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Author Topic: A Caution about Iconic Southwest Locations  (Read 13621 times)
MichaelWorley
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« on: May 15, 2011, 03:14:52 PM »
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I’m from Arizona and should know better. But last year I signed up for a photographic workshop that promised access to numerous iconic northern Arizona and southern Utah locations. Including The Wave.

I assumed the workshop leader was a licensed guide and that he would secure the necessary permits for the people who signed up. He wasn’t and he didn’t. I’ve recently learned that even a licensed outfitter can’t get backcountry permits for others.

So this photographer, a “featured photographer” on the Singh-Ray site and a name most would recognize, exposed all his workshop attendees to serious penalties. It should have been a clue that something was amiss when he said to tell any ranger we met that we were friends out for a walk. In other words, leave him out of it.

Not one to learn too quickly from experience, I signed up for another northern Arizona workshop, mostly to accommodate a friend from out of state. This photographer, also a nationally recognized name, promised access to all manner of interesting locations owing to his familiarity with the Navajo Nation.

One of these locations had large “No Trespassing” signs at the gate where our leader parked the van. Other official signs warned that it was a violation of Navajo tribal and federal law to enter. Our leader blithely led us through and we passively followed.

Perhaps worse than trespassing was the lack of any word from our master photographer leader that we were entering onto a fragile rock formation. Instead, we each learned in turn that stepping on the subject we were photographing caused it to crumble, ruining it forever.

What are the lessons? Well, even big name guys can be idiots. Second, a photo workshop is not a way to gain easy access to places you know require permits. If you don’t know, research it on the NPS or BLM sites. If your leader insists on taking you somewhere that it’s illegal to enter? That’s something that we have to work out for ourselves. But it’s easier to work it out for yourself if you think about it in advance.
 
Mike
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jdemott
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« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2011, 04:26:36 PM »
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What you describe goes way beyond a minor step out of bounds.  Any workshop leader familiar with photographing in the Southwest had to have known he was engaged in seriously unethical and illegal behavior.  (In the case of the Navajo workshop, it is possible that the leader had permission to go past the signs, but from your post I assume it became clear to you he had no permission.)  Perhaps the best way to prevent that type of behavior is give names and details.  Do you really think it is okay for future participants to "work it out" for themselves?  Sunshine is the best disinfectant.
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John DeMott
MichaelWorley
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2011, 10:25:02 AM »
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John,

It does go beyond a minor misstep. And, after spending more than $20,000 on “workshops’” I despaired of ever finding one that lived up to the leader’s “personal statement” professing love of art and photography. If I felt as these “personal statements” imply, I wouldn’t be able to contain my enthusiasm about the things I love and would communicate them to the people paying me. Yet workshop after workshop was nothing more than a tour, with the leader pointing to some location while frequently going off somewhere else to photograph for himself, often with a favored “fanboy” from a previous workshop. Perhaps most egregious of all was a third photographer who used the workshop to extol his virtuosity and sell $8,000 in prints.

So I don’t think the behavior I described in my first post in this thread is unique. We have to be vigilant with anyone we’re not certain of.

I despaired of ever finding a true workshop led by an ethical person who could and wanted to teach and convey useful insights. I found such a person in Craig Tanner, and he was happy to share the names of other photographers he respected.
 
I’m reluctant to state actual names in this case, but I’ll give a puzzle. Photographer #1 lives in Arizona near Sedona, and his last name is, phonetically at least, the same as the name of an ethnic group favored by Russians and Poles for military service in the 19th and earlier centuries. This people still exists, and their name is often used in a pejorative sense by those who feel that they and their ancestors were victimized by them. Photographer #2 is based in Santa Fe, NM and in the past has been more frequently associated with large format B&W photography. His name sounds more like Kim Kardashian than Tony Sweet. Photographer #3 contributes to this very site, so I refrain from providing any clues as to his name.

