I have been counting down the days and weeks until I was to assist Steve Kossack on his Glacier National Park workshop in August. It was to be my first 'real' trip since October 2019, when I joined Steve for a workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have fully vaccinated since January, and I have been definitely feeling a bit 'caged in' as a result of the pandemic. Photographically, I was also excited because I have been wanting a second crack at Glacier for about 10 years. Nothing says "normalcy' quite like 5 days hanging out with Steve Kossack and his workshop crew.
I had been riding a barrel of optimism that being vaccinated gave me a free pass to start living life similarly to the way it was before the pandemic started. This was going to be the Summer of Freedom - and then, shortly after the 4th of July holiday, the Delta Variant officially put an kibosh to that. The Delta variant had become the primary variant in the USA, and the CDC reported that it is quite dangerous - particularly to the unvaccinated, but that there were 'break through' infections even amoung the vaccinated. Steve and I had multiple discussions about what to do. Given that so many people had purchased tickets, we felt that the right thing was to go ahead and have the workshop, but that we were going to have to discuss how we could make this both a safe and fun experience for everyone. Fortunately, I feel that we know a lot more about how COVID is transmitted than we did in March of 2020, when the country shut down. We know the importance of wearing masks and - of course - being vaccinated.
Both Steve and I were tested prior to the trip. In the airport and on the plane, I both wore an N95 surgical mask and a regular surgical mask that Delta provided gratis. Having read the value of protective glasses as a means of avoiding COVID, I also wore protective glasses. Outside of the warmth of being under the mask for four hours, it was not much of a big deal. The only thing I skipped was the concessions part of the plane. I figured it made sense to opt out as the one fly in the ointment in regards to the plane was the period where everyone was eating with their masks off. Seriously - it wasn't a big deal.
From the moment we landed, we discussed how the group wanted to handle everything from safety in the cars to eating. This was obviously going to be a very different experience between shooting sets than I have ever had while working with Steve...and I am glad that he was thinking about all of those components. For example, usually after a sunrise or sunset shoot, we will eat at a nice restaurant in a family-style setting. However, due to COVID, that was mainly curtailed. Most of our meals were either eaten outdoors or indoors where we were not with another group of people. Given how nice the weather was, I honestly did not mind at all.
However, outside of those changes - the actual product of a workshop was really not changed. It was so nice to get out and shoot. For anyone who is really seriously into photography, or wants to learn the skills to become a serious photographer, I strongly consider you trying a workshop. I am a particular fan of Steve's for a variety of reasons:
1. Adventure Photography
Steve takes a truck many places that others just will not go to. That does not mean that we are belaying down mountains. It does mean that there might be some bumpy rides and that our trucks may be going to places without the greatest roads on the planet. There is an impressive upside bonus of this. We will attempt to see locations that otherwise you would never get to see on your own or even with a lot of other workshop photographers. However, you also need to be prepared for an occasional flat or car malfunction. Does that happen frequently? LOL, no...but it does happen.
2. Learn Photographic techniques that makes your photography better, including the use of filters
3. Learn through practice
4. Learn through creative collaboration
There are no distractions or competition for your artistic creativity. While I am really good about getting time for myself to photograph on a family trip, the truth is that you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to divide your time for yourself and for your family/loved ones. Shooting a workshop takes all of those distractions out of the equation. You get to see what other people are using in regards to gear (or toys, as I like to think of them). You also get to hopefully see other people's photographic compositions that can be very inspiring when you see them on the printed page as opposed to just on a monitor. Most of all though - a workshop is filled with fun and creativity. I have been doing these with Steve for 15 years now, and I know that this process has made me a better photographer today. Just as importantly, they are really a lot of fun. Spending 12 to 16 hour days with a group of people (and sometimes longer) can really break down barriers really quickly. It is an experience unlike any other that I have had as an adult - almost like a summer camp for adults.