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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inside A High-End Workshop


In April 2009, we sent a photographer to Frans Lanting’s workshop to give OP readers a sense of what a multiday workshop with a top pro is like. There’s much more than just learning how to use your camera.

Labels: How-Toworkshops

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Four Mile Beach, Santa Cruz, California


UCSC Arboretum
"I’m going to teach you how you can tell stories with pictures, and that’s quite different from taking pictures just by looking at the surface of things.” That goal-setting statement opens a five-day workshop led by Frans Lanting, one of the greatest living photographers of the natural world. For more than two decades, he has documented wildlife and examined our relationship with nature in environments from the Amazon to Antarctica. On the opening night of the advanced workshop I’ve joined, we go over the course outline and look at each other’s work by projecting five representative images embellished by our oral introductions. The quality and diversity of the photographs are surprising and inspiring. The common thread of my 14 classmates—doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and journalists—is a love of photography and nature, and a high bar for personal growth.

We’re introduced to Lanting’s wife, Christine Eckstrom, a former staff writer at National Geographic who collaborates with him on fieldwork and publishing projects; gallery manager Jessica Staley; two assistants, Jason Bradley and Paul Zaretsky, both professional photographers; and digital asset manager Yann Nicolas. “Our three musketeers [Bradley, Zaretsky and Nicolas] provide a safety net for the workshop participants if they run into technical issues. I’m here to give them wings to fly,” says Lanting.

Before we call it a night, we’re handed the tidal, solar and lunar schedules so we can better understand why our alarm clocks need to be set for such early wake-up times over the next four days.


Nisene Marks State Park
Thursday
It’s 5:30 a.m., and the studio begins to fill with my photo mates now dressed in appropriate garb and toting some pretty impressive tools of the trade.

A 30-degree drop in temperature has given Lanting an opportunity to teach an important lesson to the students without having to leave the studio. This morning’s drizzly, heavy overcast is better suited for the redwoods of Nisene Marks State Park rather than the planned morning field trip to the UCSC Arboretum. So much of what makes professional photographers “professional” is their ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, and on day one, we’re getting a great lesson—flexibility.

“Don’t struggle against the conditions,” says Lanting. Like Darwin’s finches, photographers have to be able to adapt.

By 6:15 a.m., the students, Lanting and the support staff depart the studio in car pools. Lanting demonstrates some creative techniques, such as doing a camera tilt down the redwoods during the exposure, then holding the last moments of the exposure on a fixed position. He then adds a hiker and an off-camera flash into the equation. I break off with another group led by Jason Bradley to do plant details with 60mm and 105mm Nikkor macros, a reflector and the occasional addition of an off-camera flash. Another group led by Paul Zaretsky heads to the river to work with water motion. Around 9 a.m., we head back to the studio to process our RAW images, followed by a basic edit.

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