(This is the first of a series of posts I’ll be making from the road during a workshop I’m giving along the Southern Oregon coast. It’s my hope that this series will be of interest both to photographers looking to take workshops in the future, as well as photographers giving workshops.)

For me, one of the most important parts of giving a photo workshop is the scouting, spending (depending on the workshop) one or more days scouting. Memory is fragile and imperfect, and conditions and access to locations change far too often to rely entirely on photo guides and newsletters. Without at least some effort to acquire some up-to-date ground truth, an unprepared workshop leader will end up wasting a lot of his or her clients time. Scouting also affords me time to know what local restaurant options are, and to get settled in to the workshop location before the I’m “in the spotlight” of leading the workshop.

The books and newsletters have their place, of course. Research is an important part of the job, and I’ll usually start before the workshp by making two mental lists–a small list of the “must shoot” locations. For my Redwoods workshop last year the number one item on that list was Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park; for the current workshop that list includes Heceta Head Lighthouse, Face Rock Waypoint in Bandon, and Boardman State Park south of Gold Beach. The second list will be a list of places we may go, depending on time and conditions.

It’s during scouting when these lists first come up against reality. Perhaps a location or road is closed. Perhaps that perfect field of lupine hasn’t sprouted yet this year. Today’s surprise was weather related, as I headed to check out Golden Falls east of Coos Bay this morning, it became rapidly clear that the storm that had passed through overnight had left a good bit of snow and ice that would make the trip untenable. Of course, the news isn’t always bad, last year I discovered an unexpected but excellent display of lupine during a scouting trip, resulting in that location immediately being upgraded from a “maybe” to a “must see”, all of my students ended up with excellent images of Roosevelt elk in lupine fields, resulting in a lot of happy students.

For all that it’s hard work, I really enjoy scouting. I move from location to location without spending much time in any, shooting whatever catches my interest. This serves two purposes, it gets me “back in the groove” shooting but also gets me actually thinking about what sorts of lenses particular situations might require, so that I can pass that information along to students. While a bit rushed, there’s an energy and a motion to the scouting process that feels great, and I often find that I net a surprising number of keepers in the process as well.

So, when leading a photo workshop, don’t look at scouting as a chore, look at is as an opportunity. Scouting gets you relaxed, comfortable, informed, and gives you another chance to put some keepers in the can–enjoy it!

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