Mountaineer Photo Excursions is pleased to share this blog by Frank Gallagher of NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association.
By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator
One of the top-rated NANPA member benefits is the opportunity to participate in NANPA Regional Field Events. Each year, professional nature photographers, workshop leaders, and educators plan, organize, and lead field workshops in beautiful places at very modest costs. But what are Regional Field Events like? What should you expect? Why are they so popular? We asked several of the pros leading upcoming trips for their thoughts.
What makes a Regional Field Event unique?
Ron Gaskins, who is co-leading the Outer Banks Regional Field Event with Amanda Haddox, April 7-10, 2022, says they are unique “because they allow photographers to come and explore new and unfamiliar locations, whether it is on the coast, in the mountains, or in the desert, with professional guides who are familiar with the area and can lead them to where great photographic opportunities await. The work of scouting, mapping, finding the best locations, and times of day to visit have all been done for you.”
Cameras and camaraderie
“What makes our event a once-in-a-lifetime experience is that the people who attend our outings usually have similar photographic interests,” says Amanda. “Through these commonalities and group interactions we foster an atmosphere that encourages photographers not only to explore the area but to challenge themselves, technically and creatively by knowledge sharing, trying new techniques, using different settings to create impact, and sharing each other’s unique perspective on a location and its subject matter. Tips, tricks, ideas are only a few things you will take away from this trip, but we’ve been told the best thing about our outings are the lasting friendships that have developed between photographers while out in the field.”
Cathy Illg, co-leader of the the Bosque del Apache Regional Field Event, December 5-8, 2021, agrees. “What makes it unique or special, well, it’s usually the people who do that. The camaraderie and being able to share info and techniques can be invaluable.”
Take Bosque del Apache, for example. If you’re a wildlife photographer, you’re sure to have heard of this National Wildlife Refuge, known for the thousands of sandhill cranes and other birds that overwinter there. Cathy Illg says that she and her husband, Gordon, “have had more images from Bosque awarded in major photo contests than from any other destination, including three in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.” As Maresa Pryor-Luzier, the other co-leader puts it, “Witnessing thousands of waterfowl and cranes flying and feeding is an astonishing sight.”
In the Tucson Regional Field Event, March 30-April 2, 2022, you’ll be seeing “a diverse and unique combination of habitats, vegetation, and animal life that cannot be found elsewhere in the United States,” as co-leader Dan Weisz describes it. “Where else can you find the iconic saguaro cactus and the combination of the character of the Sonoran Desert nestled among “Sky Island” mountains that rise up to 9,000 feet in elevation. This Regional Field Event will explore the area where the subtropical Sierra Madres of Mexico meet the temperate Rocky Mountains of the US creating a very unique biological mix. We are eager to find out what participants wish to know and learn about our area and look forward to sharing its beauty with everyone.”
Another “astonishing sight” is grebes rushing. Even if you don’t know what that term means, you’ve probably seen photos. It’s a stunning sight that happens when a pair of grebes “lunge forward with their bodies completely out of the water, as they rush across the water, side by side, with their necks curved gracefully forward. It’s thrilling to watch, and even more thrilling to photograph,” says “Grebe Whisperer” Krisztina Scheeff, co-leader of the Southern California Regional Field Event, February 3-6, 2022. You’ll also see brown pelicans, sea lions and pups, landscapes, and seascapes as you explore the San Diego area. And who wouldn’t want to be in Southern California in the middle of winter?
Experience and expertise
Scheeff is well known for her knowledge and photographs of rushing grebes. Known as “the Grebe Whisperer,” she really knows the area and the behavior of the animals there. Check out her interview on NANPA’s The Nature Photographer on the Wild and Exposed podcast. She’s joined by David Hekel, (aka Ranger Dave), Senior Park Ranger for the San Dieguito River Park, nature photographer, tour guide, and an expert on grebes.
Steve Vaughan is an experienced naturalist and professional photographer who has been visiting southern Arizona for more than 30 years. Dan Weisz, a native of Tucson with years of experience with the natural history in the area is also an accomplished photographer. Then are both intimately familiar with the current conditions and how to best utilize them for the photography.
Now a resident of New Mexico, Maresa Pryor-Luzier is a pro with many years of experience who leads private tours photographing birds. Cathy Illg has been a full-time pro since 2000 and has been photographing at Bosque for more than three decades.
Ron Gaskins and Amanda Haddox each own their own photography businesses in West Virginia. They’re both experienced workshop leaders. Haddox enjoys photographing lighthouses along the coasts and Great Lakes. Gaskins has documented events, but is known for his wildlife photography.
What you bring and what you get
What do you need to do, as an attendee, to get the most out of your experience?
Regional Field Event leaders are experienced photographers and tour guides, but they’re not clairvoyant. It helps them and you if you know what you hope to get out of the experience. So, come with some clear goals in mind and some questions you want answered.
Cathy Illg says that “it helps to be familiar with your gear, and always bring your manual. The things that will help attendees get the most from the Regional Field Event tend to be different for each individual. Definitely don’t be afraid to ask questions, and let us know what you’re hoping to get out of this experience. We’re happy to critique participants’ work after the event if that is something they’re interested in. Be prepared to see old friends, make new ones and have fun!”
“Come with comfortable clothing and hiking boots,” says Steve Vaughan. It is the desert, so “bring water bottles and snacks for each outing. Be as familiar as possible with your gear and bring your equipment manuals so we can trouble shoot any problems. Bring all your questions, but feel free to email us ahead of time with any specific questions you might have so we can be prepared to answer them. If we don’t have the answers, we will find them for you.”
When you’re there, “prepare the night before for the following days activities so you don’t have to rush the day of photography. Be sure your equipment is functioning properly and batteries are charged before you arrive. Most importantly arrive on time!! Be prepared to make some outstanding photographs and more importantly be prepared to have an exceptional experience.”
Ron Gaskins advises spending some time with your gear before heading to the workshop. Go out shooting near home to make sure everything works and you are “familiar with your camera and how to change its settings (mode, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) to avoid being frustrated when you are out in the field. If you plan on renting or buying a new camera for this trip, if you have found yourself to be ‘settings challenged,’ or have questions regarding your gear, please bring the instruction manual for your equipment.
“Most importantly,” Amanda Haddox says, “bring your curiosity, a sense of adventure, an open mind and leave all your preconceived notions behind! Be flexible. In the Outer Banks, for example, it is common to get quick moving weather fronts and other unexpected opportunities might arise that may require a quick change in the schedule. Embrace the change and be prepared to make the most of those moments and you can come away with some once in a lifetime images. Look for opportunities to try new things.”
What you get out of one of NANPA’s Regional Field Events is proportional to what you put in. Haddox gets the last word. “Share your knowledge and your insight with your fellow photographers. Join us for round table meals, this is an excellent opportunity to socialize, ask questions, find solutions to problems encountered or just discuss the day’s experiences. Never be afraid to grab one of the instructors if you have a question, need equipment help, or ideas for compositions. We are there to help YOU make the most of your time with us!”
The first and most important step, though, is to sign up and secure your spot. NANPA’s Regional Field Events have a tendency to fill up quickly, so don’t put it off!