Sep 252013
 
AHWP Womens Retreat_Silly

In accordance with tradition on all of my photography workshops, our group poses for a “silly” group photo on the shoreline of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

This past weekend, 17 enthusiastic women embarked on a remarkable four-day photographic journey to Page, Arizona on the third Arizona Highways Photography Workshops(AHPW), “Women’s Photography Retreat.”  Offered in a different location each year, this year our group marveled not only at classic locations like Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, but also lesser-known spots like the depths of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River from a jumbo raft and the geological “teepees” of Little Cut.

AHPW_WPR_Everyones Own Vision

Everyone following their own vision while rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Arizona.

During our location visits and classroom sessions, we reviewed photography techniques like conveying time through slowing our shutter speeds, getting closer to our foreground subjects and maximizing our depth-of-field, and taking test shots at high ISO speeds to determine the proper settings for long exposures of the night sky.  We also held discussions about we can gain inspiration from learning about the history of women in photography as well as how women photographers may see differently.  In between, we swapped “interesting” life stories (some involving things like cats and microwaves…) and loads of belly-aching laughs.  But most importantly, this workshop is – and has always been – about empowering women to try new things by pushing the limits of what we think we’re capable of in both photography and life.

Although the entire experience was unforgettable, what will certainly go down as one of my favorite memories of my photography career is our hike and night photography session at the Toadstools hoodoos in Utah. To watch the women light paint, photograph the Milky Way, and then hike back in the dark under the full moon light – all experiences some had never had until this past weekend – was incredibly rewarding.

We set out about an hour and a half before sunset to allow ample time to wander among this geologically rich area.  After photographing the hoodoos bathed in direct sunlight at sundown, the group refueled during our picnic dinner before starting our night’s activities.

AHPW_WPR_Wiggle the Pickle

While waiting for the night sky to fall and the moon to rise, we ate a picnic dinner on the rocks. Somehow, this led to a suggestion to “wiggle your pickle.” And if you’re going to wiggle your pickle among a group of photographers, someone is bound to get “THE” shot of everyone wiggling their pickle!

Since many of the ladies had never photographed in the dark or painted with light, we began with a quick introductory session around one of the clusters of hoodoos.  In a line, we focused (figuratively and literally) on composing the frame before losing daylight.  As the sun fell well below the horizon, the entire group tested their exposure settings starting at ISO 1600, an f/8 aperture, and 30 seconds shutter speed – an arbitrary setting to serve as a starting point for how much light our camera would collect during that time frame.  Based on the histogram, we could add or subtract light accordingly to record our vision.

As soon as everyone dialed to the right settings and achieved sharp focus, I counted “1-2-3″ and everyone snapped the shutter at the same time.  During the exposure, I painted the hoodoos from the left side with about five to seven seconds of light from a strong LED flashlight.  After the exposure, we all reviewed our histogram to determine whether our cameras had collected enough ambient light and flash light.  Then, we’d repeat.

After a number of snaps, a large, unsightly shadow line revealed itself at the base of the tallest hoodoo.  Because the neighboring smaller hoodoo prevented the flash light from hitting the taller hoodoo, the light needed to originate from the front – not the side.  Because of the longer exposure, I could solve this minor problem by running into the frame with my flashlight while the group’s shutters were released.

On my first attempt, I painted the hoodoos from the side for a few seconds and then danced into the frame (“Like a gazelle!”), painting the tallest hoodoo at the base to eliminate the shadow.   A quick review of the photos indicated the tallest hoodoo had received an excessive amount of light, so we needed to repeat the process with less flash light time.

On the next attempt, one second I was painting the hoodoos as I had down countless times before.  The next second, I was chewing on sand.  By taking a slight deviation to the right in my path in order to distance myself and my flash from the hoodoos to achieve less light, my right foot dropped into a two-foot deep trench and my entire body fell forward into the higher ground on the opposite side.  Not wanting to ruin the entire group’s photo, I yelled, “I’m OK!  KEEP SHOOTING!!”

(The hilarity of this statement becomes more evident when you consider the entire group had released their shutter for 30 seconds, making any adjustments to their shot impossible.  What were they going to do then?  Change their ISO?!)

With the flash light still moving in my right hand, I used my left hand to pick myself up so that I could continue running across the frame to paint the shadow area with light.  After the exposure completed and many laughs about my tumble, “Keep shooting!” quickly became our trip’s motto.

And what a fitting rally cry this was not only for this trip and all the AHPW Women’s Photography Retreats, but also for life in general.  When something brings you down, hose yourself off, get up, and try again.  When something gets in your way, walk around it.  When something does not go the way you hoped, try something else.  No matter the situation or obstacle, personal growth and success comes when we keep going.  Keep trying.  And always KEEP SHOOTING!

