Risky Business: Is Your Workshop Leader Prepared or Simply Praying?

Ready For The What If's To Avoid The What Happened's. 

  I started teaching in the field landscape photography workshops back in 2009, when there were very few of us offering them at all. Fast forward to today and everyone and their grandma is offering them. Back in "the good old days" of Flickr, people would throw shade (talk down to) other photographers like myself who were teaching, usually projecting a holier than thou approach to their photography that always made me chuckle a bit. Today, some of those same people teach workshops making me laugh even harder. Due to the relatively low operating costs, the ever-increasing number of potential clients and the obvious romance of getting paid to do what you love, running workshops has, for better or for worse become step B, right after buy a DSLR for many new photographers. Unfortunately, many of these new workshop leaders may be unprepared for the risks involved and unprofessional in the way they choose to operate their business. 

  It took a while for the Forest Service, National Parks and other popular areas to realize that photographers were getting paid to take students into these areas and that most of them were doing so with little to no preparation at all. In the early years, today's standards like liability insurance and commercial use permits were not exactly required. In fact, back then, most instructors didn't even have basic first aid training. Many didn't even hold a business license. These days, the permitting processes and legal requirements put in place for instructors are becoming more and more stringent and for good reason, as the risks to our natural areas and the students participating in these workshops are very real. More often than not, students taking their first photography workshop have never spent twelve hours straight shooting for one day, much less three or five in a row. They are most often in unfamiliar areas, in changing conditions and as we all know, accidents do happen. The question is, if something does go wrong would you be in good hands or left to circumstance?

Tumwater, Canyon, River, Dam, Fine Art, Limited Edition, , photo

Tumble Rumble Ramble

Leavenworth, Washington

Fine Art Limited Edition of 50 - A fine art limited edition print titled Tumble Rumble Ramble photographed in Tumwater Canyon near Leavenworth, Washington. Photo © copyright by Aaron Reed.

Back By Popular Demand

  In 2014 our daughter was born and I took a break from my workshop schedule for a couple years, watching the changes to the nature photography business from a distance as they (sometimes frustratingly) came together. Today, teaching in a National Park like Mt Rainier for example, requires not only a large liability policy, but includes a requirement to teach a brief history of the park, have an evacuation plan in place, operate under the principles of leave no trace and have first responder wilderness first aid training. From what I hear, more of the National Parks will be taking this aggressive stance in the future and I personally am happy to see these changes taking place. In my years as an instructor I have heard it all from fellow instructors who operate illegally, to the trampling of our lands to "get the shot" to being completely unprepared to deal with a medical emergency. I even heard once that an instructor had to wait until his next paycheck to refund someone's deposit! This type of irresponsible business operation is more prevalent than you think. 

 This year my workshop schedule is back in full swing. Photography is my full-time job and the way I feed my family. I take this very seriously and have reflected on many of these things this year as I jump back through all the hoops required to operate a legal, safe and successful photography business in the field. In Late April, I had the opportunity to complete a 10-day First Responder Wilderness First Aid course through NOLS Pacific Northwest. Aside from it being a really fun experience, it was also very eye opening. Participating in the scenarios they set up during the training painted a very clear picture of the real risks one could face both as a student or an instructor in the field. If you offer photography workshops and a student broke their leg on the racetrack in Death Valley would you have any idea what to do? If you were a student and you fell from an overhang in the dark of night resulting in a serious back injury, how confident would you feel that your instructor, who didn't even take the time to secure a commercial use permit to lead you there, was going to have your best interest and your care in mind when making decisions on what to do next? 

 I am proud to say that I have operated a successful and legal photography business since 2009. Now I am even trained to treat you for hypothermia, use in line traction to put your bone back in place in the backcountry or pack & dress your massive head wound before we make a plan of action to evacuate you. Let's just hope I don't have to. That being said, you might just earn a free workshop out of the deal! ;) If you would like to learn more about the workshops that I offer, please have a look here and stay tuned for other workshop and wilderness first aid posts in the near future. In the meantime, stay safe and happy shooting to all of you.