Stream Bank Erosion

Composition and Light Workshop

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“Minutes are like snowflakes. No two are the same.”
— Bill Ellzey

I recently had a great time at a four-day photography workshop at Santa Fe Photography Workshops in New Mexico. I’ve been shooting for a long time and have the basics of exposure, focus and other technical concerns down pretty well but I knew I needed some help with composition. That’s why I signed up for their Composition and Light in Outdoor Photography workshop with Bill Ellzey. The workshop description says it is about “seeing, and seeing deeply. It’s about developing your awareness to composition and to light.” That’s just what I was looking for and I feel like I got a big boost in my ability to do those things.

Stream Bank Erosion

We began on Wednesday morning with a talk by instructor Bill Ellzey on the basics of composition in which he showed examples of his own work that beautifully illustrated the principles. We also looked at each student’s “portfolio” of six or seven images and Bill gave thoughtful, sensitive and helpful critiques. We had some time that afternoon for a hands-on explanation of equipment and Q & A. On Wednesday evening there was a slideshow and talk by the four instructors who were all leading classes that week at Santa Fe Photography Workshops. We saw examples of some great work and heard from these very accomplished photographers which included Bill Ellzey, Michael Clark, Cig Harvey and David Robin.

The next morning we were up before dawn for a sunrise photo shoot at a nearby location which featured interesting desert rock formations. Throughout the morning Bill circulated among the ten class participants answering questions and offering suggestions. Later that morning we moved to another location which featured a landscape of red rocks and other mineral colors in the hills. That afternoon we were back at the school’s digital lab which is beautifully equipped with Mac Pros and high-end Epson printers. We imported our photos into Lightroom and processed them with help, as needed, from Bill and his two assistants. I previously looked at Lightroom and had decided that I preferred to stick with Bridge and Photoshop for my workflow. But since then, V4 has been released and now V5 is in beta. Bill Ellzey and the folks at Santa Fe Photography Workshops are enthusiastic Lightroom users so I’m going to have a look at the Lightroom beta and will be posting my findings here in the next month or two.

_DSC2644On Friday we were up before dawn again for another sunrise shoot, this time at nearby Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Here we saw more fantastic-looking rock formations as we progressed up the Slot Canyon Trail. As before, Bill circulated, providing advice and assistance. That afternoon we were back at the digital lab for more processing. That evening there was a sunset shoot followed by a group dinner but I couldn’t make it because my wife and a friend had arrived in town.

Next morning, Saturday, we were back at the digital lab for more processing with assistance from Bill and the two helpful assistants. Each student selected about seven or eight photos from the previous few days which we then discussed as a group. From those, about five or six of each student’s top images were chosen to be shown that night at a dinner at the El Dorado Hotel. The SFPW staff assembled a delightful video slideshow with music from the photos taken by our class as well as the other three classes happening that week. Much of the work I saw that evening was of professional caliber.

All in all, I had a great time at the workshop and got just what I had hoped for. There were a few problems including a failed hard disk which meant that Bill was missing some of his instructional materials. Also, I felt that the pacing of the classroom instruction could have been better. At times, things moved slowly and we could have packed more in if the pacing had been better organized. As it was, the days were long, with activities planned for sunrise until after sunset on Thursday and Friday. I appreciate that SFPW wants to give good value but for me those days were just too long so I opted out of the evening photo shoots. But overall I had a great time and learned a lot. And the food provided by Santa Fe Photographic Workshops was terrific and there was always plenty of it.

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