Don Smith has been a longtime landscape-based workshop leader having led successful workshops both in the United States and around the globe for the past 13 years. He got his start as a photographer in the newspaper business over 40 years ago as a part-time staff photographer for local California Central Coast newspapers. From there, Smith entered the world of sports stock photography working for Allsport Photo Agency, which later morphed into the present-day Getty Images Stock Agency.
“I learned my craft shooing everything from local youth sports games to local landscapes—which were everywhere to be found living in the beautiful Monterey Bay Area,” says Smith. “I was never at a loss for subject matter.”
Smith spent a large portion of his career working as a sports photographer. Two of his major clients were Sports Illustrated and the San Jose Sharks where he spent 28 years as co-team photographer. “Even though I made an early living shooting primarily sports, I always stayed connected to the landscape portion of photography by self-assigning myself locations to shoot.”
This passion for landscape photography eventually led to leading workshops. “I started my first workshop as an assistant to Gary Hart. He showed me the ropes and I was off and running. Inside of two years, I was leading my own workshops and have never stopped.”
Within the past two years, Don has added five new international locations to his list of yearly domestic workshop offerings. “It was my goal to begin offering workshops in areas of the globe that were not only on my bucket list but also on the bucket list of other passionate photographers.”
With that goal in mind, Don has added: Winter in New Zealand South Island – June 11-20, 2019 (co-taught with Gary Hart), African Safari and Victoria Falls – August 22-31, 2019 (co-taught with Pierre Steenberg and Henning de Beer), Fall in the Scottish Highlands – October 21-31, 2019 (co-taught with former 26-year Sports Illustrated staff photographer Ron Modra), Iceland Winter and Northern Lights – January 22-31, 2020 (co-taught with Gary Hart), and Patagonia – March 23-31, 2019 (co-taught with Ron Modra).
“I am always thinking of new workshops,” says Smith. “It helps to keep things fresh for our clients and it keeps me energized.”
What separates Smith’s workshops from the other larger competitors is that he teaches (along with a second instructor) every workshop he offers. “I believe it is important that if someone signs up for one of my workshops, they know I will be there and not a substitute instructor. I feel that is very important and is the reason I run my own workshops.”
Smith went on to say he likes to run his workshops with an emphasis placed on solid locations. Therefore, he personally scouts every workshop at the time of year he plans to offer it. He believes that there is no substitute for firsthand knowledge of an area.
Don’s workshops offer a variety of ways to enrich a student’s learning. “It first begins with the location shoots,” Smith says. “I am always with the group and I discuss what are the key photographic possibilities prior to photographing any given location. I’m then nearby during the shoot, along with my other instructor to offer advice ranging from technical to formulating a successful composition.
“I feel it is important to give my students room to concentrate and get into their own creative flow path. I believe that part of being a good instructor is knowing when to step in and knowing when to let the student alone and create. It’s a delicate balance, but I’ve learned over the years how to manage that balance.”
During the day, Smith offers classes ranging from constructive Image Review sessions to Workflow. “We are not just button-pushers,” Smith said. “Today’s photographer needs to be adept at not only reading light and composing but also bringing our own personal crafting to the image via good processing skills. To that end, I try as best I can to stay up with the current software on the market.
“I believe that Artificial Intelligence will play a huge role in processing moving forward. It’s already appearing in Luminar and some of the other third-party software. The cool thing is that it is always evolving and is becoming easier for the end-user. Photoshop and Lightroom are not always needed anymore—there are easier options though I do personally use both.
“People lead very busy lives and really don’t have time to learn the intricacies of large software such as Photoshop. They need an easier way to go from RAW file to finished image and that is what AI allows them to do.”
Don is a Sony Artisan of Imagery Pro and a Pro Ambassador for the Singh-Ray Filter Company. To see more of Don’s work and to check-out his workshops, please go to www.donsmithphotography.com.