I originally wrote this as a post at Pentaxforums.com, so if a lot of this seems familiar to those of you who hang out there, then that’s why. For those of you who don’t hang out there, I’m posting it (with a few modifications) for your benefit.
Overall, it was a great experience and I would recommend it to anybody who’s interested in nature photography. 🙂
Originally, the workshop was supposed to be led by Bill Lea, but due to a family emergency, he wasn’t able to make it. Despite that, the other 5 assistant instructors did a great job teaching and helping us out in the field.
The workshop was a combination of shooting trips to various locations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (determined by weather conditions), as well as lectures on various aspects of nature photography. The workshop started on Friday with a pre-workshop lecture on gear used out in the field and continued with presentations by a couple of the instructors of their own work, as well as another lecture on the basics of nature photography. Saturday and Sunday, the instructors had us going from before sunrise to sunset with field trips both in the morning and late afternoon. The instructors went along with us on the field trips and wandered around, helping us and giving us suggestions as we were out shooting. Sandwiched in between were lectures and individual instructor feedback on the results of our shoots (bringing a laptop loaded with your favorite photo editing software is advised). Sunday afternoon also included a group review where the participants presented 3 pics to the instructors and the rest of the participants for review and criticism. While Sunday evening was the official end of the workshop, there was an optional shoot (choose your own destination) and lecture on Photoshop on Monday morning.
As for the participants, the skill levels ranged anywhere from beginners to advanced amateurs and a few semi-pros, I think. The instructors were very accomodating to everybody’s skill levels.
There is a dorm and dining hall onsite; the food was good and from what I understand, the accomodations were pretty basic (think summer camp); Dad and I chose to stay offsite in his and Mom’s travel trailer at a nearby campground. If you go, there are several lodging options in the way of both small motels and cabins if you choose not to stay onsite.
Getting there: if you’re within reasonable driving distance, driving is the best way to get there, as many of us carpooled together for the field trips; there was one van, but it could only hold 10 people and their gear out of the 27 + the instructors. If you choose to fly in, Knoxville is the closest airport with jet service; it’s about a 45 minute drive to GSMIT. With your gear, you’ll want to travel light, as you may find yourself on a regional jet with very limited carryon space (like I was)–I unexpectedly had to gate check my rolling Tenba Shootout medium-sized backpack containing most of my gear and laptop and was not very happy about it. Since getting home last Saturday (5/2), I’ve since sold this bag and plan on ordering something that’s a good bit smaller–most likely the Tenba Shootout Mini Backpack.
Overall, I got to know my tripod and newly purchased cable release a lot better–both were indespensible in helping me get the good results I did. I tried experimenting with smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds that I wouldn’t have done if I had been shooting handheld. Throughout the workshop, I relied on my Sigma 17-70, DA 55-300, and DFA 100 and really grew to appreciate their capabilities. I also learned that a backpack works a lot better for me than the hip pack I brought (since getting home, I’ve also sold that bag, too). Most importantly, using the tripod really helped me learn to slow down and think more when I’m composing my shots.
Costwise, the workshop was an excellent value. If you stay onsite, the total price is $555, $500 if you choose to stay offsite.
Just in case you’re wondering, I was the only Pentax user there. I did see one other person there with a Sony, but everybody else I was aware of were using either Nikon or Canon. The overall attitude was more about photography and less about the gear, so I didn’t get any flak about my Pentax. As a matter of fact, I got one or two positive remarks about my Pentax system. 🙂
GSMIT does have another photography workshop scheduled for October. If I can pull the finances together, I’m going to try and go again–if not, I’ll definitely be aiming for next spring. There were quite a few people at this workshop that were repeat participants, some many times, so I hope to see many of them again.