The Workshop

“Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.”    (Proverb)

A photo made during the workshop, October, 2019

Aspens on the lake shore (smartphone photo).

Years ago at a show in which I was the featured artist, someone asked, “Your pictures are lovely. How can I make pictures like that?” I'm always grateful for such flattery. Still, my first thought when this question arises, as it does now and then, is the oft-quoted, “Point your camera at more interesting things.” But in this case the inquirer was serious, really wanting to know if, perhaps, there's some secret or magic formula to making better pictures, so the flippant response seemed inappropriate. I probably said I'd had lots of practice, and still worked everyday to get better at the art of photography, all true. But I thought about the question, and put together a presentation of a half-dozen slides outlining some ideas that might help, each illustrated with a few photos relevant to the info slide's content. I did my best to make this light-weight, fun, and brief. It's about art, seeing, and composition. It's not about using Photoshop and computers or how to use whichever camera you have. I've given this presentation a few times to positive comments and encouragement. It's been a classroom talk with no outdoor, hands-on-cameras component.

A couple of years ago the president of our local Audubon chapter, Mission Mountain Audubon (MMAS), asked if I'd teach a photo workshop. He suggested I have a classroom presentation followed by an outdoor shooting session at some nearby location. I resisted for a while, mainly because the logistics would take more time than I wanted to spend, and doing this kind of work is outside my areas of interest. By “logistics” I mean tasks including but not limited to planning the program, promoting the class, dealing with cancellations, finding space and setting up the classroom, locating a shooting venue near the classroom, avoiding or accommodating various fees, etc. Nah, herding those cats is not my thing. Besides, who'd want to come listen to me drone on for several hours about making pictures? More people than I imagined, as it turned out.

Eventually the MMAS president prevailed. I agreed to put something together, and we made an announcement at one of the chapter's spring meetings. After the meeting a few people approached to express interest. But then the weird summer of 2019 happened, a summer during which my wife (Pat) and I had to make some, uh, adjustments to our plans for the future, and during which we didn't do many of the fun Montana things we normally do during summer. I also did nothing to schedule or to prepare for a workshop except regularly think I'd better get my shtuff together and plan the thing because, you know, we'd announced it.

Better Late Than Never

A photo made during the workshop, October, 2019

Gloomy sky and rain didn't help the fall color pop, but a bit of that color reflected in the lake.

After putting it off as long as I could, I settled on a plan, did (grudgingly) those logistical tasks mentioned above, and chose a shooting location. More on that in a minute. The workshop would be held the first Saturday in October. We advertised the date, time, and intention, and the emails started coming in. I quickly had a full class, which we'd decided to limit to eight people.

I updated my presentation, visited the classroom location to verify the presentation tech would work as expected, and on a beautiful morning of fall light and color I made a visit to scout out my shooting location. This is a small, local, private lake, about which I wrote in June, 2019 (see the photos in that article). It's very pretty, access is easy, there's a small area that can accommodate three or four cars, and it's just a half-dozen miles (10 km) from the classroom location.

The next morning, the day of the workshop, dawned chilly, with low clouds and rain. Pat had offered to provide coffee and morning munchies for the class. We got to the room a bit early; I set up the laptop with the room's SMART Board while Pat set up the coffee, etc. The SMART Board is a video projection/display and collaboration system but in this venue it isn't set up to take advantage of its interactive capabilities. It's used only as a (very expensive) video projector. It's used for the monthly MMAS presentations, so I've seen how it displays, and I've not been impressed. Images and video seem a bit soft and lack the contrast of a proper monitor, or even of many much cheaper and simpler video projectors. I suspect most people don't see a difference, and it's what I had to work with.

Seven of the eight expected attendees showed up, which seemed a good turnout. Perhaps I had low expectations!

After introductions, coffee, and some conversation we got the class started. It flowed along much as it had in past presentations, and we wrapped up with a question-and-answer session. Good questions made it clear people had paid attention. At least one of the students had a smartphone for her camera. I expected more of that, and did nothing to discourage it. To that end I'd included in the presentation several photos I'd made with my phone, including the black & white photo of the aspens above. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you.

Enthusiasm Not Dampened

Workshop attendees on a rain-soaked path, October, 2019

A walk in the rain by workshop attendees.

A couple of times during the talk we could hear rain hammering on the roof, but the group remained eager to get outside. Pat stayed behind to tidy up the room and pack away the remains of the food (thank you!) while the rest of us consolidated into a few cars and drove up to the lake. The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle, and everyone had come equipped with appropriate shoes and outerwear. Nobody in the group had any fear of getting wet, cold, or muddy.

We set out on the trail that surrounds the lake, stopping to discuss compositions and what sorts of photos we might make. The gloomy sky resulted in poor lighting. The nice fall color I'd seen on the previous day didn't pop, remaining muted and dull. Fortunately we had little breeze and while the lake didn't have a glassy surface, some color still reflected in the water. We made a number of stops, played with subject choices, framing and composition, got down in the dirt and studied lichen on the rocks, and even talked briefly about making creative blurs. After a while people made their own way along the path, stopping to study the scene and snap their own compositions. I looked at lots of photos on camera LCDs, and it seemed clear people were thinking about making better pictures and getting decent results

Everyone said they'd had a good time and learned something. Nobody blamed me for the weather. And just as you'd expect, the next day's lovely weather only proved O'Toole's Corollary. Again.

I did this thing in part to promote MMAS, in part to offer something outside the usual MMAS monthly presentations (which are invariably excellent), and in part because my friend and chapter president asked. In a repeat of those conditions I'd certainly do it again. But I don't expect this to become a regular program or to ever do “real” workshops of the multi-day kind requiring travel, setting up lodging and meal accommodations, and charging big bucks. Photography for me is a largely solitary pursuit, especially if Pat's with me as she often is.

October, 2019

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