The Photography Workshop Dilemma

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Landscape photography has changed immensely in the past ten years with the evolution of high resolution digital cameras and the internet. The ability to go to great locations with specialized high end equipment used to be exclusive to professional photographers. And these locations were kept secret or shared only within a small community. Now, the internet has made finding such places all too easy, which in and of itself isn’t bad, but it does bring about a unique set of problems.

This became all too evident to me a month ago when I was working on some photos of a once highly regarded location along the shores of Lake Tahoe. I had photographed this location many years ago with film, but wanted to return and photograph it with a digital system. I did and found it to be very tranquil and pleasant. But, the trail was much more worn and obvious, and many of boulders were painted with smiley faces and other weird things. It was obvious that people had made this a picnic and swimming beach and felt compelled to leave their mark. It bothered me, but at least they hadn’t touched the unique rock island that had small bonsai trees growing on it.

As I often do, I like to work a location many different ways to get different moods and refine my composition. Two weeks later I returned in the dark for sunrise and made the hike down to the water's edge by headlamp. I set up the camera and started photographing and as it became brighter, I realized that something had changed. I really couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew something was wrong. As the sun rose, I realized that someone had swum out to the rock island and “tagged it,” not with just a face or other markings, but rather a very distinct “tag,” which upon further inspection, I could see was also on many other boulders along the trail down to the lake.

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And herein lies the dilemma: ”At what point do we as workshop leaders not take people to hidden locations?” I doubt that it was photographers who did this, but when are places like this best kept to a small and select group? I have never led a workshop in the Tahoe area, or taken people to this cove, but the idea now makes me question it even more. I had met another photographer there on my original visit, and have shared with him some special locations on the Eastern Sierra, but I’m becoming more and more reluctant to do so in the future.

At Muench Workshops, we appreciate that participants want to go to iconic places and our use of National Parks support this; but we as leaders try to teach photography and not just lead a photo tour. If we can successfully teach you these skills then it is less important to be in an iconic location because you will be able to create your own magic in any location. 

Photography is a journey - explore the trail, 

Dave Porter