Improve your photography in the classroom and in the field
By Ibarionex R. Perello
For example, photographers may have a sense of what depth of field is when they see it. Yet, they can learn how aperture, camera-to-subject distance and focal length impact depth of field and provide greater control. They can then apply this knowledge to their photography. Although such workshops may not offer much actual shooting time, the wealth of new information can take your photography to new levels.
Fieldwork Some programs offer a combination of classroom time and fieldwork. Often held at a specific location, you may spend dawn and dusk taking photographs and then middays attending lectures.
Such programs can emphasize a particular aspect or field of photography: landscape, wildlife, close-up or sports. What excites participants the most during these programs is their ability to immediately put into practice what they've learned. Under the guidance of a seasoned photographer, you put your new methods to the test. A morning spent learning fill-flash techniques for macro photography can lead to a couple of hours spent applying these tools in the field in proximity to the lecture space.
shot, they can come to learn things that will impact their photography long after the workshop has ended. Depending on the program, you may have several hours of shooting in the immediate area where the workshop is based. Though this may not allow for extended time at a location, the opportunity to try newly learned techniques can help solidify and reinforce new skills. "Ask yourself what you hope to learn before heading out," says John Herbst, a workshop leader based in the Midwest. He explains that while photographers often hope to come home with at least one "trophy" "Everyone wants to go to the exotic area, but when you learn things like evaluating light, you're able to discover remarkable things around you, back home."
The number of participants in field workshops varies. While you can expect more one-on-one time in a small group, larger groups have their advantages. "There can be such a variance in skill level," says Don Gale, a photographer who leads landscape workshops throughout the West's most spectacular locations. "Yet, I often find that there's a synergistic effect that happens. Those with more experience are very happy to share their knowledge with a novice. In some ways, a workshop can be most beneficial for a novice because of that."
Ready to plan your next workshop destination? Click here for a list of experienced workshop providers and tour operators.
Extended Programs Some workshops put less emphasis on lecture and more on being in the field. From sunrise to sunset, the majority of your time can be spent photographing and moving from one picturesque location to another. A small group of photographers is led by the instructor and possibly some assistants. Although open to all experience levels, intermediate to advanced photographers prefer these programs, as they ensure that shooters will be arriving at a location with a greater chance of getting quality images." I take my students to locations where I have already been, locations that are so special that you just have to go back," says Rick Hobbs, who leads workshops on wildlife photography. An instructor's familiarity with a location allows him or her to provide essential information beyond camera settings. The background research has been done already, leaving the student more time and energy devoted to shooting. "Some of the locations are pretty remote, so it pays to have someone who knows the area and the subject."
Some of these programs, which can last from a weekend to an entire week, can be very demanding, as participants will often arrive at a location well before the sun has risen to take advantage of the morning light. After a noon break for a meal or discussion, it's off to shoot again during the late afternoon and early evening. This can be an exciting time because you rarely have the opportunity to dedicate such time to your craft.
It's important to make sure that you have more than enough film, battery power and memory cards. Since you may be in a location that doesn't offer a convenient power outlet for recharging your camera battery or laptop, it's better to overestimate your needs so you don't end up missing a timely shot.
You also should determine what physical demands are required. If you require special assistance or medication, discuss this with the instructor well before you arrive at your destination. "Be realistic about what you can do," says Joe Englander, an instructor who leads workshops and tours in the U.S. and abroad. He provides students with an itinerary before the trip so they can be aware of what to expect."Some locations may require you to be out all day, so in my itinerary, I break down what they may need, like clothing, shoes and sunscreen," says Englander.
Tours Available in practically any location worldwide, photo tours promise to combine a great vacation with the best photo opportunities. Rather than being relegated to typical tourist stops, you have the chance to photograph some of the more interesting and photogenic locations available.
Many tours are all-inclusive, so lodging, food and translation are handled for you, giving you the leisure of focusing more on photography than the details of moving about a foreign country.