Mike
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larryg
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2011, 10:37:08 AM »
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This reminds me of  workshop I took in Yellowstone and the Teton's with a well known photographer.  The first thing he said that we were to tell any official that we were all just friends on a trip together (in other words no license).  I did get some nice images but in the future would prefer to do things on the up and up.
I would think the consequeces for violaters could be severe?
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Lonnie Utah
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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2011, 10:57:35 AM »
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Given the amount of money folks spend on these, I really think it's fair to name names....
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2011, 11:10:47 AM »
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Right or wrong (very wrong IMO-its one thing to skirt some regs on your own to grab that great image, but to draw ill informed workshop menbers into it is really wrong), having had some experience leading workshops in the SW, legal access to many of these sites is virtually impossible or expensive to attain for groups, raising the cost of the workshop.

50 years ago when I first started photographing SW landscape you could go anywhere, but not anymore. Every year there are more restrictions.
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jdemott
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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2011, 11:20:35 AM »
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Michael,

I'm glad to hear that you had a good experience with Craig Tanner.  Although it has never worked out for me to take one of his workshops, I've exchanged a number of e-mails with Craig and participated on his websites--he has always struck me as someone who truly loves to teach.

As for the photographers who won't stay within bounds...they make it worse for everyone in so many ways.  If you don't feel comfortable naming names in this post, perhaps you should send them an e-mail and demand an explanation of their questionable behavior.  You could let them know you intend to post their responses (or lack thereof).  
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John DeMott
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« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2011, 12:43:52 PM »
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I've looked at workshops several times, but always decided against them. Mostly it boils down to ridiculous cancellation policies (no return of fees even if my spot is filled) or lack of interest in the instructor's work, but mostly lack of honest reviews. I can find thousands of reviews for a camera costing 1/10th of a standard workshop, but there are no reviews of workshops, anywhere. Hell, one can find reviews of doctors and teachers online, but photography workshops seem to be a taboo.

The only "reviews" I've seen are the praising ones on their own websites, obvious astroturfing efforts on various forums (including here), or the incestuous photography blogosphere where you are ostracized if you dare to post anything negative about anyone, except of course Ken Rockwell.

This is not a swipe at the OP, more of a general rant. Back to your usual programming.
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MichaelWorley
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2011, 01:52:51 PM »
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Michael,

I'm glad to hear that you had a good experience with Craig Tanner.  Although it has never worked out for me to take one of his workshops, I've exchanged a number of e-mails with Craig and participated on his websites--he has always struck me as someone who truly loves to teach.

As for the photographers who won't stay within bounds...they make it worse for everyone in so many ways.  If you don't feel comfortable naming names in this post, perhaps you should send them an e-mail and demand an explanation of their questionable behavior.  You could let them know you intend to post their responses (or lack thereof).  

Craig Tanner is great, and as soon as he came far enough west [Big Bend] I jumped at the chance to do a workshop. I can’t imagine a better or more varied experience. We even did things not on the menu that were designed to build confidence and help in problem solving. Not everyone did these exercises I found out later, but for my part they tore down some barriers.

I don’t think it would serve a purpose to out the idiots. They would still be idiots and I can’t think of a positive outcome from what could well develop into an unpleasant encounter.

Another reason is that it’s too late. These things need to be dealt with soon, and it’s been over a year. The reason I bring it up now is that I just returned from an outing with Paria Outfitters [Steve Dodson www.paria.com] and wanted to share what I now know.  Licensed outfitters lose their license and their livelihood if they do what we’ve been talking about. Steve was very interested to hear the conditions under which I visited The Wave.
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PatBeug
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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2011, 10:03:32 PM »
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Hey Mike,
I remember attending an outdoor workshop several years ago with you and a small group of other enthusiasts, hosted by Ron Reznick. http://www.digital-images.net/   It was a really fun group, and we had perfect May weather in Yosemite NP.  Nothing but good memories and great photos from that trip. As I remember, Ron was the consumate professional who took us to some beautiful sites, at the best times for shooting, all the while emphasizing and respecting the fragility of our surroundings.  I came away from the experience a better photographer, and still use the handholding technique he taught us for those times when you just don't have a tripod handy. He was also a wiz with Nikon capture and PhotoShop. If Ron still did workshops I would book another shoot with him in a heartbeat. Your post makes me cautious about randomly picking a photo guide, and, though I don't expect you to name names of the so called pros who don't live up to their billing, it would be nice to hear some recommendations from fellow enthusiasts about who they would recommend, in any and all locales.

