Why Photography Workshops?

One of the many things I love to do is photography.  How many things I love to do…yeah…that’s a different story for a different day… LOL…

So I love photography!  It’s a hobby for me and what I call a “side hustle” meaning that I enjoy taking pictures on the side to make a little money to buy more camera stuff…so I can take more pictures…and then I’ll need more clients so I can buy more photography stuff…  You get the idea… Mostly I just love the challenge of taking the shot.

If push came to shove, I would say honestly landscape photography is my very favorite.  Trying to capture the beauty of nature and what I’m seeing live with my own eyes is exciting and magical to me. I love being outdoors hiking and exploring and trying to view the world a little differently than a normal average day.

Here’s the thing, to get better at anything, you need to practice and do more of it.  That often gets challenging (back to “I love many things”…).  My photography skills have grown tremendously and exponentially since I started doing photography workshops.  At the workshops I’ve taken, I have been allowed to…

  • Fully immerse myself in the moment
  • Dedicate time to practice and hone my photography skills
  • Have an expert on hand when I needed advice on where to start or how to change my composition
  • Worry only about taking photos (the instructor knows where to go to get the best shots and guides us from location to location)
  • Learn all the settings and capabilities of my camera (or should I say…it forced me to learn my camera…)

I’m not going to lie…the first several were rough.  I fought with my damn tripod (why are we using this thing?!?!), I got frustrated because I had no idea what settings to use, and I was somewhat resentful that the instructor actually MADE me use manual mode instead of the automatic settings on my camera.  Ha!  WTH?!  ;o)

I got some good pictures but it just felt like a struggle and it didn’t come natural.  I’m not a very patient person…LOL…

Neal Smith Workshop

Sunrise over Prairie City…shot from the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in April 2015 Workshop.

Milky Way Over Lake Superior

Milky Way over Lake Superior; taken in August 2015 during a Night Skies workshop.

William A. Irvin

The William A. Irvin in Duluth at night; 2015 Night Skies Workshop.


Eh…I got over it…eventually…  🙂

That’s when the magic started to happen.  It all started coming together for me.  I distinctly remember the workshop that was a true turning point for me…at least in my mind.  It was when my photo buddy, Sarah and I went to the Smoky Mountains for a workshop with Bryan Hansel in October 2015.  It doesn’t hurt that it was just an amazing trip overall.  Sarah and I traveled well together (very important when you’re driving 14+ hours…lots of “bonding” time), all the folks we met in class were awesome (not typical…there’s usually a few that just aren’t your type of folks, no harm, you just don’t connect), and it was my first time to the Smoky Mountains and I was like a kid at Disney.  I fell in love with the Smoky Mountains and I was in heaven!

The fact that I had gotten in dedicated practice time prior to this workshop definitely played into it being the turning point I’m sure.  I had taken two classes earlier in 2015: a 2-day class close to home at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge and a 3-day Night Skies workshop on the North Shore of Lake Superior. By the time we went on this trip I had struggled and fought my way through those other classes and finally knew my camera fairly well, had embraced my tripod (and gotten a much better one), and felt pretty comfortable using my camera.  For inquiring minds that need to know, at that time I was shooting a Canon Digital Rebel T4i (and looking to upgrade soon of course…).  I was still nervous as heck…what if I screw up my settings, what if the shot isn’t totally in focus, etc….but I was going in feeling more confident than previous workshops. I also had met Bryan earlier at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge workshop and liked his style.  He’s very laid back, explains the art of composition well, and I’m a fan of his images and how he composes them.

The workshop was crazy…it was amazing and exhausting…inspiring and beautiful and tiring…  We were up early each day to get into the park before sunrise.  October (fall colors) is the busiest time of the year and the Smokies just happen to be the most popular National Park. Because of this and the fact that there’s only one road into and out of the park, we stayed in the park all day moving to various locations and eating packed lunches in the park.  We stayed in the park through sunset each night, then headed back to our hotel and out to dinner (this was typically 8 or 9pm…ummm…I go to bed at 9pm usually…LOL…).  And of course, I HAD to at least dump my images off my camera and onto my laptop to ensure I didn’t royally screw something up.  We did this for 3 days straight…which about killed me.  Ha!  Did I mention, I’m usually in bed by 9pm???!!!

One thing that stood out to me most was watching the sunrise.  There is nothing that compares to watching the sun come up…and the fact that we got to see the sunrise over the mountains left me speechless (unbelievable right?!).  Even with 50+ photographers standing in the dark waiting on the sunrise…it was almost silent, the quiet was so magical and peaceful.

It was totally worth it!!!  I’ll savor this trip forever I’m sure!!


Waterfall we hiked too on Day 1; although we got #lostAF and ended up hiking 5 miles instead of like 1 to get there. Ha!


Before sunset on Day 1.


What ended up probably being my favorite shot from the trip; sunset Day 1.


Also a favorite of sunset Day 1.


A hidden troll bridge we found while hiking on Day 2.


The classic Smoky Mountains picture…Day 2.


I love stair pictures; while hiking on Day 3.


This image probably shows best just how vibrant the fall colors were while we were there; taken on Day 3 while it was overcast.


Since then, Sarah and I typically take one photography workshop a year (splitting costs is VERY helpful!).  In 2016, we went to the Badlands in December…yes, you read that right, the first weekend in December (it was cold).  We added on a couple extra days so we could go over to Custer State Park while we were out that direction.  That was a relatively cheap trip since it was off season; plus it was a great bonus that the park wasn’t busy! You can view my favorite images from that trip here:  Badlands and Black Hills.  I should mention there was a bit of a learning curve on this workshop because I upgraded cameras to the Canon EOS 7D Mark II.  I was irritated all over again because shit…they moved everything around on me.  Ha!  But I got over it quickly…

This year we went to the Grand Tetons National Park in September. That was definitely more pricey but again, worth it!  It was an interesting trip as the first several days there was a lot of haze from the forest fires going on in Montana, but it cleared up nicely by the weekend.  It gave us the opportunity to get some unique photos and I got to see my first moose and bear! Here is a link to my favorites from that trip: Grand Tetons National Park.

Some would ask…why continue taking classes?  Certainly now we know enough that we could venture out wherever we would like on our own.  However, there are things I enjoy about taking workshops — I like the camaraderie of other photogs (#photonerdsunite), I love not having to figure out where the heck to go, and there’s typically a lodging suggestion as well.  I’m sure at some point we will explore on our own when we aren’t finding a trip that we’re anxious to go on, but until then I’m happy to just pay a little $$ for someone else to have it all figured out.  🙂


Referenced links:


Bryan Hansel Workshops: https://www.bryanhansel.com/services/photography-workshops-and-photography-courses/

Smoky Mountain National Park:  https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

Badlands National Park:  https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm

Grand Tetons National Park:  https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm

4 thoughts on “Why Photography Workshops?

  1. Another engaging post, Carolyn! I enjoy nature photography also, but the introvert in me would not enjoy the classes that you’ve convinced me will help me take better photos. Maybe I’ll look into finding a photographer who provides one-on-one training. Thanks so much for sharing your journey and your beautiful photographs! You might even nudge me enough to resuscitate my creative blog that has languished the last couple of years.


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