Photography Workshops: Art, Inspiration, Adventure

An exclusive American Photo survey of the Best Photography Workshops.

© Cig Harvey
A self-portrait by Maine Media Workshops mentor Cig Harvey.

Over the past five years, photography has seen a bewildering number of technological advancements (see State of the Art, page 33) and an astonishing rise in the number of workshops offering guidance to devoted enthusiasts. These two developments are not unrelated. The sophistication (and often complexity) of modern photography has created an unquenched thirst for knowledge of the digital arts, from shooting to postproduction and printing. (Conversely, there are also plenty of workshops dedicated to those photographers who are enthralled by “antiquated” processes and technologies, including film.) But the demand for technical training doesn’t fully explain why workshops have become so popular and plentiful. Many also offer the chance for travel (if not adventure). Others can be a source for valuable career mentoring. The very best ones offer both students and teachers the chance to dwell, for a few days at least, in a place where inspiration flows in all directions. On these pages you’ll find a dozen workshops that fulfill all those goals. Our choices reflect a range of prices and locations, as well as photographic specialties from commercial and fine-art photography to photojournalism. You’ll also find exclusive master classes with three different and remarkable workshop mentors. So get ready to learn.

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

© Keith Carter
The Eiffel Tower, by Santa Fe Workshops instructor Keith Carter.

Santa Fe Photographic Workshops is more than just a place to learn; it is a full-fledged community. Instructors from all walks of photography, students from around the globe, and some of the best full-time staff in the business come here to learn from each other, exchange industry news, and indulge a mutual love of the medium, all with the stunning and dramatic beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop.

As the meeting place of the photographic world, Santa Fe has a workshop for every approach, interest, and skill level. A small sampling: Students can find out what it means to create visual poetry with Keith Carter (June 22-28); refine the use of figure-ground relationships in their photographs with Jay Maisel (July 20-26); get an introduction to creating volume using studio lighting with Bobbi Lane (July 27-August 2); or comb the nitty-gritty of advanced Photoshop for photographers with Joshua Withers (June 29-July 5).

Participants can also experience the quality and flavor of a Santa Fe workshop offsite. Just one of the many destination-oriented offerings available through the workshops, for example, is Raul Touzon’s Dance of the Gods: Oaxaca, Mexico (July 19-26), which gives students access to traditional dancers at the Guelaguetza celebration in the village of San Antonio. — Mary Goodwin

At A Glance: Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

• Instructors: So many the website includes an index search by last name
• Where: Santa Fe, New Mexico; destination tours
• Why: Like

The Summit Series of Workshops

© Jack Dyinga
A shot of Utah’s Paria Canyon in early morning by Summit instructor Jack Dyinga.

With a superlow instructor-to-student ratio, the Summit Series of Workshops provide real quality time with the photographic superstars who teach there. The list of photographers and photo editors on board for the Adventure Photography Workshop (September 21-25) reads like a Who’s Who in the field: Dave Black, Keith Ladzinski, Sabine Meyer, Corey Rich, Beth Wald, and, of course, Summit organizer Rich Clarkson. The fall and autumn workshops often feature top National Geographic shooters, all ready to take students off road in the Grand Tetons for the technical instruction, creative inspiration, and career advice for which the Summit workshops are famous. Photographers who follow the action at the sidelines shouldn’t miss the annual Sports Photography Workshop, where they can learn from luminaries such as photographers Damian Strohmeyer and Mark Terrill and picture editors Brad Smith and Porter Binks. — M.G.

At A Glance: The Summit Series

• Organizer: Rich Clarkson
• Where: Jackson, Wyoming, and Colorado Springs, Colorado
• Why: One-on-one training with instructors at the pinnacle of their fields
• How Much: $1,000 (Sports Photography Workshop, June 15-20; $1,950 (Fall Summit I and II, September 28-October 3 and October 5-10) photographyatthe
• Contact: summit.com

Conclave, Atlanta

© Denis Reggie Photographers 2007
A wedding still by Conclave Atlanta instructor Denis Reggie.

