of hard work). I think workshops are a bit of a fad right now- people see they can “teach” and make a killing. $500-$1500 per person 10-20 people for two days sounds like a good two days of income to me… but the truth is it’s a lot harder to teach then people think. Just because you Can-Do doesn’t mean you Can-Teach. If you want to teach… spend some time learning HOW to teach and for god sakes- don’t rip off someone else’s workshop that you’ve attended.

  • Jeffrey Adams

    Love to see Gary create a similar sheet for photo clients to send to prospective photographers,,,

  • Anne Ruthmann

    I think the really good workshop presenters CAN handle the truth. If a photographer would like to leave a workshop review on PhotoLovecat instead of their own personal blog, we’re happy to host workshop reviews from photographers and provide a larger audience for the review.

  • Don GIannatti

    As a previous workshop instructor, I do understand the frustration of taking bad workshops. They are an anathema to our business, and our profession.

    After looking at Gary’s form, I and my attorney both agreed that any photographer who signed it would be a raving lunatic.

    1. It opens the photographer up to an audit on the whim of an attendee. As written, any attendee can ask to review years of records to find ‘truthful’ anything that the photographer said. Accuracy of the report is ‘guaranteed’… and that is a problem. Not for cheaters, but for anyone trying to run a business. Opening up 35 years of records (“in your highest year”) for anyone that wants to see it would be a little problematic, wouldn’t it?

    2. The ‘clause’ where the photographer has to agree that the training/skills will increase income has no way of being measured. Add to that the fact that there is nothing in the agreement that will engender the attendee to actually DO what was taught. Take the workshop – don’t do anything that was taught, then sue the photographer. Sounds like a business model to me.

    3. Listing sponsors is not a bad thing – disclosing revenue may be against legal disclosure agreements signed with the sponsors. (No, I don’t have any sponsors… but if I did and they had a non-disclosure agreement with me I would not violate that. Sponsors have valid reasons for not publicizing their agreements with photographers as many of those agreements are not the same for each photographer… kapish?)

    4. He wants my home phone number? Why? That ain’t happening.

    Now let’s get to the real stupid stuff.

    5. Signing that business information from 25 years ago is entirely and completely accurate and truthful is a bit disconcerting. I don’t keep tax or business records more than 15 years. And to add on top of the nightmare that he is asking – How much was your highest year – you cannot say simply “About $125K – you must say $124,356.72 – anything less would be an admission of perjury.

    6. Perjury to who? A court? No court or municipal, county, state, or federal court has issued this questionnaire… the discussion of perjury is not really gonna be happening. So this is STUPID.

    7. The last paragraph opens anyone who signs it to unending litigation that could take years… EVEN IF NOT AT FAULT. Asking for tax returns from decades ago, discovery would be a full time job for the photographer.

    Ya know… the ability to turn plastic into a light modifier is – well – pretty cool. But this document is so completely bogus, that it paints another layer of stupid over us all.

    Damn shame.

  • Sid Ceaser


    having attendees submit
    a form asking workshop teachers about how much money they make just
    seems rude. They are going to a workshop, they aren’t applying for
    financial aid or health insurance assistance. I get that students want
    to be sure the teacher knows something, but if they can’t get that from
    looking at their work, viewing websites, asking opinions of previous
    workshop attendees, watching them in forum discussions and myriad other
    ways to check resources, asking them to provide their financial details
    is taking things a bit too far.


  • boggy4062

    Straight talk always gets my approval Don. There is a reason why I loved your workshop. “No bull, just the truth mam” always works for me.

    I would” audit” few users who are WAAAAAY too dumb to comprehend concept of 1+1=2, and yet they want to critique work of others.
    There are people who take class, after class, after class, collect diplomas, go home and …. do NOTHING with the knowledge they were given. They are only good in taking notes (which they never use), but will complain about the teachers.
    I have to agree with you Don, as far as Gary Fong… yeah, he did turn plastic into a light modifier, but …. would he take my back?

  • Pingback: On Workshops, Scams, Manners and Foolish Ideas | ESSENTIALS For Photographers()

  • David Parsons

    Enclosed is a questionnaire that is designed to tell us readers about your qualifications about running a blogsite. How much have you earned each year that you’ve run this blog, how much money you’ve taken from every sponsor (be specific and accurate), and be sure to sign verifying that reading your blog will positively enrich my life.

    Seriously, you can’t think that this questionnaire is a good idea for anyone to fill out. And frankly, it’s none of any attendee’s business how much a presenter has ever earned.

    If I were holding a workshop and got a form like this, I’d refund your money and send you on your way.

