Archive for the ‘Workshops’ Category

Ten Reasons to Take a Photography Workshop

April 19th, 2014

We all love photography.  Perhaps you are a casual photographer, using your smart phone or point-and-shoot camera to capture the precious moments in life you cherish and want to remember.  Perhaps you admire the work of others and would like to be able to capture scenes or moments like they do.  Or maybe you are skilled and have been passionate about your own photography for quite some time now.

For those that seek to develop themselves as photographers there are a couple of approaches you can take.  You can learn on your own by reading and photographing.  And if you are able to devote the time and energy to this process you will surely be successful.  However, it is more of a trial-and-error approach to learning photography and, let’s face it, we don’t all have the time or energy to adequately feed our passion.

Or, you can learn from someone who has already mastered the challenges you encounter along the way.  And one of the most effective and affordable ways of accomplishing this is through a photography workshop.

So I would like to share with you my top ten reasons for attending a photography workshop.

1.     Inspiration

Photography workshops give you the opportunity to focus just on photography and capturing the beauty that surrounds you.  The complications of your busy life are left at home or at work and for several stimulating days your existence is focused on one thing – capturing the beauty that surrounds you.


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2013 Photography Workshop Schedule Preview

July 29th, 2012

I’m busy putting together the 2013 Photography Workshop schedule.  We’ll be going back to some of the great places I love taking people to.  But I’m also adding a new location that I think you will find very exciting.  Here’s a preview of what I’m considering.


February we’re going back to one of my all time favorites – Death Valley.  This is one of our largest National Parks and is filled with wonders at every turn.  It’s always exciting to be there.




In March we’ll be back in Joshua Tree National Park for the annual Joshua Tree Gathering.  This is a weekend of camping, fun, food and photography.  This has become quite an affair and it’s something I do to give back to the photography community.



Here’s a hint as to what I have in mind for late May or early June.  Bet this hint isn’t difficult to figure out.  And this will be the perfect time to be there.  I’m still working out the details but will announce it as soon as they are finalized.





Big Sur is such a stunning place, it would be a shame not to hold a workshop there. And we’re going back in 2013.  I haven’t finalized the date yet but we’ll be there.  You can count on it.




A year of photography would not be complete without returning to Zion National Park in Utah.  We’ll be back in mid to late August.  Zion is such a peaceful place, I always look forward to it.  It’s a place where many people recharge their batteries.



I’ve always felt that if you’ve gone to the trouble of traveling to Zion you owe it to yourself to finish the week in Bryce Canyon National Park.  So that’s what we do – two photography workshops back to back.  Most students do as I do, take them both.  And we have special pricing for those that do.




So 2013 will be another great year of photography, returning to the places I love and adding a new one.

To me, a photography workshop is about more than shooting great locations; it’s also about growing as a photographer and artist.  I like to work with each student individually to develop their technical skills.  But equally important is developing their expressive skills.  Photography is art and through art we as artists share our vision of the world.  Becoming an artist is the process of opening yourself up to the world around you and experiencing it more deeply.  Then capturing that experience in your photographs.  This is our focus in our workshops.

If you know of someone who might be interested in a photography workshop in 2013 please feel free to share this blog post with them or post it on your Facebook page.  There are links at the top of the post for this purpose.  By the way, I offer a very attractive discount for anyone who brings another student along with them.

So come on out and join us and bring a friend.  Click here to check us out.

You can also check out our photography.  Click here.

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2012 Joshua Tree Gathering

November 13th, 2011

Every year in March we get together for some photography, fun and fellowship in Joshua Tree National Park.  It is an informal gathering of photography enthusiasts of all skill levels.  We camp in one of Joshua Tree’s campsites.  We rise early for the glorious desert sunrises and stay up late, talking around the campfire.  And every Saturday night we eat far more than we should because of all the delicious food at the pot luck.

pinto_basin_2011Joshua Tree National Park is Southern California’s premier national park.  It boasts three major desert environments – the high desert environment of the Mojave Desert, the low desert of the Colorado Desert and the transition zone between the two.  Its magnificent and magical Joshua Trees that give the park it’s name, the rock outcrops of the Wonderland of Rocks (world class climbing), the grand vistas of the Pinto Basin, the treacherous beauty of Cholla Garden, the spindly ocotillo, the peaceful and cool oases and much more make this a photographer’s paradise.

