Things I Enjoy : Photo Workshops

As I have a lot of time due to the COVIDs, I wanted to bring back an old type of post – Things I Like/Enjoy.

I know this may not be a strange thing to say, but, I enjoy photo workshops.

This can be broken down into three main reasons: Knowledge, comradery, and difficult places to get to.

I am not a full time photographer. Sure, it sounds like it would be nice to be a full time photographer, traveling the world, meeting up with a network of friends. However, most of us who really enjoy photography are not able to, or do not wish to, make it a full time job. In order to really learn a location and get to know where and when to be in different areas, you generally need to visit a location over and over with multiple visits over many years. This can be a huge time commitment.

This is the first reason I really like photo workshops – they are normally arranged to coincide with things you may not think about. The Milky Way rising in just the right spot and a new moon, the peak of fall colors, the historically best time to see the Northern Lights, a full moon rising above a well known landmark, the arrival of a large flock of birds, etc.

A good workshop leader should also have experience to help you with your camera and ideally post-processing software as well. This is great for someone who is starting out – you will likely walk away from the trip with some amazing images. While you could hire a local guide, this can get expensive and misses out on my second reason for joining a photography workshop.

The second reason is the comradery. This is not something which you can understate. Having a 5-10 day trip with others who really enjoy photography in an amazing area is a great experience. There is also the motivating factor. When I’m out on my own, I may look out the window and decide it is just too early, or there are too many clouds, or some other excuse and skip a sunrise. When I’m with a group, I wouldn’t even think about skipping a sunrise, even if it looks like it will be a bust. While on a photography trip/workshop, I personally have only ever skipped one event, it was a sunrise, my 15th in Hawaii, and we had been out until 3am the previous night. In this case, I didn’t miss anything. Part of this not wanting to skip an activity may also be because you are paying to be there.

The third reason, and this one is my newest to the list, is getting to hard to reach locations. In 2016, I had the good luck to go on a Rafting Trip for Photographers run by Gary Hart, who lives in Sacramento California. While this was very similar to a normal Grand Canyon rafting trip, almost everyone in the group was a photographer. So while the raft behind us had several people trying to see how much alcohol one could consume and not die, our group was always awake in time for breakfast and always had our gear ready to leave before the time we needed to pack up the rafts. We also made some changes to the schedule to try to be in certain locations for certain times of day. Could you get most of this on a normal raft trip? Probably. Would people stay out of your way and not get mud and dirt in the pool where you are photographing? Probably not.

Group picture in the Grand Canyon. Deer Creek Falls is in the background.

Since this was a charter, we were also allowed to carry more weight. Normal trips limit you to 20lbs of equipment. For this trip, we were allowed to carry 30lbs, which includes cameras, cloths, medicines, etc. The extra 10lbs was definitely needed, since cameras tend to be about 3lbs for the body alone.

Red Island (Røde Ø), Scorsbysund, Greenland, near the village of Ittoqqortoormiit

My other trip with logistical challenges was in 2017 for a trip to the Scorsbysund Fjords of Eastern Greenland. This trip was organized by the world-renowned Joshua Holko out of Melbourne Australia. For this trip, he not only booked the entire boat, ensuring that no one had to share a cabin with anyone else and that there was always enough space on the zodiacs for everyone to go out on every trip, he also chartered the plane. It also meant that the luggage weight limits were not enforced. Many in the group had ‘carry on’ bags with their own seat.

A fully loaded camera bag, much like what I carried to Greenland

This trip also had one of the most frightening events I’ve experienced on a photo trip – the collapse of 1 billion cubic feet of ice into icecube sized chunks. There is a video of this, and it will likely be a future post.

For Greenland, the trip simply could not have happened in the way it did without it being a custom charter organized by a photographer. If it were a normal trip, there would have been nearly twice as many people on the boat, and there would have been more people than could fit in both zodiacs at the same time. This means that, for every iceberg cruise, about half of the people would need to stay on the boat.

As the Greenland trip revolved around photography, this also meant that dinnertime could be changed to fit the photography goals. On most trips, dinner happens at a certain time, even if the sunset is amazing.

Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve found the knowledge aspect of a workshop to be a smaller driving force. I’m very comfortable with my camera and software and can generally get what I want out of a scene. Sure, it helps to bounce ideas off of someone else, but that alone may not justify the price of a workshop. It has become easier than ever to find a location and when to be there via other means (search engines and photo sharing sites).

For an excursion-type trips run by a photographer, where the experience is otherwise difficult to have, locations can be fairly difficult to get to, and the logistics would be challenging, these trips are still very valuable for me.

-Brad

Photo Results : New Years Eve Seattle Space Needle Fireworks

Note: This post was started, but never finished, several years ago and references an event that occurred on January 1, 2017. Due to the lock-down, I have lots of time on my hands. As a result, I’m working on finishing some of the incomplete drafts.