  • Christine Selleck Tremoulet

    Personally? Depending on the topic, I don’t care if someone is a working photographer or not. If they have solid business sense, and are teaching me business related things – or life improvement things – I am happy to learn from them. Matter of fact, I’ve learned some of the most helpful things for my business from people that have never been photographers at all – from financial coaches in my city, to people I’ve met through SXSW and other tech circles, to people like Jeff Jochum, who will be the first to tell you that he is not a photographer.

    I find it fascinating how bizarre the photography industry is about this topic. In the web design world, you take a workshop – they suck – you write up a review about them. If I ever went to a workshop host and asked me to prove what they had made previously, to guarantee my web design would be better once I took their workshop? They would laugh me out of town.

    People need to get a grip. RESEARCH the workshops you attend. Maybe make sure you’re not in the first class. (Those are often the problem classes.) Make sure it is a topic you’re interested in, a format you want. And if you don’t want to spend money on workshops, don’t. You can learn a lot from reading things, watching Creative Live, and so many other options.

    There are crappy workshops out there. The attendees need to stand up and point out that they were terrible. Ask for their money back. Do something about it. But just because some workshops have been bad doesn’t mean all are bad. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

  • Gary Fong

    Hey Don Gianatti,

    Most likely you didn’t really show it to an attorney, and that you’re just “saying” you showed it to an attorney. It is a disclosure form. It is a declaration in writing of claims and representations that are made in order to have someone engage the product or service. Ask your “attorney” if he’s ever heard of “reps and warrants” because this is standard. I honestly don’t think you showed it to an attorney, I think you’re just saying that. I think you just sat there and typed, “woo hoo! I showed it to my attorney” No you didn’t. Because this is a voluntary disclosure declaration.

    There’s no way an attorney would think that this opens someone up to a random audit just because this disclosure form is signed. It opens them up to litigation if they make false representations to coerce a customer to engage. If you want to take someone to court because they gave you a big line about how qualified they are, and what you would gain as a result, and all you have is advertisements or tweets to back up your misrepresentation and fraud claim, it would be a larger burden to prove than if there was a signed disclosure form. It’s like a job application. You “represent” what you bring to the table when you submit the application. If you misrepresent, what is that called? MISREPRESENTATION DING DING DING. Oh maybe that’s the only sound you understand is the ringing of bells.
    Safest thing to do if they cannot guarantee that they will increase profits is to DISCLOSE THAT. Duh! Just say no. Just like if you were to fill out a job application, Don, and the question asked, “are you exceptional?” (answer – no).

    When an instructor says, “I will help you increase your profits” – this form asks them to put that in writing and with a signature. If they say that they are “success coaches” the form asks them to state in particularity what makes them qualified. Lastly, it absolutely is perjury when it is a signed declaration where the signature is affirmed under oath in the declaration. This form isn’t stupid. Your attorney, or you – actually have no idea what you’re talking about. I can’t believe you’d put your name to that comment. You’re making yourself out to be a buffoon.
    You’re calling me or my form stupid? Who the hell are you? I’ve never heard of you before, and I’ve heard of everybody.
    OK, I just googled you and you do nice lighting! I haven’t looked deeper but your courses address lighting, and see how you would clear that form with no problem? Another thing is if you don’t want to answer a particular question – skip it. In fact, refuse to sign the form at all, and you’d have no problem.

    One suggestion – spellcheck your posts on your website. Lots of errors.

  • Gary Fong

    Hi Jeffrey Adams, I do have a sheet! It asks if the photographer has liability, errors and omissions insurance, etc – things that a bride should know. If you just google my name and photographer disclosure form you should find it. I made it in PDF and Word format (for you to change) and you can download it for free.

  • Gary Fong

    Hey Sid – this form is for workshops where the instructors promise “FastTrack Success”. There are many out there who say, “come to my workshop and book the high end client” or some other nonsense, and these folks are getting their homes repossessed. If they’re going to say, “hey I am an expert on business success” on an ad, then say it on a voluntarily signed disclosure form. It’s not for people who do lighting workshops like Don.

  • Gary Fong

    Hey Don, I’m flummoxed that you put you put your own name to that post. I wrote a reply on the main thread. I hope you know more about lighting than you do about topics like this. I saw your website and you have nice lighting resources. But man you just came off as a tool.

  • Nostradamus_1

    Wow! I think I’ve seen it all now.

    There are many great retorts to this post however I will keep it simple. Not everyone can teach (even those supposedly qualified to be teachers!) and as for the students. You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

    There is useful info on this blog, however this is a clear case of someone getting high on their own supply!