Digital And Film As digital cameras become more affordable, an increasing number of photographers are using the new technology for image-making. Workshops held at a dedicated site may offer workstations to download and edit images, while programs spent predominantly in the field may require that you bring your own laptop. While workshops may be dedicated to learning image editing with programs such as Photoshop, most can accommodate both film and digital shooters. While digital creates new technical issues to consider, it's simply another tool toward creating a strong and successful image. "It's still about the photography," says Hobbs. "As a teacher, it's about sharing my creativity and creating photographic opportunities for my students."
Workshop Gear... To make the most of your photo excursion By Ibarionex R. Perello
You signed up for a workshop and you're just itching to get out, learn and create beautiful photographs. You're eager to be surrounded by others who share a passion for photography and to be inspired by stunning and exceptional images. Before you step out of the house, make sure you have everything you need to make the most of your adventure.
Basics The most important items you can take with you are likely the least expensive part of your inventory: a pen and a small notebook. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised by how many people arrive ready to absorb a wealth of knowledge, but have nothing with which to jot it down. We recommend that you bring a notebook that's small enough to fit in your camera bag. Having such notes available is helpful when you return to photographing back home.
Cameras And Lenses You certainly can take every piece of photo gear you own, but that may not be necessary. Most instructors provide an itinerary and a list of recommendations for their programs, which you should consider. Make sure to clean and thoroughly test your equipment before you pack. This is especially important if you've just made a new purchase. A problem camera or lens can prove disastrous. "Include a lens shade with all your lenses," says photographer Don Gale. He sees many photographers with high-quality and expensive lenses without this accessory, and it's too easy for flare to adversely impact color and contrast."It will help prevent any stray light from ruining your images."
Take along more than one camera bag. Include a compact bag that will accommodate a smaller selection of gear. Although you may arrive with your entire inventory, on some days you may choose to venture out with only a single camera body and lens. A smaller bag will eliminate the need to carry a heavy pack with gear that you have no intention of using.
Bring more batteries, film and memory cards than you expect to you use on a trip; it's always best to overestimate. Having to find and purchase such items once you've arrived at your destination can be problematic or expensive, or both.
Clothing Proper clothing is a must. You won't be thinking of taking great images if you're freezing from cold or sweating from heat. Clothing appropriate to the climate and terrain is required in order to make your time in the field both safe and comfortable. Again, your workshop leader can recommend types of clothing that you should bring along. "You should dress in layers," says Rick Hobbs, who explains that photographers should anticipate changes in temperature and climate during the course of a shooting day. While it may be cool in the mornings, it will become warmer, especially after the photographer exerts himself. "For those cold mornings, having several chemical heat packs in your coat pockets is good for keeping your hands warm."
Regardless of where or when you're traveling, comfortable foot gear is essential. Invest in a good pair of hiking shoes."There's nothing that will ruin a trip faster than bad choice in shoes," says John Herbst. "If your feet are uncomfortable, you're dead in the water."
A variety of shoes are made of natural and synthetic materials that promote comfort, breathability and water resistance. As you'll be spending a lot of time on your feet carrying pounds of camera gear, keeping your dogs happy is of the utmost importance.
When it comes to socks, invest in wool or synthetic socks. Cotton socks should be avoided since they absorb moisture and put you at great risk of chafing and irritation. Wool and synthetic socks wick moisture away from your feet and ensure comfort.
Herbst also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Whether it's summer or winter, continued exposure to the sun can be harmful. A wide-brimmed hat helps protect your eyes and skin from harmful UV radiation.
Small Items Small items to stow in your camera bag include sunscreen, nutrition bars, a compact field knife and a small first-aid kit. If you require special medication, make sure to include it in your camera bag. Pills can be safely and conveniently stored in film canisters.
Taking the time to care for all of your needs will allow you to make the most of your workshop experience.
The Wild Life Heather Angel got her start as a biologist photographing whales and has become one of the leading nature photographers of the past quarter-century, communicating her enthusiasm for the natural world through her writing, workshops and lectures More »