Report from My Workshop in Moab, Utah

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.

  1. Scott:
    Wow! Terrific post on your workshop in Moab! My brother stopped there on a cross-country trip and still talks about it. A beautiful part of the country. Your whole take on the workshop was very interesting and made for great reading, especially with the accompanying photos.

    One thing I really didn’t understand was your story about the “ornery” photographers at the Mesa Arch. Did they not know who was in their midst? :)

    Seriously, I’d love to hear a few of their comments to your group. You would think civility would reign in the landscape photography world, but I guess it’s like anywhere else these days. Granted, I suppose it would be unsettling to see a group of 35 photographers show up to shoot where they were set up, but I don’t think anybody there owned the land! And I doubt that anyone in the workshop would have incited them.


    1. I was also kind of struck by the ornery folks already there. I think Joe McNally said he & Moose ran into a photographer with the same attitude when their group showed up at a rock a couple months ago.

      Hey, if you’re already there and setup, why worry about the late-comers? I don’t see the need to be ornery – just early.

      1. I was with Joe and Moose that day with the surly guy when our group of 30 showed up… You should have seen him when at least two busloads of Japanese tourists showed up. Everyone but him had a great time!

    2. We were in Moab week before you guys. Fantastic place, you could spend a lifetime in Arches, Canyonlands and surrounds. We too got up 430am but seemed like there was always someone else at a spot before us! We had group of 10 and at Mesa Arch and Landscape Arch lots of overlapping tripod legs and little elbow room! It was good to move around after you get the classic shot to work the area.

      1. I’m not familiar with the area or the space available. Is there a limited amount of space for people to stand or set-up tripods? Does the Park Service have a designated area that no one can go out of?


  2. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been to Moab. Spent a night there on a driving holiday in 1994. A truly spectacular place. What a life you have, Scott. From Moab to Islington in the space of just a few days!

  3. Wow!!!

    Scott, now that was worth the wait. Absolutely stunning shots. Love the Mesa Arch shots. The natural colors, and the freshness that comes from landscape photography makes it so calming to look at.

    Thanks Scott

  4. I bought your three books in Beijing, The Digtal Photography Book volume 1-3, they’re Chinese version. I like them very much, and they let me know a lot of photography skills. Tks!

  5. Scott,

    What a fantastic blog to start my week! (It was a our Thanksgiving holiday up here in Canada yesterday). Your photography, as always, blew me away and your narrative of the week at Moab made me feel as though I was there… or at least want to be there next time. When finances permit, you can count me in on one of these workshops. Thanks for sharing your passion, your photography and your knowledge.

    Trev J.

  6. Great blog Scott. I enjoy looking almost every day.

    Note that the bike images are on the SLICK Rock Trail (not Slippery Rock)! Just in case you caption some of those images sometime. At least I’m pretty sure of that — Slick Rock is a famous mt. biking trail just outside of Moab. Cheers! Ken Driese

      1. Slippery Rock is in western Pennsylvania. I’ve been there too. I actually knew a guy who drowned at the state park. The accident was predictable. He slipped. Off the slippery rocks into the water. He was trying to take a photo of the falls. I’m not making this up. It was the summer of 1986.

        Anyway, back to Utah… The Slickrock Trail is amazing to bike and stunningly beautiful. I was there in January. There were large patches of snow everywhere. I envy everyone that go to go with Scott and Bill. I intend to get back to Moab one of these years. But next time I’ll take my Jeep. :-)

  7. I’m definitely going to try to get to one of those workshops someday! The bike portrait was great. I do some wedding photography and portraits in the afternoon are inevitable but I don’t feel like I’ve mastered them. Might make for an interesting class. (hint!)

    In any case, I always enjoy the recaps you provide on these workshops.

  8. Awesome stuff!! Thanks for sharing this Scott….

    Just last week I finally broke down and bought Photomatrix Pro….and of course, a new, slick looking plugin gets released from Nik :(

    Do you think Nik’s HDR Efex is heads and shoulders above Photomatrix with the new control points?

    I did download the trial, but it is drastically slower than Photomatrix on my Macbook Pro 15″ 2.4ghz with 4GB RAM. Is it time for an upgrade :)

  9. Scott, when can we get a brief tutorial for HDR Efex Pro? The webinar on the nik site is way too long. Just some basics. For instance, is it better to start from Lr or Ps and should you do all the RAW adjustments first and open jpgs or tiffs. . .yada yada yada.

    Thanks, amazing shots!

