I had been counting down the days and weeks until I was to assist Steve Kossack (Photographic Workshops)
on his Glacier National Park workshop this August. It was my first 'real' trip since October 2019, when I joined Steve for a workshop in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was also my last trip, except my ill fated attempt at hiking the Maine 100 of the Appalachian Trail last year.
I had been fully vaccinated since January, and I was 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. OK...that is a lie...however, it IS a lot of fun.
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 CDC and the Delta Variant officially put an kibosh to that. The Delta was catching like wildfire throughout much of the USA - particularly to the unvaccinated: but that there were 'break through' infections ocuring even among the vaccinated. Steve and I had multiple discussions about what to do and how to do this as safely as possible. Given that so many people had purchased tickets, we felt that the right thing was to go ahead and have the workshop. Leading the group meant that we had to be responsible and discuss how we could make this both a safe and fun experience for everyone, knowing that different people have very different sensitivities about risk. 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. Also, the great thing about photographic workshops is that you are out and about when others are not, so you really only need to be very concerned about your pod.
As a precaution, both Steve and I were tested prior to the trip. In the airport (and on the plane), I wore both a 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. The positive byproduct is that I didn't have to get up much during the flight either.
From the moment we landed, we discussed with the group how they wanted to handle everything from safety in the cars to eating. This was obviously going to be a very different experience between shooting locations than what we were used to, and I am very glad that Steve 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. If there was a sad casualty, it is that sense of community that you get when are taking part in a photographic group. Fortunately, much of the anxiety we had put into making sure that everything went off without a hitch helped assure that most things were non-issues for everyone. While most of our meals were either eaten outdoors or indoors where we were not with another group of people, we made it work. We were aided by some really beautiful weather, and honestly I don't think anyone minded the complications at all.
Outside of those small changes - the actual product 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. There are many reasons why you may want to consider a photographic workshop: (1) See the iconic locations and lesser known important spots, (2) Learning photographic techniques, (3) Practicing in the field and (4) learning through collaboration. I NEVER argue with results, so everyone's mileage may vary; however, for myself, there is nothing more powerful and useful.
1. Iconic locations (and lesser known ones of value) are provided for you.
National Parks vary in size - and some of them are very (very large). The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, for example, is larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island - combined...and that is nowhere near the largest. For example, Wrangell-St. Elias, in Alaska, is larger than the state of Maryland. While there is an awful lot that is available for free on the Internet, actually coordinating a productive trip to somewhere you have never been before can be very difficult. Where are you most likely to get a good sunrise location and wind up later that evening for a good sunset? What time do you need to get up and out in the morning in order to get there? Will you be able to recognize where you are going in the dark? After the shoot, where are you going to spend the rest of the day? If you are like me, this is "your day at Disney World" and you want to make the best of it. Having a guide to an area can be invaluable for your photographic success.
Even if you know a location intimately well, making the time to go out and photograph on your own, or with your family, can be a herculean effort. I wrote an article Making Time for Landscape Art on Your Family Trip
about how I make time for photography on my family trips. It can be done - but it gets much harder when people have different ideas about breakfast than you do.
2. Learn photographic techniques that make your photography better
The world of photography is constantly changing. While the basic 'rules' of photography have not actually changed very much, what you can do with a camera has changed quite considerably. Some people like to "make it up in post" while others like to get it right in camera the first time. Being around a group of people who all have the same purpose - but perhaps different techniques for doing things - gives you the opportunity to build your toolbox in order to figure out the best way to get the image that you want.
3. Learn Through Practice
Practice, Practice, Practice! I don't know about you, but when I have not exercised my shutter finger for a bit, it takes me a bit to get into my groove. The more I do, the better I feel about my work - my guess is that you will too.
4. Learn Through Collaboration
Years ago, I wrote an article called "Parallel Play." It was about how 8 people can all sit at the same location and work side by side, but come back out with entirely different art. One of the workshop participants showed his work off to me and Steve and other participants during the Glacier workshop. To say that I was surprised at the type and quality of the work would be an understatement. Seeing other people's art - even when radically different, inspires me and makes me grow.
The long and short of it is that I had a blast on my last trip with Steve and his crew. I have more than one image that I am really proud of - and I was able to get them because I was able to focus on my photography the way I needed to. 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.
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