~Colleen

P.S. If you or someone you know would like to join us on the next AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat in Verde Valley/Sedona in April 2014, visit the AHPW website at ahpw.org/workshops/2014/Sedona-Arizona-Womens-Photo-Retreat-2014-04-25/ for more information and to register.  This workshop sells out quickly, so if you’re interested, I’d consider registering as soon as possible to reserve your spot!

Sep 052012
 

One of the most enjoyable and valuable educational aspects of the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops (AHPW) – of which I’m honored to lead a number of each year – is the post-workshop critiques.  Though we conduct image review sessions during the workshop, a post-workshop critique allows participants additional time to edit and process their photographs before submitting to their instructors for additional feedback after the class concludes.

Whether we complete these productive reviews during or after the workshop, we analyze the positive aspects of each student’s images and constructively outline ideas for how to potentially improve them from a technical and artistic perspective.  Kind of like this:

What the Duck

“What The Duck” comic strip copyright and courtesy of the author and artist Aaron Johnson at http://www.whattheduck.net.

All choking and joking aside, the point of the evaluation is to go beyond answering the simple question: “Do you like this picture?”  The true value of the exercise comes in when we define in-depth we WHY like and don’t like an image, which generates new ideas to sharpen our skills and polish our individual styles from our different answers.

Earlier this week, I completed the post-workshop critique for the recent Women’s Photography Retreat at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Although I’ve shared image-specific comments for 45 images, I thought I’d share a summary of the three main take-away’s from this particular critique session:

The Totem Poles and Yei Bi Chei at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Example:  Tilting my camera down emphasizes the sandy landscape and allows the sky to become a less dominating backdrop. By composing so that the line of bushes and the patterns from the wind-blown sand lead my audience into the frame, it helps guide the eye through the landscape towards my primary subject: the side-lit Totem Poles at Monument Valley. Do you agree?  How would you critique this image?  (Prints available! Click on photo for a direct link).

  1. “Half and half” works well in coffee, but not always in landscape images. Unless you aim for symmetry among the various elements within your frame (e.g. a reflection of mountain in a lake), placing the horizon line in the middle of your frame will only serve to divide your viewers’ attention.  Should they look at the land or the sky?  Make it clear:  If the sky is more interesting, tilt your camera up and place the horizon line at the bottom

    third of the Rule of Thirds tic-tac-toe grid.  If the land is what caught your eye, then tilt your camera down so the horizon is at least at the top third of the grid.

  2. Let there be light…oh, and a strong subject too!  Is there anything better than sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon and recordings the rays of the setting sun break through the clouds, turning the landscape and sky into a fiery mix of orange, pink, and purple? (In more technical terms, we call this “super yummy light.”)  YES!  That same spectacular show by Mother Nature happening over a well-thought-out composition!  Good light alone is often not enough to make a great image.  Similarly, a strong center of interest without interesting light may lack shape, contrast, and mood.   To capture the best subject in the best light, visualize strong compositions first in the field, then return to work the scene when the light is just right.
  3. As “all roads lead to Rome,” all lines should lead to somewhere important.  Lines can direct your viewer to through your image, but the payoff at the end of the line shouldn’t be a one-way ticket out of your frame.  To keep the viewer’s interest, ensure the visual path doesn’t extend beyond the edge of your frame and leverage diagonal, converging, S-curve and other style lines to pull your viewer not just into your frame, but also somewhere interesting.

If you’re a past student of AHPW – not just of this specific workshop, but any of them – you have the ability to view my image-specific comments by logging into the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Smugmug site with the password you received during your workshops and selecting the “Women’s Photo Retreat” folder.  You also have the ability to leave comments as well, so hop on the site and let’s here you’re thoughts!

If you aren’t a past student of AHPW, there’s no need for you to feel left out.  If you’d like input on one or more of your images, stop by my page and submit your shots at GuruShots at www.gurushots.com/colleen-miniuk-sperry.

In closing, I’d like to thank the ladies who submitted their beautiful photographs for critique:  Denise, Deanna, Christy, Amy, Julie, Tamara, Sue, Pearl, and Jeanne.  As Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not achieved by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”  May we all embrace learning like these and all of the women who attended the Women’s Photo Retreat have.

AHPW Women's Photo Retreat:  Silly Group Photo

The attendees of the AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat having a “Zen” moment during our Group Photo.  I’m not sleeping, I’m merely practicing “Corpse Pose.”

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