Making the Case for Photography Workshops

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been so damned busy over the last 30+ years teaching others how to improve their photography, I’ve never actually taken a photographic workshop as a participant. I do follow the emerging trends, new techniques, and the latest-greatest advances in equipment. But most of all I pay attention to the younger artists who are not resigned to old ways of doing things. They are the engines that drive our craft forward.

Darwin Wiggett

One of those artists I follow and admire greatly is Darwin Wiggett, a talented Canadian pro whose career I have watched evolve over the past decade. Darwin is a passionate advocate of our craft. He has a unique and creative vision – and an absolute mastery of his equipment – that is reflected in his art. Just take a look at his website to see what I mean (

So, finally, after four decades of photography, I succumbed and enrolled in one of Darwin’s Canadian Rockies workshops. Now that I’m a graduate, all I can say is “Wow!”

Darwin is a master, yet his workshops aren’t lecture-filled napfests. Within moments of arriving at eco-friendly Aurum Lodge (, Alan and Madeleine Ernst‘s inviting home away from home, you are immersed in a magical world of nature and landscape photography. There are no distractions, just pure unadulterated photo joy.

Darwin’s Typical Workshop Day

Our small group ranged from rank amateurs to successful pros, men and women, whose sole objective was to learn from Darwin and improve their craft. The morning after we arrived we awoke at 4:00 AM, to ensure that we were in place for sunrise, a pattern that was repeated every day for the duration of the 5-day experience. For the next 16 hours we drove from site to site, photographing some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth.

Sometimes we’d spend 2 hours in one spot, other times perhaps 30 minutes, but suffice it to say it was never quite enough, at least for me. Except for the day I stepped into muddy quicksand at the edge of a remote, freezing cold, sulfurous-smelling pond. I quickly sank up to my thighs and had visions of being swallowed up whole. Fortunately Darwin and one of the other participants, Dawn Traverse, saw me take the plunge and rescued my camera (first) and me (second). The  bad news for me was I had to deal with being wet the rest of the day. Even worse, my fellow work-shoppers had to deal with the smell.

One of the things I appreciated most about Darwin’s style is that he is not intrusive. If any of us had questions, he shared his knowledge freely and in sufficient depth to satisfy beginner to expert. If we were all absorbed in the photographic moment, we might observe Darwin off somewhere taking his own images, putting into practice his emphasis on strong foreground elements, for example

Evenings- what little there was of evenings when you’re getting up at 4:00 and shooting for 16 hours- were spent immersed in wide-ranging conversation, albeit mostly about photography. Darwin sets the tone and everyone was supportive of each other’s efforts.

Learning From Photo Workshops

The last night we either showed our colleagues some of our images or asked for critiques or perhaps brought a few chosen images to showcase our work. By then we had bonded and critiques were well-intended and well-received.

So, I’ve changed my tune about workshops. I learned a great deal just by observing Darwin’s techniques and sharing his passion for his craft. That alone has energized my work. I also had an opportunity to visit some iconic as well as little known locations in the Canadian Rockies, each one spectacular in its own right. I also enjoyed and benefitted from the enthusiasm, dedication and knowledge-base of my fellow participants. The bottom line is I can’t wait to try another workshop.

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