A Picture- Perfect Vacation
By Debi Lander | Photography: Debi Lander and Bryan Peterson
Combining a vacation with an onsite photography workshop can make your trip even more memorable.
Smartphones have made everyone a photographer, but how do you progress from taking ordinary snapshots to frameable memories? A new camera won’t necessarily help, with all the buttons, tabs, and settings they offer. Incorporate a photo workshop into your travels if you want to master the art and technology offered today.
Photo workshops last anywhere from a few hours, like a walking tour, to multiple days, depending on your plans and skill level. Some offer camera, lens, or technique-specific instruction such as iPhone, mirrorless, Lensbaby, or more advanced skills like photo stacking or time-lapse photography. Many avid amateurs include or even plan a vacation around a photo workshop.
So, how do you choose?
First, consider your goals. Do you want to learn new skills, or do you want to capture iconic shots from a specific location? Many resident professional photographers supplement their income by offering on-location tours. They know the lay of the land, the must-see spots, the hidden gems, and the correct time of day for capturing the best images. These group workshops often feature photo walking tours within a city — think Charleston, New Orleans, or Savannah. Others include transportation, a real bonus if it’s difficult for you to arrange your own. Some destinations, like rural Alaska or African safaris, even include domestic flights.
Many multi-day photo workshops transport you to exotic locations, perhaps places you’d love to see, but not on your own. Joining a workshop once you get there (the instructor can offer recommendations) becomes a blessing, especially for solo travelers who enjoy the safety and company of fellow enthusiasts.
Before deciding on your vacation, catalog the types of photos you want to shoot: landscape, nature, wildlife, street scenes, architecture, local landmarks, or people. Time your adventure carefully to capture special events — like cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., or Japan, or Fourth of July fireworks.
Consider weather conditions too. Places like Alaska or Yellowstone bring entirely different views from summer to winter. Birding enthusiast Carol Skipper signed up for a winter workshop to study with wildlife expert and photographer Jared Lloyd in Yellowstone National Park.
“For this Florida girl, minus 20-degree temps were not my cup of tea,” says Skipper, who was nudged out of her comfort zone. “But bison, coyotes, pronghorns, elk, white long-tailed weasel in the snow… it was magical. Jared taught me so much, and Yellowstone remains my all-time favorite workshop.”
If you are considering multi-day, on-location training, be sure to thoroughly research options. Study the instructors’ websites to see their work and investigate their credentials. Do they specialize in a particular style or technique? Top pros will be well established with long records of success.
Bryan Peterson, a professional photographer and author of 10 books on photography spends his days offering workshops around the world. His focus depends on the location, such as street photography in Miami, tulip fields in the Netherlands, and people and colors in India. Bryan is known for encouraging creativity and moving his students beyond the iconic shot to creating something unique to show their friends.
“When looking for a great workshop experience, ask three important questions,” advises Peterson. “First, will the workshop cover camera basics, such as exposure fundamentals and compositional principles? Many workshops present a ‘tour’ of a given location, with hardly a hint of photographic instruction.”
Peterson says other questions should include the number of years the instructor’s been offering workshops. Has he or she won significant awards, garnered a large following on social media, or been published?
“The more years an instructor has been in business speaks volumes about his or her success,” says Peterson.
And, finally, will the workshop teacher provide the specific instruction you’re looking for and answer your burning questions? “Speak up and ask if he or she will invest the time in meeting your needs and concerns,” Peterson advises.
Renowned flower photographer Kathleen Clemons, a master with the Lensbaby soft-focus lens, adds another critical recommendation. “Ask about the student to instructor ratio,” she says. “Be sure the workshop is not so large that you won’t get the individualized attention you need.”
During multi-day workshops, instructors like Clemons often ask students to bring laptop computers. They share their images and critique each other’s work during class time. Many instructors, such as Clemons, teach post-processing techniques; her specialty involves compositing or blending two photos.
GEAR AND COST
Participants also need to determine the type of camera gear they will need. There is no point in attending a night-sky workshop if you don’t have a tripod. A wildlife-focused class typically requires a long or telephoto lens — and patience. Don’t consider a birding workshop if you can’t sit still.
Your level of experience remains yet another vital factor when choosing a course. Do the workshop and instructor cater to beginners or more advanced students? Beginners tend to feel uncomfortable when surrounded by more advanced participants. Those refining their craft don’t want to be slowed by novices.
Photo workshops can be very pricey. Expect to pay a few hundred or even a thousand dollars a day. Some workshops include lodging and meals; others do not. Verify all the details, as well as the cancellation and refund policies.
A REAL-LIFE PHOTO WORKSHOP EXPERIENCE
I attended Bryan Peterson’s workshop presented on Kodiak Island, Alaska. My goal was to capture shots of Kodiak bears feasting on salmon. The first day brought only one bear sighting, but, what a thrilling moment.
The next morning, my small group donned thigh-high waders and flew, via floatplane, to Geographic Harbor in Katmai National Park. I was in for a total immersion into the bear’s world. Our private bear guide, Scott Stone, instructed us on the animal’s behavior. We received orders to stay together, no loud talking, no arm waving, and no running.
We waded ashore and followed Stone. He knew every bear and its habits. My heart was racing and I could barely (pun intended) contain my joy at this once-in-a-lifetime encounter. We sat mesmerized, the only sound the click of shutters, as a mama bear and her three cubs slowly paraded down the banks and into the river. The scene equaled a National Geographic documentary. I couldn’t take my eyes off those mischievous cubs. Sure, the brown bears noticed our small group, but they didn’t seem to care. Stone talked calmly to them, and they continued to fish and feast.
Throughout the day, Stone led us to prime viewing spots where I captured incredible images of bears forcefully pouncing on fish and tearing them apart. I witnessed tender scenes of motherly care, childlike sibling rivalry, and napping bears basking in the wonder of wildlife living free. The experience is only possible during late July-early September when the animals follow their instincts as the fish run.
It’s a day I’ll never forget and one that would not have happened without Peterson and Stone. I heartily recommend looking into photo workshops if you want to improve the caliber of your photography and head off the beaten track.
Warning— photo workshops can be addictive. Once you experience the benefits and fun, holding back becomes tough.
Local Photo Workshops
If out-of-town workshops don’t fit your budget, ask friends and avid photographers for tips and hints on finding the best photography programs in your area.
Community colleges or local photography clubs can be amazing learning experiences. With travel limited over the past year, many workshop leaders are offering online classes that help improve photography and photo processing skills.
In the Memphis area, professional photographer Blair Ball offers a variety of workshops, including his popular Memphis Street Photography Workshop which will be offered again on April 24. Memphis Photo Space offers one-on-one instruction for beginning photographers. Both Northeast Mississippi Community College and Southwest Tennessee Community College offers online photography courses.