Better Photography Is A Journey, Not A Destination

A compendium of resources to inspire and teach, and get you on the path of making better pictures

I entered this image of a pika in the BBC Photographer of the Year contest (now known as the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition), and it won second place in Animal Behavior—Mammals. It sold a number of times after being seen in the contest. Canon EOS-1v with EF 500mm ƒ/4L lens

This column is dedicated to all of you who have asked me where you can access the information you need to improve your outdoor photography. Fact is, these days you need to keep learning to improve your digital photography skills and do your research to stay current on the latest and greatest in techniques, equipment, locations and subjects. Outdoor photography is a dynamic, fast-moving field, and you can find both technical instruction and creative inspiration by keeping up with others’ work and ideas, and by putting your own work out there to be viewed and discussed by your fellow photographers.

Here’s a set of resources I’d like to share with you. It’s by no means a complete list of everything good in the field of photography, but I’ve had positive experiences with all of them. I feel that, overall, these sources are worth exploring if you’re looking for ways to take your outdoor photography, post-capture production and output to the next level.

Expand Your Reference Section
You’re already started down the right road in this department, since you’re reading Outdoor Photographer at this very moment ( Not every article in every magazine will address issues of direct concern to your work, but I guarantee you’ll find at least something that rings your bells in each issue of the following publications. These days, I’m partial to magazines I can receive and store on my iPad (including OP) rather than bulky, paper-wasting copies, so those I’ve listed below are downloadable publications (with the exception of PhotoLife). Most of these digital publications can be ordered at

Nature Photographer—A how-to magazine published three times a year, now in its 21st year.

Digital Photo
—Keying on information and techniques for all kinds of digital photography.

Digital Photo Pro—Oriented toward pro commercial photographers, but with many digital techniques important to outdoor photographers.

Photoshop User—The official publication of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals focuses on Photoshop and Lightroom. This magazine can make you crazy with its technical, nerdy, quirky ideas, but for all those reasons, I love it.

Currents—The magazine of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), with content specific to nature photographers.

PhotoLife—A Canadian photographic magazine with numerous outdoor photography articles written by excellent Canadian photographers and a clean design. The magazine isn’t available online, but they run a blog.

Photograph America Newsletter—Published by Robert Hitchman, with knowledgeable information about rich photographic locations, and how and when to photograph them. An archive of all 117 issues (22 years) is available on CD.

Learn From The Competition
One of the best ways to hone your photographic skills is to keep up with (and compete with) other photographers. You can do this on a regular basis by joining a local camera club, most of which have periodic, thematic contests and judges who provide critiques. Clubs affiliated with the Photographic Society of America ( are part of a highly structured organization of regional and national competitions using a standardized point system.

Seek out opportunities to enter, and to view the winning images, of high-quality competitions outside of the club structure, as well. NANPA has an annual contest, as do Canon, Nikon and some government agencies. OP often has themed competitions. Before entering a competition, be sure to review the usage rights you may have to grant to the sponsoring organization; some require that you essentially yield use of your entries to them forever. Those mentioned here don’t have that caveat.

There are two prestigious international competitions you should know about.

Nature’s Best
—A magazine that publishes portfolios and the results of a variety of competitions. The top winners are part of an annual exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition (formerly known as the BBC competition)— Now managed under the auspices of the British Natural History Museum, the competition is held once a year with substantial cash prizes and honors for the winners.

Strengthen Your Knowledge And Technique
Continuing education is key for those who want to excel in a technical and fast-advancing field. If you’re serious about digital photography, from capture to print, you can benefit from professional instruction in the field and/or classroom.—An online monthly/annual subscription service offering more than 1,000 courses in photography and design, including popular software such as Adobe’s Photoshop CS and Apple’s Final Cut Pro.—The instructional arm of NAPP offers online and in-person seminars, and DVDs and books on photography and Photoshop/Lightroom. Access classes by monthly or annual subscription.—Gives you access to online photography classes with well-known professional photographers who will give lessons, assignments and then personally critique your work.

You can choose the instructor who best covers the type of photography you’re interested in.

Canon Live Learning—Offers short field courses and intensive studio instruction at events scheduled around the country led by Canon experts and Explorers of Light (including me).

Canon Explorers of Light Program—Sponsors seminars for educational institutions, camera clubs and stores. Your group may qualify.

Nikon School—Gives seminars in locations around the U.S. The offerings for 2011 include Introduction to Digital SLR Photography and Next Steps: Color, Light, Technology. They even have a Nikon School of Underwater Photography.

Schools and colleges provide both formal degree programs and continuing education in photography and related software. Check out the listings for your local institutions, or enroll in one of the country’s top-rated programs such as Brooks Institute, with a nature component led by Ralph Clevenger, (, or the Rochester Institute of Technology (

Short-term workshops include field and/or classroom instruction ranging from a weekend to several weeks. Check out the course lists at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Mont. (; Santa Fe Photographic Workshops in Santa Fe, N.M. (; Palm Beach Photographic Centre in Palm Beach, Fla. (; Light Photographic Workshops in Los Osos, Calif. (; Maine Media Workshops (; Art Wolfe Photography Workshops in Seattle (; McDonald Wildlife Photography in Pennsylvania (, to name just a few. I’ve taught at a number of these schools.

Attend National Conventions
Annual gatherings of like-minded photo/outdoor/nature enthusiasts present a myriad of opportunities to view others’ work and have your own reviewed by professionals, take short courses, see vendor exhibits, participate in photo trips, network with your colleagues and even influence the direction of the field.

Photographic Society of America—This year’s convention takes place September 18-24 in beautiful Colorado Springs!

Professional Photographers of America—It’s more involved in commercial, portrait and wedding photography, but has a lot of information for outdoor-oriented photographers. The 2012 convention is scheduled for January 15-17 in New Orleans.

Photoshop World—The semiannual convention of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. Next up is September 7-9 in Las Vegas.

The North American Nature Photography Association—The Annual Summit is generally held in January or February, and the organization has a great scholarship program for high school and college students.

Photo Plus (the PDN Photo Plus International Conference and Expo)—The major product show for the industry in the U.S., with exhibits, seminars and demonstrations. This year, it’s scheduled for October 27-29 in New York.

Keep On Keepin’ On
Whether as a hobby or a profession, outdoor photography requires tenacity, growth, renewal and response to thrive. The resources listed here are just the tip of the iceberg, but they offer a variety of ways to help keep your skills and perspectives fresh. If you pay attention, you’ll never get bored in this field!

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.