In 2012 we are scheduled for March 16-18We will be camping in the Cottonwood Campground at the southern entrance to the park where we have a group campsite reserved.  It is open to photographers of all skill levels who love the outdoors and the thrill of landscape photography.  And the cost is your contribution to the Saturday night pot luck.

We gather Friday night, set up and enjoy a friendly campfire.  Saturday is filled with photography, hiking and an informal class. We are also treated to the work of a guest photographer.  Saturday night is the big pot luck dinner when we all have a chance to relax and share stories from our day.  We do another sunrise shoot on Sunday morning before packing up and heading home.

If this sounds like fun, check out our website for more informationHere’s the link.

desert_pinnacle_impression_2010The group site is tent camping only and we are restricted on space.  Regular camping is first come, first served.  Meaning: you need to register for the gathering.  Registration consists of two forms – Registration and Assumption of Risk.  Also, if you want to camp in an RV or all the spaces in the group site are taken you will need to camp in one of the regular campsites.  This is generally no problem and you can still participate in all the activities.

People are already signing up for this popular event so get your registration in now to secure your spot.  The forms can be downloaded from my websiteHere’s the link.  You can fax or mail the form to me.  Instructions are on the website and the form.

So come on out and join us in beautiful Joshua Tree National Park.  The Joshua Tree Gathering is an event not to be missed!  And if you know someone who might also be interested share this post with them. 



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Photography Workshops in 2012

July 29th, 2011

I’m excited to announce the 2012 Ralph Nordstrom Photography Workshop schedule.  More beautiful locations; more wonderful photography.  But before discussing each of the workshops I’d like to say a few words about my philosophy on photography because it carries over into the workshops.

death_valley_dunes_2011I believe that photography is art.  And I believe art is interpretation and communication.  That is to say, we are each artists to one degree or another.  And our photography is a unique expression of our view of the world and our interpretation of reality.  One way to grow as an artist is to expand the way we see the world, to see the world in new and fresh ways.  And we also continue to grow when we become more fluent in communicating our world view through our photographs, when we expand our Creative Vocabulary.

Granted, a large component of a successful photography workshop is being in the right place in the best of light.  And work on technical skills is also important.   But I also like to challenge the participants to stretch themselves creatively, to get in touch with how they relate to a location and explore how they can express their feelings and impressions in their photographs.  It’s a meaningful experience and I’ve received feedback from some telling me that it has helped them slow down and see photography in an entirely new way.  I’m always humbled when I get that kind of response.  So you can expect to be challenged to shoot things you normally wouldn’t see, to perhaps get outside your comfort zone and hopefully to return home with new insights into your art.

But where does all this magic take place?  Well, in magical places of course.

Death Valley Photography Workshop, February 11-14, 2012

badwater_dawn_2011The Death Valley Workshop is always very popular so if you’re interested you better sign up right away.  I like to go in February because it’s still the ‘rainy’ season.  And for three years running we’ve been delighted with a lake in Badwater.  This is really an incredible time of year with clear air, wonderful temperatures and great light.

2012 Death Valley Photography Workshop – click here.



Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop, June 2-7, 2012

mt_whitney_first_light_2009I love the Sierra Nevada Mountains and this workshop takes us to some of the most amazing wonders this area has to offer.  You may ask yourself, “Why June?”  The answer is simple. This is springtime in the mountains.  The aspen are sending out their first shoots of foliage.  The streams are splashing and dancing.  The bristlecone pines are always an inspiration.  Everything is fresh and clean and full of life.  There is so much to experience that we it takes a full five nights and six days to cover it all.

2012 Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop – click here.


