I’m finally back home from leading my first workshop in Death Valley National Park, and my ninth and final workshop of 2019. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the opportunity and privilege to do what I love to do, and for the great experiences I have with students in truly beautiful locations.
Death Valley was no different, and we certainly had plenty of light and atmosphere during our five-day workshop.
Any new location I select for a workshop requires a significant investment of time, both in terms of research and scouting. But beyond that, I also like to have a sense of familiarity with the landscape, because this is really where my motivation and excitement comes from. Simply knowing the logistics is not enough, I want to know what a place “feels” like because I think that provides a better experience for students in terms of what I can share.
As I’ve said many times, my goal for a workshop is not to make it easy for students to make images, but quite the contrary—to get students out of their comfort zones and into areas that are riskier and more susceptible to failure. That is how you get better, together with supportive feedback, which is what helps you figure out how to get past difficult situations.
And that’s the real goal—to share the process and mindset that enables you to solve creative problems on your own, so that core principles illuminate the path, not formulas or prescriptions. These principles, including essential camera techniques, visual design, composition, and storytelling are universal, never go obsolete, and can be used in any situation or location.
But most importantly, they give you control over the tools and associated technology, instead of them having control over you. That enables you to build confidence and focus on the most important function of the human mind: creativity.
Death Valley appealed to me not only because of its beauty and fantastic diversity but also because of the incredible serenity and stillness I feel when I’m in the park, more so that any other natural setting I’ve been in. Granted this is a very small sample size relative to the entire globe. But it is enough to provide me with a powerful sense of gratitude and mental stillness, which I find vastly more important than visual stimulus.
We all felt a deep sense of tranquility, and that is so wonderful at a time when our society promotes everything but that.
Our workshop was based in a tiny village inside the park, with limited access to the internet. For me, eliminating unnecessary distractions makes it easier to appreciate the enormous privilege to be alive, surrounded by the beauty of the natural landscape. Making images becomes a bonus driven by our emotional responses, as it should always be.
Thank you to all the students who make my “job” meaningful and enjoyable.