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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Preparing For A Photo Workshop


A workshop is an excellent way to improve your photography. When you’re well prepared, you’ll get the most out of the experience.

Labels: How-Toworkshops

Workshops are a great way to explore idyllic locations while you learn the craft of photography with your peers. Prepare ahead of time and bring proper gear, and the experience will be all the more enjoyable. Sunrise over Mt. Whitney and Lone Pine Peak, the Alabama Hills, California.

I’m a professional photographer with over 30 years of experience. I also teach workshops in several of California’s most scenic places. When I teach my workshops, I find that there are some participants who come more prepared than others. They have the right gear, they have familiarized themselves with the general area, and they have the right attitude. Consistently, these participants come away from the workshops having learned more and made greater improvements, and overall they have a better experience. To help you have the best workshop experience, I’ve put together some suggestions on how to prepare. You don’t have to embark on a rigorous photography and physical training regimen. These are a few simple things everyone can do now to ensure their photo workshop provides maximum benefit and enjoyment later.


Gary Hart’s workshop group overlooks the conditions at Yosemite’s Tunnel View.
Brush Up On The Basics
When it comes to getting the most from a photo workshop, beginners are at no particular disadvantage (actually, I’ve found that beginners often arrive the most prepared). Workshop leaders enjoy teaching, so unless yours specifically recommends a minimum skill level, you can assume that your enthusiasm for photography is the only prerequisite. But you can still benefit from refreshing your photography skills and knowledge of your camera’s controls. Simply learning how to adjust your camera’s shutter, aperture and ISO, familiarizing yourself with the rudiments of metering, and knowing your way around your camera’s menu system will enable you to concentrate on your leader’s teaching and photographing the landscape you invested so much time and money to visit.

Workshops are a great opportunity to learn, but sometimes learning in the field can mean missed shots. Your leader will be happy to assist you, but it’s impossible to be everywhere at once. In one recent workshop, our group was blessed with an unforgettable sunset where the color and light changed almost as fast as we could adjust our composition and exposure. Unfortunately, while I was working with someone else, one woman missed the entire show because her camera had gotten into the wrong mode and she couldn’t figure out how to change it. In hindsight, she acknowledged that a few minutes practicing with her camera would have made all the difference in the world.

What To Bring
Before your workshop, you’ll probably receive instructions with required and recommended equipment and clothing—if you don’t, ask. Of foremost concern is your safety and comfort in the field. Shooting before sunrise and after dark can be chilly, and the best photography often happens during the worst weather. Make sure you know the average conditions for your destination in the season you’ll be visiting, as well as the extremes. Then check the weather right before you leave. In one winter workshop, despite instructions to the contrary, a participant arrived with nothing for his feet but cotton socks and loafers. We had a few days of snow, and while the photography was incredible, he was so miserable that he actually resorted to wrapping his feet with plastic when we went out to shoot.

I hear far more frustrations about not enough camera gear than I do about too much, so I always suggest bringing as much as your suitcase (and the airline) will accommodate. There’s no rule that says you have to carry it all in the field, but it’s comforting to know that the telephoto you just learned how to use that will be perfect for tomorrow morning’s moonrise is in your hotel room and not in the closet at home.

If you plan to bring a laptop (particularly if it’s not the computer you usually use), make sure it’s loaded with all the software you’ll need (including the latest update that allows your raw processor to recognize your brand-new camera’s raw files). Other frequently forgotten items include chargers, a card reader, an alarm clock (some cell phone clocks don’t work in remote areas where they don’t receive a cell signal), your camera manual, a flashlight, change of shoes, gloves, snacks (nobody starves in my workshops, but if the conditions are great, the photography trumps mealtime), bug spray, sunscreen and an umbrella.

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