Pat
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MichaelWorley
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« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2011, 05:08:44 PM »
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Hi Pat,

   I remember you! You are a dentist, so everyone shunned you as I recall. Cheesy Seriously, that was a good visit to Yosemite. And the last time I've been able to get to Glacier Point.

   Ron's only shortcoming was his inability to understand the physical limitations of others. Our first workshop was Bryce in 2003. We didn't understand that we'd be expected to walk all day up and down every promontory, and then climb out at Sunset Point. I had the wrong shoes and had failed to trim my toenails. So I lost three of them! Apart from that, it was fun.

   The trouble with recommending workshop leaders is that different people have different expectations. It's like recommending a car to someone you don't know.

   Some people just want to be taken to the "neat" stuff and feel imposed on if the instructor asks why they chose the composition they did. Craig Tanner has image review sessions twice a day of three pictures each that the participants have submitted. But he has found from numerous surveys that virtually no one wants to hear anything negative about their work. So he says only good things. That's useful, but I feel I'm being denied something by virtue of the group's wishes. You may recall my profession. In it, my opponents are PAID to criticize, deride, make fun off and generally belittle everything I write, say or do. I can take it! Craig still said only good things.

   Apparently, you have to sign up with Jay Maisel to get the straight stuff. He says bring five prints and be prepared to defend them with your life. He doesn't advertize it - because I guess everyone knows - but you need to be ready to hear phmukc in every other sentence.

   Hope you're doing well up there in the Northwest. Have you seen the sun recently?

Mike
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2011, 08:57:13 PM »
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I've done 4 workshops with Craig and that's probably the best reference I can give.  Once he knows you it's not hard at all to persuade him to 'take off the gloves' for his reviews.  Fwiw he's backing away from national parks workshops in part because he is so conscientious about being respectful of the rules and regulations and there is a real overhead involved with this kind of compliance.
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MichaelWorley
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« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2011, 12:05:54 PM »
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I've done 4 workshops with Craig and that's probably the best reference I can give.  Once he knows you it's not hard at all to persuade him to 'take off the gloves' for his reviews.  Fwiw he's backing away from national parks workshops in part because he is so conscientious about being respectful of the rules and regulations and there is a real overhead involved with this kind of compliance.

That is a ringing endorsement I'm happy to support. Craig's teaching style doesn't really need national parks. They're just an attraction, and I admit that Big Bend attracted me because I realized I'd probably never go there otherwise.

We photographed from the roadside and, with one possible exception outside the park, avoided any iconic views. Many in the group turned in excellent images they could have done in their backyards. One person took beautiful insect images. Craig was blown away that someone should reinforce Craig's own point to him: If you stumble along waiting for "that shot" to leap out at you, you'll miss everything along the way, and the shot probably won't leap out anyhow. A corollary is that if you seek it you will find it. This person saw and photographed insects everywhere. Neither Craig nor anyone else ever saw a bug out there.
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cwood
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« Reply #13 on: May 18, 2011, 01:35:29 PM »
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I find it amazing that so-called professional photographers expose themselves and their clients to risk of heavy fines or worse. Not unlike the photographer that built a fire under Delicate Arch to illuminate it at night, anyone that would take a group of people into The Wave without a permit is risking a $250.00 fine/ticket on the spot, if caught. And BLM personnel are now patrolling The Wave regularly checking for permits.
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MichaelWorley
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« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2011, 10:22:51 AM »
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I find it amazing that so-called professional photographers expose themselves and their clients to risk of heavy fines or worse. Not unlike the photographer that built a fire under Delicate Arch to illuminate it at night, anyone that would take a group of people into The Wave without a permit is risking a $250.00 fine/ticket on the spot, if caught. And BLM personnel are now patrolling The Wave regularly checking for permits.

