My First Workshop by Elizabeth Beall
I had two weeks free from responsibility and just returned home from dropping my daughter off to begin her first year of college more than a thousand miles away - in fact an ocean away in Scotland. Sweet freedom or should I say “bittersweet” freedom! My nest was feeling very empty indeed. I decided this was the perfect time to do something that I had wanted to do for years - take a photography class. I had become fairly proficient at iPhone selfies and with the newer camera apps - able to produce some pretty nice travel photos, but I had been wanting to up my game for a while. I did some research on my laptop and realized that a well-known photographer, Craig Varjabedian, who’s gorgeous book Landscape Dreams, a New Mexico Portrait I had admired once in a bookstore, taught workshops through his Eloquent Light Workshop studio located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Ten minutes and a few keyboard clicks later I was signed up for his next workshop the following week securing a last coveted spot!
Santa Fe is one of my favorite places in the world and I arrived in town with a feeling of coming home. Unless you have experienced the city and the beauty of northern New Mexico for yourself, it is difficult to explain the sky, the colors, culture or the atmosphere of this unique city of the southwest. What a perfect place for me, a beginning photographer, to experience my first workshop. This class was entitled “Autumn in New Mexico” and while I knew the focus would be on fall landscape photography in the Santa Fe/Northern NM area, I had no real idea what to expect for the first session the next morning and was a little nervous as I had only purchased my camera two days earlier!
I frantically watched YouTube tutorials bringing myself up to speed with terms like bracketing, F-stop, aperture and ISO. I was told to be familiar with and comfortable working my digital camera in the information emailed to me by Cindy Lane, Eloquent Light’s studio manager and partner. My camera and I had just met, so the words “familiar” or “comfortable” would not be what I would choose to describe our new relationship!
The warm greeting I received by Cindy that ﬁrst morning cast off my anxieties, despite noticing that a few of my fellow students seemed to be almost professional level photographers sporting business cards and talking about their websites. I was instantly put at ease by the engaging presence and genuine interest of Craig. Introductions were made with each student telling a little about themselves, where they were from, past photography experience and what they would like to learn from the workshop ( me - everything! ). We were then shown a slide show of Craig's work followed by an explanation of what we could expect during the upcoming five days.
Each day would begin with a morning review of the previous day's work including instruction on editing with Tye who is a certified Adobe Lightroom tutor. A couple of the other students were more knowledgeable about Lightroom; I had just downloaded a basic version the day before on my laptop and so welcomed the idea that I would have both general and personalized help with the editing software. Workshop afternoons would be spent out in the field with Tye and Craig.
Eloquent Light Workshops are purposely small so students can get the individualized instruction that they need along with time learning as a group. Craig and his team had masterfully constructed a curriculum that includes indoor time for technical instruction, along with the large part of the day outdoors in the field shooting pictures. We all soon became a friendly band of cohorts - drawn together with our excitement and desire to become better skilled photographers.
That first day, there was no time wasted and so after a break for lunch, we headed out to our first afternoon of camera work, carpooling to an area a short but utterly beautiful distance away from Santa Fe in the awe-inspiring landscape of northern New Mexico. My YouTube binge on how to work my camera did not provide me with much confidence and I struggled with my brand new tripod getting out of the car. Our little group listened, mesmerized by the scenery of the bright yellow gold leaves from the cottonwood trees as Craig provided history on the location, demonstrated some shots with his camera and gave suggestions to some of the most ideal spots to set up our cameras. We were then set free to ﬁnd our own inspiration and began to take pictures. Luckily, Tye had noticed my awkwardness and provided me with much needed help with not only the workings of my camera but with my unfamiliar tripod. His assistance was invaluable to me throughout the workshop. Time ﬂew past that ﬁrst afternoon and we took pictures until sunset.
The patterns of each day mimicked that ﬁrst. Each location we were brought to was stunningly beautiful and the colors of the landscapes presented vividly in the cool crisp fall air. Fall in New Mexico is dazzlingly splendid. The natural rhythm of the workshop days allowed moments of social downtime for participants to enjoy cups of coffee or to talk while traveling to the most incredible locations to take pictures. Places simply iconic in nature to the southwest and most inaccessible to the public. Historic buildings, privately owned lands with hidden canyons or astonishing vistas Craig has personally chosen for the best photographs.
Meeting together at the studio each morning we reviewed our work, asked questions and polished our editing skills - which for me at ﬁrst was as basic as how to get a photograph from my camera SD card onto my laptop! Mornings also included a designated time for the students to present their photos on a large HD monitor to the group, something I dreaded at ﬁrst, but came to love because of how much I learned. So much of the information I gained was from the other members of the workshop. There was a couple from Texas taking the class together and with loads of experience between them, a real estate agent from Denver, one of Craig’s mentoring students who was a teacher and a free spirited woman close to my age traveling through the States with a fantastic eye for a photograph!
Craig is a well -respected, talented artist and even more importantly just a really great guy. He believes that art develops from personal experiences and treats each of his students and their work with respect. He sees the beauty and promise in the pictures they take regardless of how long they have been taking photos. This made the workshop a success and a joy. He is one of those rare teachers who can meet both newbies and more proﬁcient photographers exactly where they are, instinctively recognize his students' individuality and encourages them to discover and develop their own unique talents. I never felt left behind or left out, even though I was a beginner.
The staff at Eloquent Light creates a workshop experience that is safe, encouraging, honest and so much fun! My workshop ended and I found that I had some beautiful photographs that I was extremely proud to have taken. That last morning Craig invited us to join him at a famous local restaurant known for their delicious breakfasts. We ate green chili spiced huevos rancheros chased down with a blue corn pancake or two and exchanged addresses with new friends. I sadly drove away from Santa Fe later that morning, equipped with important new skills as a photographer taught to me by brilliant instructors, inspired by the colorful landscape of magical New Mexico and already planning to take my next Eloquent Light workshop!