Trip Report: The Bisti Badlands of New Mexico

The Bisti Badlands of New Mexico are home to some of the most mysterious and photogenic rock formations in all of North America. This precious landscape contains towering hoodoos, intriguing erosion patterns, petrified rock, Native American ruins, and some of the most pristine desert environs that can be found. It is truly an absolute paradise for landscape photography and a “must see” location in Northwest New Mexico.

Translated from the Navajo word Bistahí, Bisti means, “among the adobe formations.” This wilderness area was protected in 1984 and expanded in 2019, preserving the 45,000 acres of desert solace from further oil and gas exploitation that has permeated Northwest New Mexico.

The best way to experience the quiet desert found in Bisti is to fully immerse yourself via guided camping. Our camping set-up for Bisti always garners surprise from our workshop clients with comments like, “this is more like glamping!” We loved the food cooked by our expedition team!

Our trip into the Bisti area began with a trip into the desert to brush off the cobwebs and to learn crucial night photography techniques that formed the foundation of our workshop.

Detailed and thoughtful instruction occurred in order to ensure that not only everyone “get the shot” but also to help people learn the “why” of our chosen settings so that our awesome students can take what we all learned forward into their own photography trips later. We had so much fun cracking jokes and learning all about our new friends.

While we emphasized night photography on our trip to Bisti, we also spent a great deal of time finding unique compositions of desert hoodoos, explaining the importance of finding shapes, form, and texture in the landscape to transform our photographs from 2D objects into 3D artwork.

One of the hallmarks of a great Muench workshop is the time spent focused on processing our images, learning new techniques to take our photographs to greater heights. This is of special importance in night photography given the intricate amount of craft needed to perfect the night photographs we teach people to create. One thing I absolutely loved about this session was that everyone brought something to table in terms of techniques or ideas, and we all learned from the massive expertise around the table.

One of the best aspects of the workshop was the amount of experimentation and play that occurred. This is when the best ideas are made and therefore when the best photographs get created. It was truly fun watching our students embrace experimentation in their process of creating images.

My favorite things about teaching these workshops is that we get to show our students that you can make compelling photographs without epic conditions. This enables people to begin to “see” the world in a different way, which carries forward in their future photography. In fact, on our trip we did not have a single morning or evening with clouds, which we embraced to its fullest potential to create beautiful vignettes of the autumn desert.

Of course, all of our students received amazing 1:1 instruction as well as group instruction. One of my favorite moments of the workshop was when we identified three incredible compositions within 20 feet of each other and took turns photographing those scenes by borrowing each other’s tripods. It was a great way to show everyone what people had found that was unique while offering them a way to capture the scenes in their own way.

We also enjoyed time photographing wild rock formations at blue hour, which is my favorite time to photograph in the desert. The late glow of the setting sun casts incredibly soft light on the landscape, making for an aethereal and magical mood.

Capping off our workshop, we drove deep into the desert to undisclosed locations to photograph Navajo Ruins that made for an incredible foreground to compliment the night sky. Helping our students hike deep into the desert to see and capture photographs like this one was such a humbling experience and I know our students had a wonderful time visiting the location.

And of course, a workshop isn’t complete without some unplanned shenanigans to keep everyone entertained!

We had an incredible group of enthusiastic students who were all kind, patient, and most importantly, spent time helping each other out. I think some life-long bonds were formed on our trip, which is perhaps one of the most awesome aspects of Muench Workshops.

At the end of our workshop we held one of our signature image review sessions, which always provides an excellent way to showcase all of the incredible images everyone captured while allowing students to gain valuable insights on composition, editing, and personal vision.

We had such a fun time with this group, and can’t wait to do it again. Thanks for coming out! – Wayne Suggs and Matt Payne

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