Ledra Woodlee is the founder and owner of Natural Connections Photo Workshops. Ledra is also the principal instructor - although there could be an assistant from time to time.
She started the business with her husband Jeff Woodlee and co-lead the workshops for a number of years. Unfortunately Jeff passed away a few years back. But Ledra kept the endeavor moving forward and NCPW is now a solo operation for Ledra. She runs the business and leads all instruction.
Absolutely not! Olympus mirrorless cameras are a personal choice and they are awesome! But NCPW adventures are for anyone and everyone, regardless of which brand of camera you shoot. We have experience with many brands of cameras due to an extensive retail photo sales background. No matter what you shoot, you and your cameras are more than welcome on all workshops!
So, the short answer is no, we do not. Some companies run their workshops by putting all attendees into one van. Although this is fine for those companies, there are number of reasons we do not.
Time after time we have seen that many/most participants need some sort of individual flexibility that one vehicle for an entire group cannot offer. Often participants want to come in early or stay late for additional adventures. Some participants may not want to eat every meal together and may want to venture out on their own....they may want to have their own vehicle for exploring the area during downtime and even for shopping in some locations or even just running to the store for personal needs.
Also, if there is an emergency or sickness requiring someone to go home, that would affect everyone if there was only one vehicle for the entire group....it would impact EVERYONE'S trip. Additionally, consider that many participants are flying in from all over the country. It is very difficult to create a schedule where everyone can fly to a certain spot at the same time to join a van-pool. If someone's flight is delayed or canceled, that means either that individual is left behind entirely or the entire group gets delayed waiting on one person. And honestly, there are myriad other reasons we do not offer group van services.
Now, with that said....we do require some carpooling on many workshop shoots. This would be mostly due to limited parking in certain shooting locations. But we simply find that a one-size-fits-all automobile situation is not ideal for a workshop environment that incorporates multiple people with individual needs.
Again, we find that this is something that is better left to the individual's preferences. We always choose a specific hotel where we base all workshop operations and we will get a group discounted rate if we can. But sometimes, participants may have a reason to stay at a different property. Some people have a 'points' situation with specific hotel chains and choose to stay there instead. Or, one guest may want a suite where another guest wants the most cost-efficient room. We have also had a few people who would rather camp from time to time. We believe those choices are better left to the individual to handle for themselves so they can tailor their experiences to their travel preferences.
Many workshop companies build lodging into the price but make it a double occupancy situation and charge a single occupancy supplement if someone wants their own room. First of all, that is a logistics nightmare and involves too many layers of individuals in the calling, booking and managing of reservations. Second, many, MANY of our clients have asked if they would have to share a room with someone when considering our workshops.....hoping that is not the case. That answer is a flat, NO. We believe lodging on a workshop is a place to wind down and relax in whatever way one would like. Third, if someone were to cancel it would unexpectedly put the entire lodging fee on the remaining individual....and that unplanned burden is simply not acceptable.
And regarding meals....well that just gets more and more complicated as more and more food allergies and issues arise for people. There are just too many situations to anticapate in order to plan meals for others. We feel individuals are the best judge of what they can/wish to eat and when and where those meals will take place. NCPW workshops always allow enough time for meals. Meals may not always be at the times you are used to, but you will not go hungry on our trips. You will receive plenty of information in plenty of time to make sure you are able to plan for your dining needs.
We here at Natural Connections love adventures both landscape and wildlife alike. Winter happens to be a preference for several reasons. First of all, the animals are FAR easier to spot in winter due to leafless tress and fur standing out better off of a background of white. Second, it is also easier to physically focus the camera on the animals in this environment and leads to a higher percentage of usable shots.
A third reason is that the parks and areas known for wildlife are FAR less populated with people during the winter. You will not have to deal with hundreds of selfie-sticks during the winter workshops. And fewer people in the area means easier logistics and even better dining situations.
NCPW workshops do NOT have large group workshops. 1-day workshops will max out at 8, but all of our longer travel workshops max out at 5-6 participants. We even offer smaller 'boutique' style workshops for those who want small numbers and very individualized attention. Our 'small group' workshops will only have 3-4 participants.
Sometimes people want something planned for their own group.....and that's great!! As long as there is availability on the calendar, Ledra may be able to work something out for you.
For example, NCPW has planned a number of small group workshops to Glacier NP/Montana, the Southwest canyons, the Tetons and more.....and sometimes with very little lead time! If you would like to do a small group workshop to a particular place at a particular time of year.....give Ledra a call!!