Big Sur Summer Photography Workshop, August 6-9, 2012

bixby_bridge_2011If you haven’t been to Big Sur you’re in for an incredible treat.  Quite simply, it’s the most spectacular meeting of mountain and sea on the entire West Coast.  Nowhere else will you find mile-high mountains that plunge into the sea in as little as two miles.  But Big Sur is more than majestic headlands.  Coves and beaches with crashing surf dot the coast.  Streams splash down narrow canyons and leap over waterfalls.  Hidden groves of coastal redwoods abound.  And the name of the famous restaurant in the village of Big Sur sums it all up – Nepenthe, the cure for sorrow (by the way, once the home of Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth).

2012 Big Sure Summer Photography Workshop – click here.


Zion National Park Photography Workshop, October 13-16, 2012

Riverside_Walk_2007Zion is one of the most inspiring places I know of.  There’s something almost spiritual about this beautiful canyon and its surroundings.  And I’m not the only one that feels that way.  Zion means “Place of refuge.”  There is a tremendous feeling of contrasts here with the gentle Virgin River set against the power and majesty of the towering red cliffs.  Many call this the red Yosemite.  And we are here at a magical time when the first touch of autumn begins to paint the trees.

2012 Zion NP Photography Workshop – click here.


Bryce Canyon National Park Photography Workshop, October 16-19, 2012

silent_city_2010If you’re already in Zion you may just as well drive the short two hours to take in the other wonder in this corner of Utah – Bryce Canyon.  I don’t know where on earth you will ever find more stirring sunrise than at Bryce Canyon.  But that’s not all.  Surrounding Bryce are many other exciting wonders that we will explore.  It’s a perfect extension of the Zion workshop.  And when you’re in country this beautiful who in their right mind would want to rush back home?

2012 Bryce Canyon NP Photography Workshop – click here.

So we offer a special Utah Southwest Super Workshop that combines these two workshops and is offered at a very special price.  It’s a full week of exciting, challenging and immensely rewarding photography.

2012 Utah Southwest Super Workshop – click here.

Big Sur Winter Photography Workshop, November 5-8, 2012.

plaskett_rock_north_2011Big Sur is such a magnificent place that it deserves a second visit.  In winter this wild coastline offers a completely different experience.  Early winter storms can churn the surf and turn gentle streams into rushing torrents.  It’s even been known  to snow higher up in the mountains.  And I’m the lucky one; I get to be there for both summer and winter.

2012 Big Sur Winter Photography Workshop – click here.

I’m working on some other workshop ideas.  I have some really special places in mind but it’s too early to announce them.  Stay tuned.

Take Advantage of these Discounts

We offer a number of discounts that are spelled out on the website.  But I want to point out a couple you might be especially interested in.

The Early Bird discount of 10% is available to those who sign up for a 2012 workshop by December 31st, 2011.  This is 10% off the 2012 workshop prices.

Returning participants can take advantage of the Alumni discount of 15%.

I also want to let you know about the ‘Bring a Friend’ discount.  If you go to the trouble of recruiting another participant I am happy to give you a whopping 33% discount.  After all, there ought to be something in it for you.

Only one of these discounts can be applied to any given workshop.

To help you get started, here are links to the signup forms.

2012 Registration Form – click here to download

Assumption of Risk Form – click here to download

Pick the workshop that inspires you and reserve your space now.  Download these forms and return them to me with your deposit either by fax or mail and you’re in.  We accept check, Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

I’m looking forward to shooting with you in these incomparable locations.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3 (Part 2)–Bodie

June 15th, 2011

Well, the third leg was so exciting and so filled with beautiful locations that its account had to be divided into two parts.  So we pick up after sunrise at Mono Lake and continue on with the wonderful ghost town of Bodie, California.

If you missed the first thee posts here they are.

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1 – Lone Pine

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2 – Bishop

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3 – Lee Vining

Bodie is a fascinating place on several levels.  It is one of the best preserved examples of a boom town, supported in grandeur between 1877 and 1880 by the gold that was extracted from its mines.  Many of the buildings are still standing although considering that at its heyday there were around 2000 buildings that housed a rip roaring population of about 5000 to 7000, the several score of buildings that are left is rather small.

And yet, walking along its streets it’s easy to let your imagination run wild and guess what it might have been like to live there.