One of the country’s best-known wedding photographers, Denis Reggie specializes in what he terms “wedding photojournalism,” an approach that favors naturalistic images over formal, contrived portraiture. For Reggie, the approach is not so much technical as philosophical. He likens his clients to the kinds of people who shop at chains like Whole Foods Market, which specializes in “organic, natural, real things.” Held several times a year in his 9,000-square-foot home and office, Reggie’s Conclave Atlanta workshops are limited to ten students, ranging from established wedding photographers to beginners. Reggie also shares his lighting techniques during “how-to” sessions at a local church. — D.S.

At A Glance: Conclave, Atlanta

• Organizer/Instructor: Denis Reggie
• Where: Atlanta, Georgia
• Why: A chance to learn technique from the man who revolutionized wedding photography
• How Much: $1,950 for two-and-a-half days
•Contact: denisreggie.net/workshops

FirstLight Workshops

© Jay Dickman
A small grove of trees near Auvillar, Franace, shot by Jay Dickman during a 2007 FirstLight Workshop.

Jay Dickman and the other instructors of the FirstLight Workshop want participants to spend their time focusing on technique, not scouting around for a subject to shoot. Each student works closely with an instructor/editor to choose pre-scouted “assignments” guaranteed to get them shooting. Rather than limiting the visual experience, these assignments help them achieve more, and faster. Dickman explains, “The FirstLight photographer is able to focus on the photographic process during the week, which I find enables greater growth and confidence for their own travel/photography goals.”

Workshoppers on assignment might find themselves kneeling in the middle of a pristine mountain stream to capture a fly-fisher making his first catch of the day, or getting to know locals at farms and vineyards around Barcelona. While following the daily lives of Dubois, Wyoming’s townspeople and cowboys, or hustling along with the enormous floats at Barcelona’s Giant’s parade, they also hone essential digital shooting skills, and daily feedback sessions enhance editing and digital printing techniques. Along the way, FirstLight makes an assortment of Olympus D-SLR bodies and lenses available to students. As a bonus, each FirstLight Workshop ends with a gallery exhibition in the workshop location and a printed magazine featuring the best images from the workshop. — M.G.

At A Glance: FirstLight Workshops
• Organizer: Jay Dickman
• Where: Dubois, Wyoming (June 30-July 6); Barcelona, Spain (September 20-September 25)
• Why: Analog beauty meets digital perfection
• How Much: $2,600, Dubois; $3,500, Barcelona
• Contact: firstlightworkshop.com

VSP Workshops

© Joe McNally
A portrait by VSP instructor Joe McNally.

Here you can travel and photograph with very experienced hands, including Joe McNally, Nina Berman, and VSP Workshops founder Jonathan Maher, who attends each event. Tours, workshops, and master classes allow students to choose from different skill levels and mixes of technical instruction and free time. When not bettering their technique, participants can roam places like the wild-horse fields of Camargue, France, or the dunes of Kalahari, Namibia. VSP’s YouTube forum (youtube.com/vspworkshops) features instructional videos made on location; at the VPS Website, students stay in touch with friends made during the trip. — M.G.

At A Glance: VSP Workshoops
• Founder: Jonathan Maher
• Where: Italy, Mexico, Namibia, New York City, United Kingdom
• Why: Instructors who have big-time photo cred
• How Much: $500 (Creative Seeing in 2 Days, June 7-8); $7,400 (The Tribes and Dunes of Namibia, October 19-November 1)
• Contact: vspworkshops.com

Dimui Phototours

© Neil Folberg
An olive tree photographed in northern Israel during a Dimui Phototour.

Dimui Phototours specializes in exploring the diverse terrain and culture of Israel. Each tour begins with a half-day, technique-oriented seminar to make sure that students are comfortable and up-to-speed for work in the field — they won’t want to miss a single shot while exploring the natural beauty of the Dead Sea or the complex street life of Jerusalem. Instructors and tour guides help participants explore and capture such sites as the Golan plateau and the City of David. At the end of every tour, a mini-course in image processing rounds out the technical instruction. With all meals and accommodations in five-star hotels included in the price, Dimui strives to create photo tours of Israel that students will remember for a lifetime. — M.G.