      1. Scott,

        Don’t forget to mention the ghosting issue though. I’m sure Nik will put a patch up to improve that aspect. Because otherwise, its a great piece of software.

        PS – My favorite shot so fare is the HDR you just put up on your Facebook page. Nicely done!

  10. Scott,

    What an amazing blog post. I know you’re a busy guy with lots of projects on your radar but this kind of post is why I read your blog everyday. I also know a post like this takes some time and yours is always being stretched. I just wished there were more posts like this. It was as if I was reading a really good book. It drives me to be a better photographer. Well done.

  11. Hey Scott,

    This may seem like a strange question to ask a photoshop guru – but I think of you as a photographer first and photoshop guy second: You mention using healing brush and content aware fill to remove things from your images. Now, when I think of classic landscape photography I think of getting it “in camera” and not removing objects that were in the natural environment (even if they themselves were man-made, like a can). Do you automatically reach for the brush to get rid of these kinds of things?

    Is it even a consideration to caption the photos as being computer modified?

    With most genre of photos I’m all for using the computer tools we have – but for nature / landscape photography I can’t help but feel it is out of place. Let me know what you think. I don’t know if we’re talking about dust on a lens or a stray branch.

  12. Scott – terrific post with enough detail and flair to really give us the sense of how the workshop went. Total quality job, and of course what a terrific photo spot is Moab – Wow!

    Just a quick note for Warren – I’m with Nik. We’ve made 6 tutorial-style videos for HDR Efex Pro accessible on the Nik Software site under the Learn tab. Having said that, for sure Scott will bring a special flavor and deep insights to his take on the software and address your questions directly. Cheers!

  13. Glad you enjoyed your time in Utah. It’s home for me so I consider myself lucky to be able to get to Moab several times a year.

    For anyone going to Moab soon… don’t for get the La Sal mountains just east of Moab. The fall colors are at their peak!

  14. Hello Scott Kelby,
    I’m one of your biggest photography fans! I’m currently finishing my second year university(leaving me with about two years left) and Photography and Photoshopping has been my passion. I always take the time to admire your photography and I have all your Photography books and Photoshop magazines and would like to thank you for being a remarkable inspiration to me, and your books have been of great help to many!
    My biggest dream is to graduate and get to one day meet you and all of those working with you!(I can actually name them)
    I hope you get to read this and would love to thank you once again and I would love to one day fulfill my dream of meeting such a wonderful inspirational photographer, you.
    Regards :)

  15. Hey Scott, thanks for the images and info…I liked the flare in the image, some dont but I feel that it adds another point of interest and helps tell the story of where/when/how…I do agree that it should be left out sometimes, but a hard rule it should not be…(my Yoda impression).

    Also, I looked at the menu for the burgers and was wondering if you got a regular burger or a specialty…Which one do you recommend? Which one did Bill have? I am a burger maniac too so I would love to know his burger site…????


  16. As a new (< 1 week) iPad owner, I'm curious – what apps were used to share the portfolios amongst the iPadded workshop attendees? I know you've recently shared a link to Terry White's 8 "must have" photo apps for the iPad… so were they using Photoshop Express? Smugmug? Just the basic Photos app? Some other as-yet-unmentioned gem of photodigital goodness???? With so many iPadders present, surely there were some interesting approaches to iPortfolio sharing. Inquiring minds want to know….

  17. The pleasure was all mine Scott, you’re not only a fantastic teacher, author, photographer, and musician, but even more important to me, a wonderful friend. Any time spent in the field with you is time I would never give up, and By-the-way you’re right, Milt’s is the new Gold standard for cheeseburgers for me, but it has to be a double, a 1/4 pounder just won’t cut it, not enough grease!

    Love you man,


  18. Scott,

    That was a fabulous workshop last week in Moab that you and Bill put together. It exceeded my expectations!!! including the great hamburgers at Milt’s. I now realize how much I have to learn and how much fun it is to learn from you and Bill. Thanks for the great time and the tremendous experience. Now I need to continue practicing what you taught us.

    Marc S

  19. Great post and some great shots! Just one thing that bugs me every time I see it and that’s the”rider in the sky ” photo. It’s lacking the intensity. What’s the landing like? How was the take off? Every time I see one of those photos, it’s cropped so tight I think it’s hiding something. Get the whole shoot. The rider is just one part.

  20. Hey Scott I have a question, so now with the HDR Nik software do we need multiple exposure or with just one image I can get the HDR effect, because I have Photomatix for my HDR images, but if this new software offer HDR effect with just one Image I would get it right the way…thanks .

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