Wow–what a week! This was my fourth hands-on field workshop with Bill Fortney (pictured with me above in Moab. Photo by Chuck Barnes), and it was perhaps our most fun workshop yet. Fun is really a great way to describe Bill’s workshops, because he really makes fun an emphasis of the week, and the whole time you’re laughing and making new friends while you’re learning.

Wednesday Night
The workshop starts with a social evening on Wednesday night, where Bill introduces the team of instructors and photographers helping the class out, and he shows slideshows from each of us. I used Aperture to do my slideshow, because I can sync each slide to the music, and I wanted to include a sports section to my slideshow, sync’d to the Fox NFL Sports theme, and while the syncing worked great, for reasons I can’t understand, the slides looked kind of pixelated and a bit jaggy on the big screen. I sat in the front row, so I could see it clearly, but people sitting a few rows back said they never noticed it (but I was cringing the whole time nonetheless).

We spent the night all getting acquainted, but we didn’t stay up too late because the next morning we had to be ready to roll at 5:30 am to catch the sunrise light (essential to landscape photography).

(Above: one from Mesa Arch, just after dawn, and after most of the photographers had already left (click for a much larger view). When we got there at 6:00 am in pitch darkness, there were already around 30 photographers, tripods in place, already set up and ready to shoot. They weren’t happy to see us. In fact, some were down right ornery. Shot on a Nikon D3 at f/22 with a 14-24mm lens and presented here using my cinematic style wide screen cropping [link]).

We head out to our shoots in a caravan of cars, but we try and carpool as much as possible, to keep the number of cars to a minimum (less cars means less chance of anyone getting lost, and we don’t have as many parking issues), plus by having groups riding together, you wind up making new friends.

Two Shoots a Day. Minimum.
We shoot at Dawn and Dusk each day, and I threw in an extra mid-day shoot on Saturday as I arranged to have a mountain bike rider meet us at Slick Rock Trail for a location-flash portrait shoot, then some stunt riding and jumps in natural light (it turned out to be a blast).

(Above: Here’s the simple on location lighting set-up I used for a mountain biker portrait. A Nikon SB-900 flash mounted on a Lumapro lightstand, shooting through a Westcott 40″ shoot through umbrella. I used a Pocket Wizard to fire the flash, so both Canon and Nikon shooters could use the Nikon flash. I also used a Nikon external battery pack to reduce recycle time).

(Above: Here’s the view from the rider’s point of view [well, over his shoulder, anyway]. Some of the students were shooting natural light, while waiting for their turn with the Pocket Wizard. A few participants brought their own flashes, so they were firing theirs through the umbrella as well, with another participant, or me, holding their flash. As you can see, we were shooting in very bright sunlight, at 2:00 pm in the afternoon. It looks hot, but it wasn’t—the weather was perfect!).

(Above: Here’s the final image that set-up creates (click on it for a larger view). I shot this at f/22 at 1/250 of a second to get the ambient daylight dark enough to where the flash would overpower the sun and light the subject. I set the flash to Manual mode and put it at full power. After about 15 or so minutes, the SB-900 overheated and shut down. Luckily, I had a back-up unit, so I swapped it out. About 15 minutes into that session, the other SB-900 was on the verge of overheating, too [ugh!] so we moved over to shoot Tyson, our mountain biker, do some jumps in natural light.

(Above: Here’s me sitting on the ground, in the red jacket, taking the shot you just saw. The guy holding the flash is holding it for someone else in the class. Photo by Wayne Bennett, one of our team leaders).

(Above: Here’s one of the shots I got shooting Tyson as he did some jumps. Shot using a 70-200mm lens at f/2.8 to get the shallow depth of field. This was taken about 25 feet from where we shot the portraits of him).

Then, back to the classroom
After our dawn shoot each day, we’d all meet at a yummy breakfast location, have some break time to shower or just relax from the dawn shoot, then we’re back in the classroom from 10:30 am to 12:00 noon. We break for lunch, then we’re back in the classroom until 5:00 pm, when we head out for a dusk location shoot. After that, everyone’s free to go and grab dinner, but a group of students and an instructor headed out two nights in a row to take Star Trail shots (and they got some killer stuff on the 2nd night, when the sky cooperated).

(Above: here’s another from Mesa Arch after everyone left, shot from just beyond the right side of the arch, looking down onto the valley. I knew shooting directly into the sun that I’d get some lens flare, but weird as it may sound, I kinda like it).

A Lightroom Crowd
Out of the 35 photographers in the crowd, 33 were already using Lightroom, so we focused on that most of the time (the other two downloaded free 30-day trial versions so they could learn it as well). We did cover some of the important stuff in CS5 for landscape photographers, but I have to tell you—–Content Aware Fill became a running joke with us, because I’d open an image and mention that something should be taken out, and I use the Spot Healing Brush set to Content Aware to remove it, and then I’d say “This probably won’t work…” but son-of-a-gun if it didn’t work miraculously just about every time. If you’re a landscape photographer, Content Aware fill alone is worth the CS5 upgrade. It’s like it was created for outdoor photographers.

(Above: I wasn’t in quite the right position to catch the sun coming up through the arch, and the photographers who were there, were in a fightin’ mood, so I got this one after sun-up off a bit to the right). This is actually an HDR shot merging three exposures, but I wanted to keep it more photorealistic. More on that part coming up).