This was a wonderful day to visit Bodie.  The parking lot was surprisingly empty except for two big yellow school busses up from Mammoth.  The 4th graders were having a field trip as part of their studies of California history.  And boy, what a field trip that must have been.

I’ve never had so much fun photographing Bodie as on this day.  So I think I’ll just let the  photographs speak from themselves and present them without further comment.


eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6255 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6254 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6257 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6263 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6269 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6278 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6282 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6284 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6287 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6288 eastern_sierra_110609__A1P6292

And finally as we retraced our steps back down Cottonwood Canyon a farewell party met us to send us safely on our way.


So that’s it.  Not long after this last photograph was captured I found myself unwinding the week that had just passed as I returned down highway 395 towards home.  As I left Lee Vining and passed through Mammoth, Bishop, Big Pine, Independence and finally Lone Pine wonderful memories came over me like passing through a dreamy fog.  I felt a sense of both gratitude sadness, gratitude that we had been so fortunate to have such wonderful light and sad that it must come to an end.

But my family was waiting for me 300 miles away and I was ready and eager to see them again, share my experiences with them and catch up on what I had missed while I was away.

If you know of someone who might enjoy this account please feel free to pass this post along.  There is a Share button at the top of the post for that purpose.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 3–Lee Vining

June 15th, 2011

With two wonderful and highly successful legs already completed we left Bishop and headed further north.  Our travel day was a big day for photography with a lot of very exciting stops planned.

But before heading out, here are the links to the first two legs in case you missed them.

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1 – Lone Pine

Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2 – Bishop

For our sunrise shoot I had planned to photograph the snow clad mountains from the Alkali Ponds just north of Lake Crowley.  It was going to be a 45 minute drive and we wanted to arrive at 5:00 so you can do the math.

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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 2–Bishop

June 11th, 2011

After a great few days in Lone Pine (click here to read about them) we headed north to Bishop.

We were following the weather north. “What is he talking about?” For the three days we spent in Lone Pine the great weather – magical clouds, wind and rain – was on top of us and extended north from there. This made for some exhilarating photography. But when the weather petered out in Lone Pine and moved farther north, that was when we were planning on heading north anyway. So we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions.

Now Bishop is the “big city” in the Owens Valley with a population of nearly 4000.  One of the main attractions for landscape photographers is the Mountain Light Gallery.  This is Galen and Barbara Rowell’s gallery and a kind of Mecca for nature photographers.

There are a number of really interesting places to photograph around Bishop.

For example, once we got settled in to our hotel rooms we headed north of town to photograph the Owens River.  It still runs free in the Bishop area; that is, LA hasn’t diverted most of the water into the California Aqueduct.  We drove out the Five Bridges Road off of US 6 to where it crosses the river.  We got out and walked to the west along the river bank.  The river runs through an open pasture with grazing cattle so you need to be careful where you step.  But between the fishermen that frequent the river and the cattle, there are plenty of good trails.


The sunset was happing to the north so we found a location to shoot from that had a bit of a reflection of the clouds in the water.  The river comes around a sharp bend here, almost 180 degrees, so there is a lot of upwelling of the water that creates a constantly changing texture on the surface.  This was where I knelt down on the muddy bank to get the camera low to the water and maximize the reflection.  It was only after shooting for a while that I noticed the smell – cow pee.  Well, you do what you have to do to get the shot – right?

Above Bishop in the Sierra are three lakes you can drive to – North Lake, Lake Sabrina and South Lake.  The plan for the following morning was to drive up to North Lake for sunrise.  We got up at 3:00 AM to make the drive up.  But when we got there the road was still closed.  Spring is coming really late to the Sierra this year and the snow melt hasn’t really gotten underway yet.  That was a disappointment because North Lake is exquisite and they drain Lake Sabrina and South Lake during the winter so that when the spring melt does come the lakes have enough capacity to hold the runoff.  Otherwise there would be uncontrolled flooding downstream.  But that means there are no photographic opportunities at either of those lakes.

But there is a really excellent plan B in the area – the South Fork of Bishop Creek.  You could tell from the aspens that grow in groves along the creek where spring was.  At the high elevations of South Lake the aspens hadn’t started to bud yet.  But as we traveled down the creek to increasingly lower elevations we first noticed buds, then sprouts and then full blown leaves.


