Is Basic Too Basic?

“I’ve been photographing for a while now. Do you think I should skip Basic and register for the Intermediate Photography workshop?”

This is a question we have fielded many times over the years, and although it is a question that requires a photographer-specific answer, we thought it would be helpful to put up a post addressing some details of our Basic Photography workshops.

Naturally, your own personal experience and level of knowledge should help steer you toward finding a photography course which is right for you. However, above all else you need to make sure you are 100% honest with yourself when you assess your abilities. Just because you have been photographing for years, or even decades, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are beyond the basics. In our 25 years of experience, we have noticed a remarkable difference between those who “enter in” to the process with Intermediate Photography thinking they are beyond the basics, and those who take our Basic Photography workshop and progress on to Intermediate.  Sure, the former can be done, but more often than not, skipping the all-important first step reveals “gaps” in one’s knowledge. If not adequately addressed, these “gaps” can become potholes and eventually craters down the road.

How does that old saying go?  Something about a house only being as strong as the foundation it’s built upon….  Yep, It applies to photography too!

Basic is Basic is Basic … right?

If you have decided that starting at square one with your photo education is the best thing to do, you must find a course that will work for you. A quick Google search, or scan of the course catalog at a nearby Community College might reveal dozens of options to choose from. But what differentiates one Basic Photography course from another? After all, they’re all called “Basic Photography”… right?

During a Basic Photography workshop at RMSP we focus heavily on two aspects: teaching the nuts and bolts of photography and making sure participants enjoy and engage in the “experience” of photography.


When we say nuts and bolts, we are referring to the things that actually make photography happen. In tangible terms, this means that you ignore most of the settings on camera and go straight to using Manual mode. By learning in Manual mode, you see firsthand how f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO determine your exposure. Learning how each affects the other, and ultimately the outcome of your images, is vitally important and is the foundation of every image you will create in your photography career. Added into the mix during this learning process are other topics including depth of field, selective focus, file formats, outsmarting your camera’s meter, histogram, white balance, the temperature of light, composition techniques, and downloading images to your computer to name a few. By the way, if you just read that list and now suddenly feel overwhelmed because it all sounds foreign, take a deep breath. Relax.  Remember, on a workshop, you are learning these things incrementally, from a professional photography instructor with a group of people who are at your same level. And most likely you are laughing a lot too!

This brings us to the other aspect we focus on during a Basic workshop, which can be summed up in one word: experience. At some point in your learning process, you actually need to get up, get outside and introduce the rubber to the road. That is why approximately one third of your time in an RMSP Basic Photography workshop is spent on location learning to shoot with your camera.

We have always been of the belief that photography is an around-the-clock pursuit. Great light usually doesn’t appear when it’s convenient for you, so it doesn’t make much sense for a workshop to limit your learning hours to 9 – 5, or for a few hours in the evening. Long, hands-on and involved (yet fun) days define our Basic workshops.  For example, during our Missoula-based workshops you might spend a morning photographing on the campus of the University of Montana, in the nearby Rattlesnake Wilderness, or an afternoon on the grounds of historic Fort Missoula or at Moon Randolph homestead, located in the hills just two miles north of downtown.  These location visits offer unique experiences and wonderful shooting opportunities where trial-and-error learning is encouraged. Since shoots are followed by critique sessions, your successes can be celebrated and your mistakes identified prior to the next days shoot.