Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

July 2005

Question of the Month

What is the Most Important Thing you can do
before coming to a Photo Workshop?

Photographers have various expectations when attending a photo workshop or participating in a photo tour. Before I answer the Q of the M, let's define the difference between a tour and a workshop, because, sadly, some photographers blur that definition and compromise both their attendees and the value of a good photo workshop.

A Photo Tour should imply that you, the participant, will be taken or shown shooting locations where, indeed, you will be photographing. On a good tour, the best locations, views, and opportunities are already scouted out so that you have the best chances of making great images. That should be a given, for if they're not you might as well travel to the location by yourself and do your own exploration. The value of a Tour is that the work is already done for you and your chances of making great photo images are maximized. Most Tour leaders take photographs while leading a tour, although most -- and all good tour leaders -- are always available to help and put your photography ahead of their own. Personally, I think it is important that a tour leader does take pictures as it keeps that leader motivated and innovative. Believe me, there have been a few tours where I knew I was growing tired of either the location or the subject and ... and that was the last year I did that tour! I think it is too easy for a tour leader to simply stay with 'a good thing' and go through the motions, taking people back to the same tripod holes each year but not shooting themselves -- they already have the shot, or have it better. If that's the case ... then why go there?

A Photo Workshop, in contrast, should be a learning environment that takes place either in a classroom situation, in the field, or, ideally, both venues. On a Photo Workshop the instructor (he or she is not a leader here) should not be taking pictures but should be available to help you. Some instructors do set up a shot, or take a series of shots on an outing or in an in-the-field exercise to illustrate a point or procedure or technique, and I think that's perfectly acceptible. We actually find this very valuable to do, at times, with our digital courses as it is easiest to show students where and how we've done the initial capture, and then, in class, subsequently shown the class how those captures could be maximized in the RAW converter or via Photoshop.

If, however, an instructor is constantly shooting, or is off 'doing his own thing' and is not available to help you, then you are not on a Workshop. I don't know if you're on a tour, either, but you're not in a quality learning environment.

Now, how can you best prepare yourself for a Photo Workshop?

By reading your camera's instruction manual! I'd bet some of the biggest 'ah hahs!' I see in my students is when they discover some of the nifty things their camera can do. These things aren't secrets I've uncovered but are facts stated in the manuals. True, some manuals appear to have been written in Japanese, translated into Korean, then French, and then Mayan before finally being written in English (they can be obscure) but the facts are there. You may not know exactly how something works after reading about it, or be able to digest its importance, but having some familiarity with a topic (your camera's operation) will certainly increase and maximize your learning curve.

Doing so, it is easy for an instructor to move on, to show how and why a technique works, and to provide you with the type of information he or she has that may not be general knowledge, and that is certainly not found in your camera manual!



Previous Questions of the Month




 Camera Techniques

 In the Field

 What is our Digital Workflow in the Lab?

Who should go Digital,
and when?

What is our initial Digital Workflow?

Is Shooting in the RAW format worthwhile?

 Can you match the Histograms?
 How do I keep track of Digital Files?

  Is Digital Manipulation - a benign alternative to interacting in the natural world?

What is DEC? 

How can you capture a sharp image and angel hair on a windy day?  

 Is the Mark II the ultimate wildlife digital camera?

  Does the Visibledust cleaning system really work?

What do we really think about digital photography?

 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?

How long will film be around? 

  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?

  How do you shoot silhouettes?

 How would you meter these challenging images?

Why should you know Manual Mode? 

How would you meter these images?

 What is the best season to do a photo safari in East Africa?

Which Mountain Park is better for wildlife - Denali or Torres del Paine?

What is the best Car Window Mount? 

  How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?

 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales?

 What is the Big Lie?
Tfhe truth about Kenya's Tourism--it is SAFE!

 Which binoculars do we just love to use?

 What is the best
Game Caller?

 What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?

 How Easy is Whale Photography?

  How do we carry our film when traveling?

What Film Lab do we use, and why? 

 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites? 

How can you reduce contrast and the effect of wind for flower and macro photography?

 Is an L-Shaped Camera Bracket worth the Money?
You bet it is!

 Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?

 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?

  Reciprocity Failure

 What is the Best Composition?

 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?

 Hyperfocal Distance

  How do you determine distances?

 Should you have a depth of field Preview button on your camera?

 Flash and Tele-flash Techniques

 What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?

 What the heck is a Plamp?

 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?

 How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 How did I photograph that flying wasp?

 What is the Fotronix's
Flash System?

 Is NANPA for you?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?

 Is it time for a summer NANPA Summit?

Contact us by e-mail: