By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
A NANPA Regional Field Event is a three or four-day nature photography workshop, held in a highly photogenic location and led by experienced photographers who are intimately familiar with the area. OK, great. But what sets a Regional Event apart from a sea of other workshops? And what do I need to know to take full advantage of all the opportunities at a Regional Event? We asked the leaders and attendees of the recent Grand Teton Regional Event. They came up with eight reasons to go on a Regional Event and a few tips to prepare.
What you get with a NANPA Regional Event
First, a few basics about NANPA Regional Events. The leaders will be experienced pros who can both guide you to the best locations at the best times. They know the areas well enough to adjust quickly to surprises, so you don’t have to worry if weather or field conditions aren’t perfect. As seasoned pros, NANPA Regional Event leaders can also help you with composition, camera settings, and any other questions you have or areas in which you’re trying to improve. You’ll have a few days of concentrated photography to practice and apply what you’re learning, add to your portfolio, and enjoy the company of other passionate nature photographers.
Being part of the group, you’ll get discounted hotel rates negotiated by NANPA, and there’s typically a group meal at the end that’s included in the price. The price varies from one event to another but is usually less that you’d expect to pay for a similar experience from a photo workshop company.
Reasons to go
There are as many reasons for signing up as there are photographers. Jennifer Leigh Warner who co-led the Grand Teton event says, “Regional Events are a great way to get out into the field with other photographers who are interested in photographing the subjects you care most about. They’re a great way to network with other photographers as well as familiarize yourself with new and exciting locations.”
Krisztina Scheeff, the other Grand Teton co-leader says regional events “are a wonderful way to connect with like-minded people—photographers from all over the country … We had folks from California to the East Coast and anywhere between.” In addition to expert guides, there are “wonderful times to be had going out shooting or just hanging back at the hotel in between shoots going over photos and connecting.”
The location, Grand Teton National Park, was a big draw. B.J. Porcher and Dana Foley were attracted by the location, though Porcher also “enjoys learning from the leaders and fellow photographers.”
Ragnar Avery had Grand Teton on his bucket list and was excited to go there. He was impressed by “how fantastic the leaders were. The whole group had such a great time because of their hard work.”
It was leaders and location for Katie Verbarendse, too, who “signed up for this particular event because I have chatted with Jennifer Warner previously, and I wanted the opportunity to learn from and work with her. I also have a great love for Grand Teton National Park and have never had the opportunity to explore it in depth.”
Like most of the attendees, Kelly Van Allen had not been part of a Regional Event before but the location drew her. Once there, she found that the best things about her experience “were the people and the locations. The leaders were both wonderful and informative.”
Rob Mathewson had been to Grand Teton before and normally prefers “traveling as a ‘lone wolf’ photographer, allowing the photographic process to take precedence by giving it all the time and resources necessary to get the shots” he wanted, but he decided “to give the guided tour scenario a try,” particularly since it would be with a “group of like-minded photography peers.”
For Dieter Kreckel, “It was actually a gift from my wife. Knowing how much I like outdoor and wildlife photography, she signed me up. I had never done a formal event before. Certainly the location was a draw, but I would go almost anywhere. I have a lot to learn and wanted any chance to have an experience that would be more immersive than just going for a ride.”
Meeting or exceeding expectations
It’s hard to anticipate what a field event is like if you haven’t been on one before. That’s where communication from the leaders can really help. What will you be doing? What gear will you need? What subjects will you be shooting? Who will you be with? Getting the answers from the Regional Event leaders helps get you prepared.
“Before every Regional Event I lead,” said Scheeff, “I contact all participants via a phone call to introduce myself and to see if there is anything they need, any questions they may have, so everyone arrives prepared and ready to go. I also enjoy saying hello, having a casual chat, so at the first meeting at the hotel we feel like we all know each other!”
“The pre-trip list was very helpful, and I would encourage folks to use it to prepare for the trip,” said Kreckel. “I think going without any preconceived notions and having an open mind are extremely helpful. If you have specific wants or needs, I would express them at the outset. Listen to the leaders to help define the expectations of the event.”
Porcher pointed out that “transportation is not provided and you may need to rent a car to get to the shooting locations. Collaboration in advance is helpful to reduce unnecessary car rentals and determine liability and insurance needs.”
“I only wish I had packed more appropriately in terms of gear (this was my own fault),” said Verbarendse. “I sacrificed bringing my tripod to save space in my luggage and, while others were very kind and shared with me, I definitely wished I had brought it. For a first timer, I would say come at it with a positive attitude and be ready for anything, they will absolutely have a great time.”
“Krisztina Schieff and Jennifer Leigh Warner provided a variety of shooting opportunities that allowed me to capture bear, bison, antelope, moose, a raptor or two, and many landscape opportunities, including a stunningly beautiful nighttime session at String Lake that was a personal highlight for me,” said Mathewson. “It was evident that preparation work was done by both leaders before the event began. Park Rangers had been consulted and areas were scouted to insure a higher chance of photographic success for the event participants. In my group (we were unfortunately split into two groups to adhere to the COVID restrictions that the park imposed), Krisztina’s dedication to getting a variety of animals for the group to shoot was evidenced by her determination to re-visit certain areas until we had the opportunity to photograph a bear, which was elusive until, I think, the last day of shooting.”
