Attending a top photographic workshop is more than a mere vacation, it's an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new location and learn skills that will pay off again and again. Photo workshops go beyond basics like how to use your histogram, getting the right exposure or the benefits of shooting on a tripod. A workshop is a way to hone your skills through hands-on learning in some of the best locations in the world for nature photography.
Rick Vanselow is the general manager of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, a company that organizes photo safaris to some of the most exotic areas of the world. He describes what they do as photo tours with a professional photographer on call as a resource for the participants.
c“We offer a variety of types of tours. We have what we call our standard photo safaris, which go to places like China and Japan, and in winter to places like Glacier National Park, as well as other U.S. destinations. We also offer photo cruises. For the cruises, we sometimes go to some more remote and wild locations—Antarctica or Spitsbergen in Arctic Norway—and we also have one in the Galápagos Islands on a smaller scale.
c“They're really more photo tours, and the participants have the resource of a professional photographer who, in most cases, has been to the area and really knows it. The pro with the group is up on wildlife and the natural history of an area as well and can answer a lot of questions regarding species and behavior and things like that.”
The professional photographers who work with Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris help the photographers on the tour to take better photographs, as well as help them to be better in tune with the place and the animals they're photographing.
A company with a slightly different approach is Palm Beach Photographic Centre. Says Executive Director Fatima NeJame, “We're out shooting all day long every day from sunrise to sunset, and we don't just stay in one city. If we're in India, we go to five or six different cities altogether. So we're out traveling all day long during the day, taking pictures; and in the evening, we sit down and talk about photography and look at images. But even when we're in our bus driving around, if we have a long drive or something like that, we're also always talking about photography. We touch on anything the students want to know, whether it's composition or exposure or better ways of shooting.”
Jacque Boehm Steedle is founder and president of Strabo Photo Tour Collection, a company that leads workshops mainly to international locations such as Tuscany and Ireland, as well as the African Sahara. Strabo's workshops have a maximum of 12 participants, and the trips run from 10 days to two weeks.
Steedle describes how the group dynamic and learning level is dictated by the participants: “Some groups want a lot of instruction, some don't want that much, so we'll do as much or as little as we get requests for as far as instruction or lectures in the evening. During the daytime, participants are pretty much just out shooting, and the photography leader is out there to help them if they need help, and then during the evening, the instructor instructs and talks about different topics.”
Lindblad Expeditions offers what they call Expeditions, or exotic photo trips, each with 60 to 150 participants sailing away on one of their seven ships to places like the Arctic, Antarctica, Baja or the west coast of South America. The trips aren't seen as workshops, but more of ample opportunities to photograph various wildlife and landscapes while being accompanied by National Geographic's finest photographers.
Ralph Lee Hopkins, the director of photo expeditions and a National Geographic photographer, says, “We try to get people beyond the technical and start out with the basics to get everyone up to speed, but then it's about learning about your subject. When teaching them to photograph wildlife, photographing dolphins is different than photographing flying birds. We try to compartmentalize the teaching to the different situations, and the beautiful thing about doing these on ships is that, every day, we're waking up in a different place, maybe with different subjects and different challenges.”
Nature's Image Photography Workshops focus workshops in the eastern part of the United States in places like West Virginia, Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and several other states.
Linda Lane, founder of Nature’s Image, and her husband Bill Lane take their students to photograph wildlife, landscapes and outdoor-inspired locales. Lane says, “Our major thrust is exposure, teaching people how to really understand and read light and to know what the best type of light is for different photographic situations. People use D-SLRs, and they come out with great pictures, but they don’t know how they got them—they just put it on automatic. But we don’t let anyone work in automatic while they’re with us. They have to work in manual during the weekend, and we work with them one on one. We’re with them from the minute we get up until the minute we all go to bed.”
Rocky Mountain School of Photography likens what they do to workshops and photo trips with an outdoor flair. From the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to coastal California, Rocky Mountain instructors teach a hands-on approach to help their students maximize their photographic output.
Instructor Tony Rizzuto at RMSP says, “We’re out there in the field standing alongside participants, helping them work through technical and compositional problems, and they can expect to have at least one shoot, sometimes two in one day.”
Another instructor from RMSP, Tim Cooper, adds, “People come not knowing quite what to expect, and they leave with much more than what they expected. I often find that it’s in the form of rejuvenation or inspiration, or just a new way to look at the world. So they come wanting to learn photography and come to a place to be guided to the best spots.”
The Nature Workshops also cater to the nature photographer and lover, and offer workshops from North America to Africa for 25 to 30 participants per group. During the various workshops, emphasis is equal parts classroom time and shooting in the field to get students up to speed with their cameras and teach them what they need to get a good shot.
Roger Devore, cofounder of and instructor at The Nature Workshops, says, “We like to start with the classroom because that’s the best time to do it. We sort of assume you know nothing and start really basic with shutter speeds and ƒ-stops, and build up from there. We talk about digital camera settings and discuss histograms, just so everybody kind of starts out at the same level.”
Santa Fe Photographic Workshops have been around for a long time, bringing in some of the biggest pros to teach enthusiasts photography. Darcy Schwerin of Santa Fe says that students go to workshops for more than just learning. “People are coming here to learn photography, but they’re also coming here to be a part of a photographic community—to get to know their instructors and their fellow participants,” she says. “Most of our students stay connected after they leave here, so it’s a community experience as much as it is a technical learning experience.”
Arizona Highways Photo Workshops aren’t just limited to what the name would make people presume. They offer workshops in places from Denali National Park to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.
Robyn Noll, executive director of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, says that participants, “can raft the Grand Canyon, explore the slot canyons, learn Photoshop in Sedona, swim and photograph the turquoise-colored pools and waterfalls of Havasupai, enjoy fall color-filled canyons near the Chiricahua Mountains and so much more. We always offer some of the more obvious workshop destinations like Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, but also try to offer specialty workshops like “Horses & Cowboys,” which is a portrait-oriented workshop at a respected Arizona dude ranch.”
Whether you’re looking for a full-fledged workshop with evening classes and all-day shooting instruction or a photo tour where you can be more on your own, there’s a company that’s just right for you. You can find a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a remote place like the Galapagos Islands or stay closer to home and enjoy some of the diversity of North America’s landscapes. Either way, you’re guaranteed to come home with some of the best pictures of your life and new skills you’ll have forever.
Alaska Homestead Lodge
Arizona Highways Photo Workshops
Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures
Barry Barker/Wild Spots Foundation
Charles Needle Photography
Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris
Cole/Marr Photo Workshops
Cory Nature Photography
Dreams and Memories
F-11 Photographic Supplies
Federico Veronesi Photography
First Light Photography
Four Seasons Photo Tours
Gary Hart Photography
Gina Genis Photo Workshops
Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
Hank Erdmann Photography
James Hager Photography
Jim Cline Photography
Joe and Mary Ann McDonald’s Wildlife Photography
|Jon Sheppard Photography
Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris
Moab Photo Tours, LLC
Mountain Light Photography
Nature Photo Tours
Not Your Normal Photo School
Palm Beach Photographic Centre
Panasonic Digital Photo Academy
Photography by Ewen Bell
Rocky Mountain Outdoor
Writers and Photographers
Rocky Mountain School
Santa Fe Photographic Workshops
Strabo Photo Tour Collection
Sundance Photographic Workshop
The Great American
The Nature Workshops
Tim Cady Photography
Tours for Photographers
Weehawken Creative Arts