The Digital Photo Guy

Inside a Field Photography Workshop

by on Jul.21, 2010, under Articles, Photo Editing, Photoshop Elements

Finding a Good Workshop


As mentioned in a previous article, one of my entries to the 2010 San Diego Fair won the Panasonic Digital Photo Academy Sponsor’s Award. The prize was a $150 gift certificate for one of their advanced classes. I used it this past weekend to attend a field workshop led by Fred Greaves, a San Diego based photojournalist who has covered many major San Diego news stories including the devastating wildfires of 2003 and 2005. Fred had just returned from Afghanistan so it was also interesting to hear how today’s wars are so different, yet so similar, to Vietnam.

Fred’s field workshop was along Sunrise Highway in the Laguna Mountains. It was probably the hottest day in many years. On the same day, 4 hikers and their dog were rescued by the Sheriffs Dept while a 2nd dog died in the 110°F heat. We met in Pine Valley, a wide spot on Old Route 80, just 2 miles from the southern terminus of Sunrise Highway, at 6:30AM but the actual workshop didn’t start until 9AM.

The photos above were made while it was still relatively cool. The first two were from a rest area I had passed dozens of times but never stopped to photograph. I liked the way the slopes overlapped each other as they receded into the distance. The third was simply an old tree trunk that reminded me of space aliens.  

The first things to consider when selecting a field workshop are the start and stop times. Having taken many field workshops, I was expecting a 6:30AM start but Fred’s photojounalism background pushed back the start. Fred is used to making good photos under whatever conditions he finds. As he said, he can’t wait for early morning light when a story is breaking in the midday sun. This meant we were shooting in the midday heat. I thought I was having a heat stroke.


These next three were with my 100/2.8 macro. Sometimes, when your brain is just too addled to make great photos, slap on the macro and look at your feet. I was really beginning to feel the heat about now so I just reverted to what I knew, macros.

Second, find out the maximum number of students in each class. This class had 5 students but was scheduled for 12. Four to six is just about perfect because each student gets a lot of attention from the instructor. I’ve seen workshops with 15 or more students and it’s a zoo. Not only are students shortchanged but the logistics can be a nightmare. If each student is driving his/her own car, we’re talking about finding parking for that many cars at each location. If we arrange car pools, there’s always hassles about someone wanting to leave early or stay behind. My classes are limited to four students for exactly these reasons.

Third, understand the instructor’s agenda. It was easy to see that Fred really enjoyed teaching photography. He was constantly checking with each student to see if he/she had any questions or needed anything. Some instructors are focused on making images for thir own portfolio or stock. That’s not a problem as long as their photography is secondary to helping students. I’ve heard horror stories of workshops where the instructor basically leaves students on their own while he pursues his  own photography.

Fourth, have clear, achievable goals for the workshop. “Take good photos” is not a clear goal. “Make good landscape photos applying telephoto stacking” is more focused and achievable. As a photography instructor, I had two goals. First I wanted to see what was available in the Laguna Mtns besides the places I already knew about and, second, I wanted to see how another instructor taught a class very similar to ones I teach. I was able to accomplish both objectives.

Fifth, have fun and never take anything too seriously. Always rememeber that an instructor’s opinions are just that, opinions. Even if the instructor is named Ansel Adams, keep in mind that photography is an intensely personal endeavor. No one can tell you the exact way you should produce your vision.

Complaining and Whining Effectively

If you’ve ever tried to complain to a real live person at a company, only to be stymied by a Stygian maze of IVR (interactive voice response), here’s a web site that will bring a smile to your face. is a site that lists names, phone numbers and contact info for over 2000 companies. The site also has cool tips like this, “Speak unintelligibly, when the computer phone tree did not understand me (I was on speakerphone) it immediately sent me to a human operator.” When my wife and I had problems with our KitchenAid appliances, it took us several days to find the names, titles and addresses of the top Whirlpool executives. With this site, you can find this info ina matter of minutes.

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