An HDR Crowd
Pretty much everybody at the workshop was into HDR; they were either already shooting and processing HDR, or they wanted to, and as luck would have it, Nik Software was about to release their HDR Efex Pro plug-in for creating HDR images, so I asked the folks at Nik if I could show it to my class before it’s official release yesterday. They obliged, and the participants in my class absolutely loved it! A number of them who were NAPP members bought the plug-in on Friday (using a special discount code just for NAPP members), and they were processing their images already. It was getting LOTS of love from the participants. It’s got so many great presets built-in, you can just choose the one you want and bam–you’re done.

(Above: Here’s all I did to process the HDR image using Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro. I opened it up, clicked on the Preset called “Gradual Contrasts 2,” which I thought gave it more of a photo realistic look, then I dropped three Control Points on the sky to darken the exposure a bit. That’s it. Click the screen cap above for a much larger view. By the way—this plug-in is going to be HUGE!)

In Class Critiques
One of the most helpful parts of the week, is the in-class critiques. Each participant turns in three images (either stuff they took there in Moab, or stuff from their portfolio), and I put all those into the Bridge and we evaluate each image in front of the class (we don’t know who shot what, so it’s an anonymous critique unless the shot is so awesome that we ask you to let us know who took it). If we recommend a crop, or a Levels adjustment, or a filter, etc., I can pop-open the image right there and tweak it in front of the class, and it’s a great learning experience. We’re very kind to the students we’re critiquing, but we’re also frank and honest about what can be done to improve the image (I actually played a cricket sound effect over my mic when one particular image came up, just for laughs). By the way, just because I used Bridge in this instance, doesn’t mean I advocate using the Bridge. Remember what I always say about the Bridge—”There’s a reason why it’s free.” ;-)

(Above: Here’s one from our first dawn shoot. The light only lit up the butte there for about two minutes, and then tucked back into the clouds, only to return a while later as very harsh light. I got this one before things got too squirrely. Just Lightroom, no HDR or plug-ins or anything. Well, I did run an Unsharp Mask). By the way, “I like big buttes and I cannot lie. You other brothers can’t deny!” (sorry, that was lame).

The Best Burger Ever. Really!
While we were there I did a Google search for “Best burger in Moab” and found Milts Stop & Eat, (link) a “hole in the wall” off the beaten track where the locals go that’s been there since 1954. That’s a good sign, but what also caught my eye was it had 34 reviews on , and yet had a rating of 4-1/2 stars (out of 5), which is very rare. We were having dinner somewhere else, and asked the server what she thought of Milts, and she admitted that it blew their burger away. We went the next day, and it was, without a doubt, the best burger I’d ever had. Unreal. Better than my beloved In/Out Burger. Better than 5-Guys. Just off the charts.

Besides being a world class landscape photographer, Bill Fortney is a hamburger aficionado, and in fact had a Web site where he rated burger joints around the country, in his search for the perfect burger. We told Bill about it, and he went the next day. He came back and announced to the class that he went to Milt’s, and he rated their burger the highest rating he had ever given any hamburger joint in America. Yes, it’s that good.

I loved how the place looked very much like it must have looked back in the 50s. They’ve probably never changed the grease, which is probably why everything tastes so good. The cooks are gruff. The service is indifferent. They play old bluegrass on the radio. It’s cramped, and the chairs are uncomfortable. It’s absolutely perfect. :)

(Above: Here’s a hand-held HDR of the interior at Milt’s, processed using Nik’s HDR Efex Pro in all of about 60-seconds [it's late and I want to go to bed]. The customer at the counter wasn’t all that thrilled that we were taking pictures with him in the frame. He glared over at us, with the kind of glare that lets you know you’ve taken enough shots).

An iPad Crowd
It seemed like every photographer at this event had an iPad with them, and their portfolio on it, which I think it really cool. I’ve never seen anything that makes your photos look better than showing them on an iPad (it’s the digital equivalent of metallic printing) and everybody was sharing images and their picks for favorite apps the entire workshop. If you’re still on the fence about an iPad, just ask a photographer who has one. It’s like they were made for photographers (one of the participants was using his as his photo back-up device, using the Apple Connector Kit).

A Great Crowd
Teaching with Bill Fortney, is always a treat, but I have to say (and Bill would agree), what made this workshop was the people who were there to take the workshop. This group was so into it. They were so passionate and willing to learn and try new things. They had a great attitude, they were up for anything (and up each day at the crack of dawn), and they were simply a pleasure to be around. I made some new friends, and learned some new things. I got to spend an hour with one of the team leaders who was an absolute ace at HDR (as we saw in his opening night slideshow), and he shared his step-by-step processing method with me and Wayne one night, and we were both very impressed (and I learned a lot, which is always the case at these workshops. I always learn something from the other photographers at the event, and this was no exception).

(Above: one for the road—from sun-up near double arches. This shot had a massive lens flare that I was certain Content Aware fill wouldn’t fix, but it sure did, in all of about 30 seconds total, in five different spots. I’m still amazed).

Thanks Bill
It’s a true honor to get to speak alongside Bill Fortney. He is the real deal. Plain and simple. Bill loves people, and he has a real passion for sharing what he’s learned in his many years behind the lens. You can tell he loves every minute of it, and I love every minute I get to spend with him, and the wonderful folks that came out to spend a few days learning Lightroom, Photoshop, and photography in one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places on earth. Thank you Bill for letting me be part of your workshop, and thanks to everyone who made it such a memorable week—one I won’t soon forget.