The place along the road where we stopped to photograph was where the aspens and willows both were just in the sprouting stage.  We photographed the mountain side in open shade which combined with the fresh green and red colors of the emerging aspen and willow leaves to produce a very soft, delicate effect.  This is what keeps pulling be back to the Sierra at this time of year.

From Bishop we’re about an hour and a half drive from the ancient bristlecone pines.  These are the oldest living trees on the planet.  It is a humbling experience to even be in their presence.  You realize that not only have countless generations of humans come and gone in their 4500+ years of existence but entire civilizations and empires have done the same.

But this year we couldn’t get to the bristlecones, again because of the late spring.  The road was not open to my favorite tree.  But along the part of the road that was open is a magnificent viewpoint that looks across the Owens Valley to one of the most rugged sections of the Sierra Crest – the Palisades.  So with thunder storms all around we drove up there to experience this view under some truly remarkable conditions.


While the weather conditions were really exciting, this is still a difficult shot because of the great distances involved.  So I rendered the photographs in black and white to fully emphasize the incredible excitement and power we felt as we watched the weather unfold.


The folks fortunate enough to live in the Eastern Sierra talk about God Beams or God Light.  Well, as you can see they were streaming down all around Mount Tom and the town of Bishop.  You know, you’re up there and see this kind of light go on for literally hours and you get kinda giddy.  It’s difficult to put the excitement and joy you feel into words.

Shortly after the 8:15 sunset we headed back to the hotel in Bishop.  It was close to 10:00 when we got back to our rooms – a very long day.  And the following morning was going to be another 3:00 AM wake up call.  But you really don’t mind.  The energy you get from being in these beautiful places keeps you going.  You can always sleep when you get home.

There’s one more leg to our workshop, the Lee Vining, Mono Lake leg that I’ll share with you in the next post.

Join me on an upcoming workshop.  Click here for more details.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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Eastern Sierra Workshop: Leg 1–Lone Pine

June 7th, 2011

No matter how many times you repeat to yourself, “Bad weather makes for great photography,” it’s always a bit disconcerting to be checking out the skies the day before the workshop is scheduled to begin and see solid high clouds with nary a speck of blue in sight.  And the wind’s picking up.  And checking the Weather Underground website shows more clouds moving in from the west!

So, yes, the prospect of striking out seemed very real.

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2011 Photography Workshops

March 13th, 2011

The 2011 photography workshop year is off to a great start.  Death Valley was a roaring success and we have more extraordinary workshops scheduled for the remainder of the year.

Death Valley Photography Workshop

The 2011 Death Valley photography workshop was full.  We all had a great time, laughed a lot and made some good friends.

I love Death Valley in February because the weather and conditions can be truly unique.  And this year was no exception.

You don’t often expect to see standing water in the hottest, driest place in all of North America, much less lakes that stretch for literally miles.  But for the third year in a row that is what we encountered.  We had an absolutely astounding sunrise at Badwater with beautiful pink clouds overhead reflected in the seemingly unending expanse of water.  And the fortunate thing is the day after the workshop ended high winds blew all the water away so that by the next weekend it was all gone.  We continue to be very lucky that way.

Click here to see what I’m talking about – Badwater Dawn 2011

We’ll be back in Death Valley next year the same time – February 11-14, 2012.  You won’t want to miss it.

Eastern Sierra Workshop

We are returning to the Eastern Sierra from June 4th to the 9th.  I always get excited returning to the mountains where I spent so much time in my youth.  And while we won’t be sleeping under the starts near a lake at 10,000, the thrill is still there just being in the company of these majestic peaks.

Besides such towering peaks as Mt Whitney, Mt Williamson, Mt Tom and on and on, we will explore roaring cascades, the placid and beautiful Owen’s River, sparkling lakes, the always amazing ancient bristlecone pine, the mysterious tufa of Mono Lake and the best preserved ghost town in the country – Bodie.  Last year we were even able to get into the high country of Yosemite National Park for a truly amazing experience.

