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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Workshop Diary

A global photographer gives us a feel for the agenda and flow of a high-end workshop when he treks to China with Art Wolfe

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Sunset on Huangshan. Few places on Earth are more beautiful than China's Huangshan (Yellow Mountain).

The opportunity to study with a master photographer in the field, to see what he or she is seeing, and to travel with someone with a knowledge of the best locations and the ideal times to photograph them, are all great reasons for taking an "on-the-road" photography workshop. There's also the camaraderie—photographers live in an isolated bubble, and sharing the road with fellow lensmen and lenswomen can be a very enjoyable experience.

As part of the hundreds of interviews I've conducted with the who's who of photography, I've had the opportunity to discuss what key components make up a successful photography workshop. When it comes to outdoor photography, four of its most popular practitioners immediately come to mind: Frans Lanting, the late Galen Rowell, Jim Brandenburg and Art Wolfe.

The November 2009 issue of Outdoor Photographer featured my experience in Lanting's workshop in Santa Cruz, Calif. In 2011, I headed to China to join Art Wolfe, his assistant photography instructor Jay Goodrich and 14 students on a two-week workshop to experience firsthand Wolfe's approach to creating a high-end international workshop.

The rice terraces of Yuanyang near China's border with Vietnam have the perfect "terroir" to produce some of the best rice in the country.
Day By Day
The group rendezvouses in Shanghai, where we meet Mr. Lu, our guide for the entire trip. Additionally, a local guide will join us at each location. Expert planning is essential for a successful workshop. From his years of experience, Wolfe has compiled a comprehensive list of locations and the best time of year to photograph them. With all of the logistics taken care of, our group could focus on creating strong images.

Anyone who has ever watched Wolfe's award-winning TV series, Travels to The Edge, knows the Seattle-based photographer likes to rise and shine on shoot days long before the sun does. We signed up to experience what it's like to be a professional outdoor photographer, and the occasional four and five o'clock wake-up calls come with the territory.

Like any other city, Shanghai comes to life with the rising sun. The beautiful morning light is something that Wolfe isn't going to let us miss. We head to a park where the denizens are practicing tai chi. Wolfe gives us a quick pep talk on how to capture the scene without interfering and how to use shallow depth of field to eliminate distracting backgrounds. In the midst of the futuristic architecture and cityscapes of China's most modern city, it's great to have the opportunity to photograph an authentic tradition from the country's ancient past.

In the late afternoon, we board an overnight train to Tunxi, the jumping-off point for Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), the mountain range that has been reproduced in Chinese paintings since antiquity and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. We use the time on the train to get to know our workshop companions—a couple from Australia, a gentleman from Canada, the rest of us from the U.S. Most have been on previous Art Wolfe workshops to destinations including Vietnam, Japan, India and the Antarctic. While for the most part the participants aren't professionals, they're serious about the photographs they create and the Canons and Nikons they attach to their Really Right Stuff and Kirk ballheads atop carbon-fiber tripods. Anyone not up on the latest gear will be by the end of a travel workshop like this.

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