Preparing for your
Workshop Experience

by David Halpern

Welcome to this Rocky Mountain Nature Association workshop. I'm looking forward to working with each of you and I hope you will find this a rewarding and memorable experience.

Before we begin, I want each participant to understand that I expect you to ask questions. Never worry about whether or not a question is appropriate or whether you are imposing on me by asking it at any time. If there is something you want to know, I'm here to help you.

Workshops are supposed to be intense experiences. You are supposed to do all you can to get the most out of the time you have. Start early and work as late as you want, just be on time for scheduled activities.

When we are in the field, I will be leading our walks or driving tours. I will stop whenever there is a photo opportunity and will provide instruction that is relevant to the kind of photography you are likely to be doing at those times. My comments will be very informal, brief and to the point. We are more likely to be opportunity oriented than destination oriented and I will be glad to talk with participants along the way and discuss individual concerns. It is my experience that--in the field--people tend to scatter rather than stay together as a group. If I am not where you are, please remember that I will always make a point of being where we have decided to regroup at the designated time. You will not be left behind.

A lot of photographers are gadget happy. They like to collect accessories that they think will help them be more creative. And when they go out on a shoot, they like to carry everything they own so that they're prepared for whatever comes. Some of you may be old enough to remember that camera bags used to be called "gadget bags" and another person's perception of your proficiency or expertise was measured by the size of the gadget bag you carried over your shoulder.

Those of us who do our work in the mountains and canyons, however, learn that there is much to be said for traveling light. We select our equipment carefully and sparingly so that we do not become beasts of burden. The outdoor photographer who suffers excessive fatigue from carrying heavy equipment on the trail can become so preoccupied with the discomfort that images become harder to see. More importantly, he or she becomes more susceptible to accidents and injury.

It is wise to approach each day of outdoor photography with anticipation of the kind of work you will do, or the kind of work to which you will limit yourself. Knowing the environment, the trail and prevailing weather conditions will help you plan sensible outings. I find it virtually impossible to hit the trail prepared for every likely encounter and picture possibility. I usually plan to choose my subject matter carefully, limit the number of images I will tackle on any day, and pack in a way that meets the requirements of the trail and the distance to be covered. I am not greedy; I know I cannot cover everything in one trip, and I plan to come back again if there is much good material to be photographed. Of course, I always carry a little more film than I plan to use, just in case I encounter extraordinary weather and light conditions that might not be replicated on another occasion.

Since not all participants will be accustomed to the altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park, we will avoid strenuous activity during this weekend, traveling slowly when on foot and using our vehicles as necessary to gain access to choice locations. Nonetheless, I urge you to carry an adequate supply of drinking water whenever we are on the trail and to carry trail snacks to support your energy level. Photographers often become so preoccupied with making images that they ignore their physical needs. The cost of such personal neglect can be uncomfortable at best and quite painful if altitude sickness results.

Please inspect your equipment carefully before you leave home and each evening before the next day's outing. Make sure everything is in good working order with no loose screws. Your batteries in your exposure meter should be fresh and you might even carry some extras for safety. Buy some zip-lock freezer bags, too, and use them to seal your equipment against the dust and dirt you will encounter on the trails and back roads. They'll save you a lot of time you'd otherwise spend on nightly maintenance.

Some people carry dark colored camera bags or backpacks, but most outdoor photographers choose light colors unless their bags are very well insulated to prevent the transfer of heat. Dark colored materials absorb heat very rapidly, and you know what that can do to film. Light colored materials reflect light and heat and will provide better protection for your film while traveling in the car or hiking on sunny slopes. You don't have to go out and buy a new camera bag just for this workshop, however. There are other ways to protect your film from heat when you're traveling by car, and you can insulate your film from the sun's heat when you're outdoors. I'll tell you more about that when you're at the workshop.

Large format photographers will prefer a focusing cloth that's white or silver on one side and black on the other. The white or silver reflects heat so that you don't swelter while making your camera adjustments in the sun.Other valuable but non essential tools that you may want to carry on the trail include a compass and/or a pocket altimeter. I'll explain uses for these items when I see you at the Park.

I hope you're ready to have fun. I'll do my best to see that you do that and learn.

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A Brief Guide to Filters for Outdoor Photography

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