Story & photos by Ann Collins
Photography workshops and conferences inspire, motivate, and educate. They can also rev up your creative engine. Whether you’ve flown to the event or driven an hour from home to get there, keep your creativity flowing by staying longer, immersing yourself in nature and photography.
Of course, if you’re traveling to a dangerous, politically unstable country or a location where guides are essential, such as Africa for the wildlife, staying longer might not be possible. For most places though, take advantage of already being there by staying a few extra days. Practice the new techniques you learned during the workshop or conference classes. Enjoy the freedom to make your own schedule. If you didn’t get the weather conditions you hoped for during the workshop, you’ll be giving yourself another chance afterwards. If you’re in the field and need to wait longer for the light to improve, you can! No one is waiting for you. Eat out of a cooler instead of stopping for a restaurant meal. Having a flexible schedule might tempt you to sleep in, but don’t do it. Maximize this extra time you’ve given yourself.
I like to attend a workshop when I want to photograph a location I’ve never visited before. It helps me become familiar with the area so I’m more comfortable there on my own afterwards. Learning where to go is key. You can revisit scenic spots the group went to and/or venture further afield. Before leaving home, check online or at bookstores for photo guidebooks to the area. Look at websites of state and national parks. During the workshop or conference, ask instructors and attendees for recommendations.
One attendee helped me enormously last October. When NANPA offered a regional event in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I signed up. I wanted to see and photograph fall color, which I don’t get to experience in San Diego. I had never been to the Great Lakes. Tom Haxby, NANPA’s then president and a Michigan resident, attended the workshop, too. He kindly gave me detailed notes of where I should go in the UP.
On your own, you will likely cross paths with other photographers. Ask them for recommendations, including lodging suggestions, and share your knowledge with them. You might even arrange to meet up with them again. Even if you don’t arrange it, chances are pretty good that you’ll run into them somewhere, sometime.
At Moccasin Lake, during the setting of the full moon at dawn, I photographed next to two men I’d never met, each of us bundled up against the cold and basically unrecognizable. Five months later at a conference in Yosemite, I happened to sit next to an attendee who turned out to be one of those men.
You probably have your own examples of running into other photographers after a photo event. Here’s one more that happened to me.
After NANPA’s 2019 Nature Photography Summit in Las Vegas, I drove to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. I had never been there and arrived around sunset, too late to stop at the visitor center for a map and information. (Note to self: Just in case you don’t arrive as early as you expected, research the park in advance and print out a map from the park’s website.) While standing at the self-pay stand in the smaller campground, I overheard two men talking photography beside their campers in the first two sites. I didn’t know them, and I asked if they’d been to Summit. They had, one of them to cheer on the other, who had received NANPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Oh! I suddenly realized I was standing next to the legendary John Shaw. His photo buddy was Jack Dykinga, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Not only did they suggest where I should shoot the next morning, they let me join them, which was a special treat and a lot of fun. Eventually, I made it to the visitor center and picked up a map.
Visitor centers in parks and towns are a great aid to photographers, but during a workshop already packed with field sessions, critiques, lectures, and meals, there’s no time to be a tourist. Afterwards, when you do have time, watch the center’s introductory video about the area and peruse the books, postcards, and posters for ideas of scenic spots or wildlife to photograph. Local galleries can also offer ideas and inspiration. Make a shot list for yourself, if you haven’t already. Include locations to shoot and techniques to try. My list might include “long-exposure water shots,” “motion-blur tree shots,” “frost on leaves,” “panoramas,” and “reflection shots on water.” A list can also help you make goals for your trip and keep you on track.
Your main goals, though, are to maximize your photography time, build on what you learned at the workshop or conference, and let your creativity flow. So stay a little longer. You’ll return home energized by nature and photography, eager to process the great images you shot.
Ann Collins is a nature and landscape photographer from San Diego, California. She enjoys the group learning experience that workshops and conferences offer and loves traveling on her own, setting her own schedule. Switching from film to digital in late 2006, she has welcomed the technological opportunities to make stitched panoramas, blended high-dynamic range images, and focus-stacked photos. Her work has been published in the Sierra Club calendars, Arizona Highways, Highlights for Children, and other magazines. Her coffee table book, La Jolla: Jewel by the Sea, was released from Sunbelt Publications in 2018. See more of her work on her website, www.ImagesByAnnCollins.com.