Landscape photography workshops are often multi-day programs, and the students focus on camera, composition, post-production, and visualization skills. Because of their intense range of instruction, detailed curriculum, and outdoor locations, preparation is critical and the purpose of this post.
After 15 years as a photography and Adobe post-production teacher, with thousands of hours teaching landscape photography workshops in remote locations to hundreds of students, I know the critical value of preparation.
Choose the Right Workshop
Before attending a landscape photography workshop, you need to choose one that meets your goals, budget, availability, and you’re learning expectations. Choosing is not something you want to take lightly, and I suggest you review How to Choose a Photography Workshop, which is a great guide for finding the right workshop for your goals.
Be mindful of your creative goals first; we recommend writing them down and refining them a few times to help you focus on your learning objectives. Once you know what you want to know, choose a workshop to help you achieve your goals.
Plan to Succeed
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Contribute Through Preparation
When you arrive at a workshop fully prepared, you will learn more, do more, enjoy more, and be stress-free. Students who have organized their equipment, know their camera and computer controls and have the right clothing on hand contribute to the class. Unprepared students lose focus, distract and destroy the workshop rhythm as instructors must stop their training plan to solve unnecessary issues.
Reach out and Touch Your Workshop Instructor
Most workshops will send you a preparation checklist of things you need to know, what to bring, and do before you arrive. I recommend that you contact the administrator or instructor by phone (preferably) or email with questions or concerns. Discuss your goals and get any additional planning tips they may have, and this is a great opportunity to develop a teacher-student relationship.
15 Must Do’s Checklist
In addition to any guides from your workshop provider, this ‘must do’ checklist will help with personal preparation
- Map the Area—Purchase paper or download online maps and familiarize yourself with the areas where you will shoot. Pay attention to the elevation and ensure you can handle the higher locations and longest walks. Familiarize yourself with the local towns and check for any resources you may want to use when you get onsite.
- Review Food Resources— Check out the local restaurants and grocery outlets online. Since the pandemic, many small towns in pristine landscape locations have limited eatery availability. If your base camp is a local hotel, make sure that you have refrigerator and microwave access.
- Learn about the local weather— Check the average weather for the workshop area. NOAA has historical weather data for a given site, which is excellent. Pay attention to and prepare for the historical weather extremes. This data will help you choose normal and protective clothing. This is critical for landscape workshops that have high amounts of rainfall such as Olympic and Redwoods.
- Select your Camera Gear— Choose camera gear that is appropriate for what you will learn. You will most likely carry your cameras and lenses in a backpack, and weight is something to consider. Consult with the workshop provider about lens choices, but usually, a wide zoom (16-35), mid-length zoom (24-105), and a standard telephoto (70-200) will cover your photographic capture needs for most landscape workshops. If you use fixed-focal lenses, make sure you can cover the possible locations.
- Carefully select your outerwear clothing— It seems obvious that if you were attending a workshop in cold weather, you would bring appropriate clothing, and the same for warm weather. However, you will want to select clothing that, while warm or cool, also provides freedom of movement and does not tear in backcountry brush.
- Rain Gear for You— We often leave rain gear at home during the dry summer months. I’ve experienced intense thunderstorms and flash floods with several of my landscape workshops, and a hooded rain jacket saved the day. Keep minimum rain gear handy in your field backpack.
- Rain Gear for your Gear— At a minimum, you should have a large baggie to cover the camera and lens during heavy rain or a pro rain cover. Carry a heavy washcloth or small towel as well.
- Sturdy tripods mean sharp images— There is nothing worse than a soft image because your tripod is not up to the task. You brought a great camera and excellent lenses, and your focus skills are first-class, but your pictures are soft. Ugh! So, before the workshop, invest in or rent a tripod that can handle your largest lens camera combination without movement.
- Two Backpacks Recommended— You may not want to pack all your gear along every trail to your shoot locations. We recommend that you have a large primary backpack and then a small unit to fill with the equipment you need for the location assignment.
- Shoes— In most classes, you will be hiking on uneven ground— slickrock, creek bottoms, sand, gravel, and more— and you need sturdy, supportive hiking shoes with some waterproof capacity which is very useful. Please ensure your shoes are ‘broken in’ before class. Nothing is worse than new shoe blisters, and that pain can make your workshop miserable.
- Personal Comfort— Personal comfort items cover many items and vary from one photographer and another— it’s personal. However, some things are often forgotten when preparing for a landscape photography workshop.
- Insect repellant
- Hand sanitizer
- Disposable hand and foot sanitizers.
- Toilet tissue
- A personal water bottle that fits in your backpack
12. Gear Accessories— You will need these items.
- Extra batteries
- Battery Charger and a backup battery charger
- Memory Cards and More Memory Cards
- Card Reader and the correct connecting cable
- Remote shutter release
- Lens Cleaning Kit with an air blower or canned air
- Microfiber clothes
- Flashgun recommended for some classes
13. Camera Manual— Download your camera manual as a pdf to your mobile phone. This makes it easy to look up a forgotten setting you may suddenly need for a particular shot.
14. Vehicle Preparation— Check to see if your instructor is providing ground transportation to the capture locations or do you provide your transportation. If you do, ensure your vehicle is capable in the event that some of these locations are ‘off road.’
15. Up-to-date Post-Production Software— Your workshop may provide periods of post-production training for landscape photographers. Make sure your laptop has up-to-date Adobe software such as Lightroom and Photoshop. In many cases, an external hard drive will be helpful and allow you to transfer your work to a home or cloud system later.
Before You Go, Be Sure You Know the Basics
Your landscape workshop is not the place to learn how to operate your camera. You should know how to find various menus and know the function of each dial and switch. A few specifics:
- Be able to view your histogram on your camera screen
- Learn how to do exposure bracketing automatically.
- Know how to do Auto Exposure Bracketing.
- Know how to do basic stack focus.
- Know which shooting mode will work best for a given shooting session.
- Familiarize yourself with long exposure and neutral density filters.
- How to use a remote shutter cable or blue tooth device.
And anything else your Landscape Workshop Provider recommends.
You have invested in cameras, lenses, and accessories, and now with your next landscape photography workshop, you are investing in yourself. You need to prepare for success to get the best return on this investment. So be mindful of your preparation needs and mount up to learn, enjoy, have fun and grow from your landscape photography workshop experience.
Bob Killen is a Landscape Art Photography Teacher, Mentor Instructor, artist, and writer. He specializes in content related to art photography and online art marketing with an emphasis on SEO, SMM, and eCommerce. He is a National Park Service Artists in Residence alum, and collectors own his desert artwork in the US and Europe. You can find him teaching Masterclasses for National Park Photography Expeditions LLC in the field as well as coaching successful art photographers via his online classes. You can contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org