If you love the mountains as I do and want to see them in their spring glory, this is a workshop that is not to be missed.  We still have spaces available but hurry.  This has proven to be a popular workshop in the past.

For more information on the Eastern Sierra workshop, click here.

Big Sur Workshop

This is a new workshop this year and already proving to be very popular.  We will explore the dramatic California coast from Cambria and San Simeon to the south to Carmel and Monterey to the north.  The 70 miles in between hold some of the most exciting coastline you will find anywhere as the Santa Lucia mountains plunge into the blue Pacific.

Besides the surf crashing on rocky cliffs, this coastline is home to the southernmost groves of coastal redwoods, beautiful waterfalls and a few scattered sandy beaches.  In many places the Cabrillo Highway (also known as Highway 1) clings to the side of the steep slopes with many picturesque bridges spanning the larger streams.  The most famous of these is Bixby bridge.

We will be exploring the many gems over a four day period from August 8th to the 11th.  The grand finale will be photographing sunset at Point Lobos, Edward Weston’s old haunt.

This workshop is nearly full so if you’re interested I would encourage you to not delay.

For more information on the Big Sur workshop, click here.

Southwest Utah – Zion and Bryce Workshops

You don’t want to miss Zion and Bryce in October.  The weather is ideal and the colors of autumn are just starting to appear.  And in Bryce, it’s possible an early storm can blow through and leave a dusting of fresh white show on the orange hoodoos.

This is actually two workshops that run back to back but most people sign up for both (at a discounted price).  We explore Zion beginning Saturday, October 15th and then move on to Bryce Tuesday, October 18th.  The workshop wraps up on Friday, October 21st.  It’s

Zion holds a special place in my heart.  Zion means ‘place of refuge,’ and that is how I feel about it.  It’s grandeur has a special renewing quality about it.  And Bryce is always exciting as it is the home to some of the best sunrises on earth.  There’s nothing more glorious than watching the sun come up over Thor’s Hammer.

Click here for more information on the Zion workshop.

And here’s the link to the Bryce workshop.

Central California Coast and Napa Valley Workshop

In November we are returning to the Central California Coast, this time above and below San Francisco.   We will spend five exciting days working our way from Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco, up the coast to Point Reyes and then inland to Napa Valley. 

This workshop includes dramatic shorelines, some of the beautiful locations within San Francisco, the Golden Gate bridge, Point Bonita and Point Reyes, and out of the way gems within Napa Valley.

November is the perfect time of the year to be in this area and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Here’s the link to the Central California Coast and Napa Valley workshop.

So that’s the roundup for the rest of 2011.  As you can tell we are holding photography workshops in some very exciting places.

My Photography Workshop Philosophy

I believe photography workshops need to be more than just taking you to beautiful places.  So I have developed a three-point philosophy that I see as my obligation to you or anyone who attends one of our workshops.

  1. First, I am obligated to get you to the right place at the right time.  That is, we will visit locations with exciting photographic potential in the best light.
  2. Second, I want to make sure you return home with technically sound images.  So I’ll work closely with you to make sure your images are well composed and you use the best techniques to produce the highest quality captures.
  3. Third, I will challenge you to expand your vision.  We all grow as photographers and artists when we expand the way  we see the world.  So each of the locations we photograph will have special challenges to help you see them in fresh and exciting new ways.

I also believe our workshops provide a great value – a personal touch at a reasonable price.  I invite you to compare what we offer with other workshops and I think you’ll agree.

So check us out and come join the fun. 

Here’s a list of all the 2011 photography workshops.

To see more of my photographs click here.


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Death Valley Workshop Map

February 23rd, 2011

I use a device called Spot while in the field.  It keeps track of where I am and transmits my location to a communications satellite.  I can check in whenever I want (and call for help if I need it).  This all gets captured on a map.  It shows many of the locations where we were shooting during the workshop.  I added pictures from flickr and presto, changeo, we have an account of the workshop. 

Click on the title above the map to see it in interactive mode.  Enjoy.

Death Valley Workshop 2011

Share your Adventures with SpotAdventures


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