At A Glace: Dimui Phototours

• Cofounders: Neil Folberg and Michael Jacobs
• Where: Israel
• Why: Learning couched in luxury and cultural richness
• How Much: $7,200 (Seeing Workshop, November 16-21); $15,240 (The High Negev Desert, November 2-7)
• Contact: dimui.com

Mentor Closeup: Amy Arbus

© Amy Arbus
A portrait by Amy Arbus of Alan Cumming.

Amy Arbus has been teaching photography for 12 years, which sometimes strikes her as funny considering she didn’t graduate from college until 2002 (she’s 54).

Arbus’s talent for teaching photography has never been in dispute, however. The daughter of photographer Diane Arbus, she has been around the medium all her life. She also studied for a year at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts, but she says her most important education was on the streets of New York City as a photographer for The Village Voice in the 1980s. Her ability to approach strangers and convince them to stand for portraits sets her apart not only as an artist but also as a teacher.

“People come to me to make better pictures of people,” she explains. She tells them to be patient and kind with subjects, and to cultivate a genuine interest in people. Not coincidentally, those qualities also make for a good (and busy) workshop instructor. In the next few months Arbus has three classes scheduled, at the Fine Arts Work Center in Massachusetts, the Anderson Ranch Workshops in Colorado, and the Maine Media Workshops (where she has taught for eight years). Arbus also has taught classes at the School of the International Center of Photography in New York for more than a decade.

Because great photography is hard to verbalize, Arbus likes to teach by showing: She often shoots portraits of students in front of the class. And when she’s not showing, she’s pushing her students to do, do, do. For her ICP class titled “The Narrative Portrait,” students work on one story throughout the ten-week course. She designed the curriculum to be a miniature version of what photographers’ lives are really like — including the bouts of self-doubt and paralysis that inevitably accompany a long-term project.

“My hope is that they will get to a point where they don’t know what to do,” she explains. “I’m there to help them through the indescribable, very painful process of working through that downtime to get to something deeper and more interesting.”

While steeped in the ineffable, Arbus’s classes also hone hard-and-fast techniques. She pays special attention to editing and sequencing, finding that students often show up with the “wrong” images printed. Again teaching by example, in one class she showed off a portfolio of her own work that she was putting together.

Arbus’s students are also interested to hear how she created the “15-minute portraits” in her most recent book, The Fourth Wall, which consists of legendary stage actors in costume but out of context. Arbus brings guest speakers to her class, which have included photographer Taryn Simon, whose 2007 book An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar was one of the most acclaimed of the year, and curator Peter Barbary, who put together a recent Irving Penn show at the Morgan Library in New York City. One such guest visit even led to a long-term friendship between fine-art photographer Andrew Moore and one of Arbus’s students. A few minutes into the presentation, when Moore had done little more than show some photos and say a few words, the student turned to him and asked, “Where have you been all my life?” They continue to collaborate on projects.

In the end, it is by these relationships that Arbus defines a successful class. “I think a workshop has been an enormous success if I’ve created a group that maintains contact with each other,” she says. — Miki Johnson

At A Glance: Amy Arbus
• Workshops: Fine Arts Work Center (Provincetown, Massachusetts); Anderson Ranch (Snowmass, Colorado); Maine Media Workshops (Rockport)
• Why: “People come to me to make better pictures of people.”
• How Much: $700-1,045
• Contact: amyarbus.com

The D-65 Workshop

© Seth Resnick
A blue iceberg in the Scotia Sea, antarctica, by D-65 instructor Seth Resnick.

An out-of-control digital workflow can be pretty scary. Good thing that inconsistent results, lost files, frustratingly unproductive hours at the screen, and embarrassing re-dos when submitting for publication can become a thing of the past after a mere four days spent with Seth Resnick and Jamie Spritzer.

This duo is in the business of showing photographers, photo editors, and corporate clients how to manage and maximize all aspects of post-shooting digital processing. They don’t skip a step as they rumble through the basics of color spaces and file formats, work up to assigning metadata and keywording, then ease through sharpening, soft-proofing, and attaching ICC profiles before driving home the importance of archiving and digital camera upkeep.