I love fireworks. They always bring a smile to my face and are something that I find really enjoyable to photograph. Over the years, I’ve managed to get a collection of fireworks images that I am really happy with, and I’m always happy to share my go-to settings. They are iso200, f/8.0, 3.0 seconds.

In my previous post on this topic, I mention what settings I used for shooting fireworks.

I also have a post on my Instagram where I show my setup for photographing the Space Needle on New Year’s Eve.

The image I shared showing my cameras as setup for NY Eve Fireworks

Now with that shown, many people may realize that shooting through a glass window will create some really nasty reflections. So, here is what it actually looked like.

What my setup actually looked like for the NY Eve Fireworks

While it is certainly a lot less ‘gramable’, it works a lot better to keep the reflections down that would otherwise occur with shooting fireworks through glass. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

With the background finished, let’s look at some of the results from each of the 3 cameras. When you get your settings just right, you don’t need a lot of changes in Lightroom, aside from whitebalance, crop, rotate.

Fireworks on the Space Needle ring in 2017

This was my favorite photo from the night. This was also from my primary angle, shot on a Nikon D750. The reason I like this shot is because it puts you right in the action, while keeping the sense of place. This is easy enough to guess ahead of time because the fireworks show always has rockets launched from the top of the needle. Plus, since I’d seen multiple shows from this same vantage point, I could guess about where show would be and pre-position, pre-focus, and pre-setup the camera. For me, getting the framing so it felt like you were inside of the show really helps to capture the energy of the fireworks. The show is exploding outside of the frame, which makes the viewer feel like they are right in the action.

Fireworks over the Space Needle, but a wider angle than before

Another photo I really like from the evening was from my wider angle. Since I’d seen the fireworks displays in previous years, I was able to guess about where the top of the display would be. Normally, you wouldn’t want the top of the fireworks off, and would want to have a bit of breathing room at the top, but in this case, I think it works.

A tip: when shooting really wide, make sure to include more of the sky than you expect to use in the final image. This is because often the image will need to be rotated slightly. Rotating often includes a small crop, and you need to account for this when shooting.

For my third angle, I went with something that was more of an experiment than the others.

Based on the results of a previous year, I tried to really zoom in on one side of the Space Needle to give a new perspective.

Here is the previous year’s image on the left, and the new for 2017 image on the right.

I wanted to experiment with such a tight framing. Since I was also using an older camera and old lens that I rarely use, if the experiment failed, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

This is a really interesting and unusual way to frame fireworks. But it is really difficult to pull off. The reason this was even possible, is because the launching point doesn’t move. When fireworks are launched from the ground into the sky, it is much more difficult to get these really tight frames. This image also works because the fireworks are exploding close to the launching point, which is also a fairly well-known landmark.

This was one of the last images from my old Sigma lens and one of the last images from my D300. At some point after this photo was taken, but, before I found it after my move, the focus ring has become difficult to turn. It was originally purchased around 2004 and was a surprisingly good example of a Sigma lens from a time when Sigma lenses were very hit or miss.

As another experiment on this post, I’m adding in a gallery of a other photos of the New Years fireworks.

-Brad

How I Mark My Items for Quick Visual Identification

This is a quick post on how I know what stuff is ‘mine’ as quickly as possible.

About 4 years ago, I was on a trip where I anticipated that everyone would have similar items.  I wanted to ensure that I could quickly, visually, identify what was mine as fast as possible.

I used brightly colored hot pink Duck Brand Duct Tape.

The pink was used on my tripods and cameras.  This can be seen in this photo from the Grand Canyon.  May 2016.

And also this image from a sunrise in Australia.  Aug 2016.

So why do I do this?  The short answer, is so that I can spot my own stuff from far away.

Loch Ard Gorge on the Great Ocean Road, Australia in 2016

Very rarely have I seen anyone else use the same color to mark their things.  It was only once, when arriving in Sydney Australia that I saw other people using similar color to identify their items.

On one of my trips, I had some of the same bags as the trip leader, except mine had a large ‘M’ in pink duct tape.  At the end of the trip, while we were all somewhat tired and ready for rest, the trip leader, who had the same bag, grabbed my bag off of the bus instead of his own.  I simply said ‘Hey Gary, that is mine’, and when seeing the pink duct tape he said ‘Oh wow sorry’ and handed me my bag.  It was an honest mistake that was solved quickly by my pink duct tape marking system.

In the rain, rocking the pink duct tape

Since then, I always use the same system to mark my things.  I am frequently on trips where people tend to buy the same brands of gear, so an easy way to tell ‘that is mine’ is very, very useful.

Until next time.

-Brad