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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

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A cormorant fisherman near Yangshuo. The fishermen are favorite subjects for photographers. A workshop guide can help you to be in the right place at the right time, as well as help you work with the people you're photographing.
The next morning, on the bus to the aerial tram that will take us up Huangshan, Wolfe explains that he wants to keep the schedule on the mountain flexible to take advantage of changing weather conditions. Wolfe has been here to witness Buddha's Light (foguang), when the clouds create a sea around the mountain's rocky crags. Unlike most mountains where the great view is looking up, Huangshan is best appreciated looking down.

We spend the day seeking out interesting rock formations and rendezvous at a location Wolfe has selected in plenty of time to catch a dramatic sunset. He gives us a lecture on how to find natural frames such as tree branches to give depth to our two-dimensional medium.

When the sun dips behind the granite outcroppings, we head to the Xi Hai Hotel, an incredible engineering feat, given that all the building material had to be brought up by aerial tram with lots and lots of manpower. Throughout the trip, we're put up in three- and four-star hotels, even in remote locations where rooms are relatively sparse. Wolfe makes us work hard during the day, but makes sure we have the best possible rest each night.

The wake-up call comes when it's still dark for those who opt for a sunrise shot. Then it's back to the hotel for breakfast and a five-mile hike up and down thousands of steps to capture more of the dramatic landscapes Huangshan has to offer. Rather than having us backtrack, Wolfe has arranged for us to take an aerial tram down the other side of the mountain.

Dinner that night is scheduled at our hotel, the Ramada Huangshan Hotel, but word has gotten out that "the famous photographer Art Wolfe" is in town and our group is invited to a banquet hosted by local government officials. This is the kind of access that a workshop with a top photographer can provide. It doesn't hurt that Travels to The Edge is airing this particular night in China. The dinner includes numerous toasts with a local brew that was something between rubbing alcohol and moonshine. For most of us, the next morning's four-hour bus ride to Hangzhou Airport to catch a flight to Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province, is best spent sleeping.

Kunming is China's gateway to Southeast Asia, and after a relaxing evening and a good night's sleep we head to Yuanyang, a mountainous region near the Chinese border with Vietnam. The main residents here are from the Hani, Yi and Miao Chinese tribes, and their rice terraces in the surrounding hills are renowned for their beauty.

It's great to settle in at the Yunti Hotel in the town of Xinjie, our home for the next three nights. It's our first real opportunity to edit images, have a formal PowerPoint presentation by Wolfe and attend to the basic realities of adventure travel—the laundry. (Even here, we were given some valuable tips, with a pretrip packing list stressing the need for quick-dry fabric clothing.)

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