Because the D-65 workshop starts with the fundamentals and then touches on advanced topics, such as creating actions in Lightroom for smooth and consistent file processing and the ins and outs of copyright and security issues, this class can benefit any level of digital photographer. — M.G.

At A Glance: The D-65 Workshop
• Instructors: Seth Resnick and Jamie Spritzer
• Where: Various locations from New York to San Francisco
• Why: To tame the digital workflow
• How Much: $1,099 (four days)
• Contact: d-65.com

Mentor Closeup: Cig Harvey

© Cig Harvey
Cig Harvey’s “The Hope Chest, Rockport, Maine, 2007.”

Sometime after she arrived at Maine’s Rockport College as a full-time photo student in 1999, Cig Harvey made a crucial discovery about her craft. “I learned that you could make pictures about things and not just of things, through the language of metaphor and symbolism and iconography,” says Harvey, who went on to become a Boston-based art photographer and a highly respected teacher at the Maine Media Workshops. “That’s what I want my students to grasp and understand — because it’s so pleasurable. It can sustain an entire lifetime of making pictures.”

As a photographer, Harvey specializes in self-portraits and still lifes that combine enigmatic storytelling, striking composition, and often wry humor (visit cigharvey.com). But she avoids pushing her own style on her pupils. “I absolutely want students to find their own viewpoint,” she says. “I believe everyone has his or her own voice, vision, and style, and it’s just a matter of making enough pictures and working hard enough for that to come out.”

To that end, Harvey admits that she’s a bit of a slave driver in the MMW’s intensive weeklong sessions. “When students arrive, I tell them to check in with their loved ones and then call them back five days later,” she says with a laugh. “Because being an artist is not about putting on your smock; it’s about the discipline of making art. This workshop is total immersion — concentrated and intense, literally 16- and 17-hour days of shooting, lectures, slide shows, and critiques. On the first night I tell them, ‘You’re going to live as a true artist for the next five days. Suspend all expectations, give it everything you’ve got, and I promise it will be worth it. And remember your sense of humor — you’ll need it.'”

For all the tough love, though, Harvey’s photo critiques rely more on the carrot than the stick. “In review sessions, I always come from a place of what’s working rather than what’s not,” she says. “It’s about how to get this student from where they are to the next place. And so it’s not about ripping apart what they are doing.”

Harvey says she gets all levels and types of students. “There are pros, amateurs, doctors, documentary shooters, college students . . . all with different intentions of what they’re trying to do with their work and different stages of where they are,” she says. “I just try to steer each of them toward what is authentic.”

There are certain “common goals” that Harvey emphasizes: “Now you are on deadline to make a portfolio. Then you submit to shows. And how do we balance art and life? And how are you going to carve out time for the creative person in you? I try to instill the same level of seriousness, whether they plan to make a living from photography or not.”

Along with a heightened understanding of photography and a new set of friends, Harvey’s students come away with a healthy level
of exhaustion. “You’re like a worn-out sponge afterward — totally spent, but with that giddiness you get where you’re totally exhausted,” she says with a laugh. “I always think after I’ve spent a week in Maine, I couldn’t have packed in one more thing.” — Jack Crager

At A Glance: Cig Harvey

Workshop: The Maine Media Workshops
Where: Rockport, Maine
Why: One of the MMW’s many distinguished teachers, Harvey instills a powerful combination of discipline and personal vision in her students
• How Much: $1,020 for seven days
• Contact: theworkshops.com

Anderson Ranch Workshops

© Laura McPhee
Anderson Ranch instructor Laura McPhee’s shot of a Peruvian shepherd in White Cloud Mountains, Idaho.