Kreckel had never been on this kind of trip before, but said that “it was a great experience and exceeded my expectations. Everyone was helpful and willing to share knowledge and ideas.”
For Verbarendse, the best thing was “meeting so many other people with similar interests. We all had things to share and teach each other. The trip re-invigorated my love for nature photography.”
For Porcher, “The most surprising thing about the September Grand Teton event was the passion and persistence that the leaders put into finding wildlife for the attendees to photograph.”
For Avery, “Getting such great wildlife opportunities” was the best thing about the event.
Regional Event leaders work hard to get attendees in the right place at the right time, but sometimes there are things you can’t plan for. During a year of massive western wildfires that put so much smoke in the air that it affected skies all the way to the east coast, there was some smoky haze to deal with. “The biggest surprise of the trip for me was the atmosphere produced by the forest fires in California, temporarily transforming Grand Teton National Park into the Great Smoky Mountains,” said Mathewson. “The hazy conditions, however, lifted enough on one day to allow for acceptable photos of the mountain landscape.”
Other times, nature gives you an unplanned gift. “We were very fortunate on the first day to encounter the rare occurrence of a bull moose crossing the river in front of landscape we were photographing,” said Warner. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect situation and was certainly an unexpected highlight for everyone there.”
Another highlight was “an optional night we had photographing the Milky Way reflecting in String Lake,” Warner continued. “I had suggested this to the group thinking a few people would be interested, but was pleasantly surprised when nearly everyone attended.” As Verbarendse put it, “It was an amazing experience and I learned so much!”
That was also a highlight for Scheeff. “I am not a night-time person. I am a bird photographer, so I go to bed with the birds, and wake up with the birds. I was not sure if I could stay up …but when we heard that the Milky Way would be over a lake about 9:30 p.m., I said, ‘Sure (with a nap in the afternoon) let’s do it!’ A few canisters of bear spray, 10 folks in the pitch dark, and I had the BEST time! It was only my second time out doing night photography and the experience was amazing! I always believe in pushing yourself, trying new things, learning from others, and this night proved just that.”
Biggest take away
For Foley, “The people were the best thing, from the leaders to the participants, all great people of all skill levels willing to help and share.”
Since you’re up early for sunrise and packing a lot of experiences into a few days, the pace can be tiring. “Rest up prior to coming to the event and don’t schedule yourself for anything strenuous for a few days upon return,” advised Porcher.
You don’t need a lot of experience or fancy gear to have a great time, though you may leave with a bad case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Porcher learned a lot by seeing some of the newer equipment and hearing about some of the best places to purchase camera gear. Despite her “amateur status,” she “thoroughly enjoyed the astrophotography session and learned new techniques.”
“At the end of this (my very first) Regional Event,” said Mathewson, “I came away with new friends, new experiences, and thousands of photographs that, once culled down and edited, will produce some of my finest images to date.”
“I would suggest just going with the flow and enjoying every minute because it goes by way too fast,” said Van Allen. “I can’t wait for the next one. And now my husband has joined so he can go next time hearing how much fun we had. He is a nature photographer, but not as serious as I am, and he was at the Grand Teton but not in the Regional Event. I think it would work well for couples because a lot of us are retired and will travel to the workshops together, as we did, and a few other couples who were there this time.
For Kreckel the most important things in making his trip a success were “the adaptability of the course leaders. Next was their knowledge of the area, where to go and what to expect. Then their suggestions to try different techniques in different settings were very insightful. To be honest the whole thing was a blast!”
When asked what they’d say to anyone considering registering for a Regional Event, Foley summed up the group’s response with “Just do it!”
When I contacted her for this article, Van Allen said, “Go for it! You won’t be disappointed. I’m anxiously awaiting the Yellowstone event to go live…checking every five minutes! Lol” (She got her Yellowstone spot the day registration opened.)
Kreckel agrees. “Overall it was a great experience that was enhanced by our leaders and I was ready to do it all over again when we were done. If it is anything like our event, you will not regret it.”
Avery agreed. “It’s worth the money to have an experienced guide get you the photo opportunities.” He also advises potential attendees to “practice and know your gear before the event.” You don’t want to be fumbling for the right dial or button as a rare animal crosses a stream or flies by.
Rob Mathewson gets the last word. “Attending a Regional Event will enhance your photographic skills, garner you images worthy to hang on your (or anyone else’s) walls, and provide ample opportunity for both networking and establishing new friendships. After attending the Grand Teton National Park Regional Event, I would highly recommend a Regional Event to anyone. It will provide you an unforgettable experience, up your photographic game, and create positive, lifelong memories.”
After listening to the workshop leaders and participants, the same themes kept coming up. Although you can probably come up with many more, these photographers agreed on eight reasons to go on a NANPA Regional Event. What are yours?
- Exceptional guides leading your group and sharing both location and photographic knowledge,
- A terrific location, full of grand scenery and wildlife,
- Amazing photographic opportunities,
- The camaraderie of like-minded nature photographers,
- Making new friends,
- Learning new skills, and
- Capturing new images you’ll be proud to show to others,
- At a very reasonable cost.
To learn more about or register for a NANPA Regional Field Event, click here.
To learn more about the Teton Regional Event leaders and attendees (not everyone has a social media presence):
Facebook: FD Foley Photography
Kelly Van Allen