I’m finally back from leading the Spring in Smokies workshop, which I enjoyed with a great group of enthusiastic students and great weather in a truly wonderful location, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
As usual, each workshop gives me greater appreciation for the art and craft of photography as there is no better way to really grasp all of the concepts involved than when you have to explain it to others. And it’s that moment when the “lightbulb” goes off in a student’s mind and vision that I get the most excitement from. Seeing a beginner go from not having any real idea of how to properly compose an image, to all of sudden discovering a whole new world visually in four short but intense days is really gratifying for me- and so worthwhile for them as well, especially after the workshop is over. And this happens more than I would have ever imagined.
A “beginner” doesn’t necessarily mean someone who has little experience with a camera, or landscape and nature photography. It may also mean adopting a new mindset based on the willingness to let go of preconceived ideas and explore the preverbal “beginners mind” – similar to the way a child sees the world. This is something I practice as often as I can, and I suggest you do the same. Insight is only possible when you allow yourself to become teachable. Or as the Zen koan says, “When thew student is ready the teacher will appear.” And nature is such a teacher, in so many ways.
Part of what I try and do as a teacher is instill this sense of childlike wonder, and confidence in letting go of the fear of the unknown, which is so important for creativity. When we try, or strive, or grasp at what we think we want to do with our cameras, often the results are less than desirable.
Practice, work, learn, study, then let it all go and just walk on a trail and listen to nature, or sit by a rolling river and become mesmerized by the sounds, or stand on Clingmans Dome and just observe how the light slowly but steadily changes every part of the landscape as far as your eye can see. When you start to really connect, you’ll know it immediately, and all of the work you’ve done beforehand will be there to guide you in your creative moment. I know this because I see it happen on every workshop when students really understand the whole process and become teachable. And I’ve experienced it myself countless times.
This for me is the key to growth and getting then most out of any workshop, or any time spent in nature.
In two weeks I’ll be in Moab Utah repeating this all over again on the 5 day Arches and Canyonlands workshop. Each time it’s a privilege and honor I never take for granted.
Thank you as always to all of the great students I got to spend time with this past week, it was fun indeed.