Paria Outfitters is very careful about permits. Their main competition lost their license because they lost a client on an overnight outing. A guy wandered off in a diabetic haze, luckily stumbled on some canned food, but it took a wide search to find him. I don’t know more facts and maybe the penalty was harsh.

So many photographers who take up running workshops are simply clueless. They turn to workshops to augment their incomes without giving any thought to what they should provide. I think this leads them to take shortcuts and promise things they really can’t or shouldn't deliver.

Not to raise a sore point -- Michael Fatali was raked over the coals and heavily penalized for his actions at Delicate Arch – but if he’d succeeded at what he intended to do, we might have seen interesting images. Or we may well have heard nothing about it.

But Fatali’s execution sucked and he failed, exposing portions of the Arch’s base to molten burning material. The clowns we’re talking about in this thread successfully accomplished precisely what they intended to do. And what they intended to do was illegal or destructive, or both.

If it’s any consolation, Delicate Arch looks just fine after the Fatali fiasco.

Mike
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larryg
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« Reply #15 on: May 19, 2011, 12:11:06 PM »
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I have done several (at least in the past) workshops   The best overall experience/s  was with nature Workshops.  Not only iconic and interesting locations  but help if needed and enthusiastic leaders.

I haven't done a workshop with them in a  few years but  I have several award winning images from some of the workshops taken with them.
Also groups usually no larger than eight.  

Most important legal with permits etc.
For what it is worth    http://www.natureworkshops.com/

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Hans Kruse
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« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2011, 04:29:41 AM »
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Interesting reading this! I'm running workshops in Europe (currently in Italy) and there are no issues with permits. No permits are required to go into a national parc and there are no entrance posts either in all national parcs I have been to in Europe. I don't really understand why permits are required in the US as long as entrance fees are paid.
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francois
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« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2011, 05:02:51 AM »
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Interesting reading this! I'm running workshops in Europe (currently in Italy) and there are no issues with permits. No permits are required to go into a national parc and there are no entrance posts either in all national parcs I have been to in Europe. I don't really understand why permits are required in the US as long as entrance fees are paid.
BLM areas like the Coyote Buttes are very fragile environments. The permits are mostly to limit access to a sustainable number of visitors. Those areas are not comparable to NPs like Yellowstone or Arches. Permit fees are very low (around $5) and available only via a lottery.

I also find quite disturbing that some well known workshop leaders bypass the law.
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Francois
Lonnie Utah
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« Reply #18 on: May 20, 2011, 09:20:34 AM »
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Why shoot the classics anyway?  Yes, they are iconic for a reason but many of them have been done to death.

I am a huge advocate having folks trying to get out and finding the NEXT iconic image. Simply copying a shot that's been done 1000 times before doesn't push us a photographers.  (It sounds like what Craig Tanner did with the previous poster at Big Bend.)  Most of the parks I've visited are so beautiful, and yet it seems that people go to get the images that everyone else has grabbed before.  It's why I love Zion's eastern plateau. So much unexplored goodness there.   Personally, I try to find the image that you HAVEN'T seen yet.  Smiley

There is much more to it, and I don't want to come off as arrogant, because it's not my intention.  I'm just trying to get people to look at all of the beauty that's out there.  

Oh yes, and do things legally.... Smiley
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #19 on: May 20, 2011, 03:14:21 PM »
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Amen brother!
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Kirk

Kirk Gittings
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