Anderson Ranch Workshops organizers warn students who work late into the night to stay on the path and remain alert on the way back to their dorms. Apparently bears and foxes
love the gorgeous landscape around Snowmass Village just as much as photographers do, and with good reason.
Around this part of Colorado, clear air and warm light blanket thick forests and mountain peaks, making everything look like it was spun from chocolate and marzipan. What better place to spend a week working with Amy Arbus (Behind the Scenes: Portraits at Events; June 30-July 4), David Hilliard and Jonathan Singer (3×5, Three Genres, Five Days; July 14-18), and David Hiser (Rocky Mountain Field Intensive; September 8-19), to name just a few of the tantalizing options at Anderson Ranch.
Each leader structures his or her own workshop, so the daily plan can vary widely depending on the teacher and the subject matter. Generally, time for making images combines with daily critique sessions to cumulatively build and enhance technical and conceptual skills over the run of the workshop.
In addition to all the shooting, the feedback sessions, and the occasional opportunity to sleep, workshop students
who purchase a meal plan (many different options are available) get access to one of Anderson’s powerful and attractive assets: the cafeteria. Creativity stretches into the kitchen
at Snowmass. More important, the cafeteria is where students can rub elbows with instructors, fellow students, and other people who can enrich a love of photography that will persist long after the workshop is over. — M.G.

At A Glance: Anderson Ranch Workshops
• Instructors: Amy Arbus, David Hilliard, Douglas Holleley, Jonathan Singer, Jim Stone, and many others
• Where: Snowmass Village, Colorado
• Why: Location, location, location! Plus a versatile set of instructional programs
• How Much: Most workshops $1,040 plus a studio fee; housing and meals separate
• Contact: andersonranch.org

Greg Gorman Photography Workshops

© Greg Gorman
Greg Gorman’s shot of actor Mark Wahlberg.

Famed for his portraits of the famous and beautiful, as well as for stunning male and female nudes, Greg Gorman brings together many talents and interests in the Greg Gorman Photography Workshops. An intimate group of nine participants per workshop convene at Gorman’s home in Mendocino to drink exceptional wine, eat gourmet food prepared by the photographer and his friend the renowned Chef Ueli, and take in the sumptous beauty of the California coast. Oh, yes, the workshop also offers daily instruction in master-level digital photography, focusing on shooting (two models are included in the workshop price) and editing techniques, plus Photoshop and printing techniques for photographers. In addition, each workshop features a guest speaker, which in 2008 will include Robb Carr, Jeff Schewe, Katrin Eismann, and Seth Resnick. A couple of the workshops are also visited by a guest wine maker from the region, just to remind participants that a really good photography workshop shouldn’t be all work and no play. — M.G.

At A Glance: Greg Gorman Workshops
• Instructors: Greg Gorman, with various guest speakers
• Where: Mendocino, California (August 3-8, guest Katrin Eismann; September 21-26, guest Seth Resnick)
• Why: Digital photography with a healthy dose of good living
• How Much: $4,250
• Contact: gormanphotography.com

John Sexton Photography Workshops

© John Sexton
John Sexton’s “Tree Fern Detail, Carmel, California.”

As John Sexton Photography Workshops celebrates a silver anniversary, its reputation as the pinnacle of black-and-white printing education only continues to grow. Sexton and his small but dedicated team have helped over 1,200 students on their quest to make better black-and-white photography. These students come all the way to the hills of Carmel Valley, California, for Sexton’s six-day Expressive Black and White Print experience, which affords them a chance to work in a master printer’s darkroom. In addition, participants receive intensive instruction in every aspect of refining the black-and-white image from start to finish, with demonstrations on the Zone System, advanced film development, and localized print manipulation, just to name a few.

Days start early and end late at John Sexton Photography Workshops, with time outside the darkroom for a little shooting on the Monterey Peninsula, home of white-sand beaches and lovely vistas. Sexton also offers portfolio reviews to gauge individual progress with black-and-white printing, taking care to address the conceptual as well as the technical goals of each photographer.

Those wishing to take their printing a step further can enroll in Sexton’s follow-up workshop, Fine Tuning the Expressive Print, which is comparatively still a baby, having been taught for only 20 years. Here, participants find out everything they’ve ever needed to know about developer formulas, masked flashing, and troubleshooting hard-to-print negatives, among other topics. Photographers who leave this workshop with unanswered questions will have no one but themselves to blame. — M.G.

At A Glance: John Sexton Photography Workshops
• Instructors: John Sexton, also Ray McSavaney
• Where: Carmel Valley, California
• Why: You love the smell of fixer in the morning $875 (The Expressive Black and White Print); $950 (Fine Tuning the Expressive Print)
• Contact: johnsexton.com