Well, let's see:
In order to get the most out of NCPW photo workshops and photo classes, we recommend that participants have a DSLR or 'mirrorless' camera with interchangeable lenses - but it is NOT required. Numerous participants have brought high-end super-zoom point-and-shoot digital cameras and have achieved very good results. At the very least, the camera should have some sort of zoom capability and the ability to manually change mode settings (program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual) and be able to be mounted onto a tripod.
Please understand, these classes are about cameras, so there will not be any official instruction on how to shoot with a phone or iPad.
I often hear, "Oh, I'd love to do that workshop, but I'll do it with you next year." Well, sometimes these people unfortunately miss out. We do offer some of the same workshops each year, but not always the longer 5-7 day trips.
Often 1-day and weekend workshops are offered each year - Smokies, Old Car City, Charleston, SC, Olympus Camera Class, etc. But it is unusual to offer the longer 5-7 day workshops on back to back years. It has happened some, however, due to specific demand or a group of people asking for it.....but it is not a certainty. It is normally an every other year situation.
This will depend on the location and length of the workshop.
The very basic amount of necessary equipment is a camera with at least one zoom lens, your camera instruction manual and a sturdy tripod....and extra batteries!
With that said, there is a general list of equipment that will help you make the most of any photo workshop:
**Note: The above listed equipment is not an all-inclusive list nor is it a mandatory list. Bring what you have - although you may want to invest in the minimum of a circular polarizer if you don't currently have one. PLEASE contact us if you have ANY questions at all.
Laptops are recommend for your private use and for use during classroom lecture and to prepare images for critique sessions. It is not mandatory that you bring a laptop, but you won't be able to get as much out of the program if you do not. A portable external hard drive for image backup is a good idea as well.
NCPW workshops are held in many different locations, but there is one common theme that binds them all -- you'll need to wear layers. What this means is that you should bring a variety of clothes for any weather. Although this makes packing a little more cumbersome, you will not regret having too many clothing options with you. In many locations, your day can start out in freezing temperatures only to climb to 80 degrees by late morning or noon. Below are examples of the types of clothing to pack:
Absolutely not! Wait, let's reinforce that.....ABSOLUTELY NOT!! You will find every skill level present on NCPW photo workshops and in our photo classes as well. Ledra strives to create an environment where the beginner is free to mix with the advanced shooter. All questions and concerns are answered in a supportive and encouraging manner. There is never a 'dumb' question on NCPW's workshops. ANY person at ANY level with ANY brand of camera is welcome!! NCPW's ultimate goal is to make sure that every participant goes home with more photographic knowledge (and awesome images) than when they arrived to the workshop.
At a bare minimum, if you are not an experienced photographer, there is one thing that will help you immensely. Hold your camera in your hands. Turn it on. Make sure there is a memory card it in. Open your camera manual and read it cover to cover. Whatever the manual refers to, find it on the camera -- push the button, flip the switch, turn the dial. This is the single best way to learn your camera. It will help you immensely in the field. Whatever you do, do not let the first day of the workshop be the first day your camera has been out of its box.
Even if you have been shooting for a little while, you may want to at least review how to change certain key things on your camera - know how to change your shutter speed, ISO and aperture at a bare minimum. Even if you don't yet understand how all of these elements interact, you will at least know how to physically change them when the time comes.
Also, some NCPW workshops can be somewhat physically demanding. We don't hike for miles and miles through the wilderness, but many of the workshops will include some hiking at high altitudes. Add to this long days and heavy camera gear, and most participants will experience some sort of fatigue.
If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you will want to exercise a little for at least a few weeks prior to the workshop. Walking for a few miles per day should do it. If you have physical limitations, make sure you discuss this with us before signing up for a workshop. We would rather be up front about the amount of physical exertion on the trip than have a unhappy participant because they physically can't do some of the shoots they have paid for.
And we are scouting all the time. Keep in mind each of these are not offered every year and do not normally offer the same workshops on back-to-back years.....although it occasionally happens.
There are so many people offering photo trips these days, it can be pretty difficult to know who to give your money to. How do you decide? There are any number of ways to go. From actual photo workshop companies to photo clubs using volunteer leaders to Joe Blow trip-leader who just wants to get his trip paid for by other people. Below are a few considerations before you hand over your hard-earned money for a photography trip.
What are your trip goals and expectations? Do you want someone who can actually teach you and help you during all field shoots, or are you okay being left to your own devices during the trip with the trip leaders off doing their own portfolio shooting? Do you want someone who really knows the area who will give you information and advice from anything to logistics to restaurants to even where the bathrooms are, or are you fine with having to find out that information for yourself?
What do you expect that your money should buy? Are you ok with $2000 only getting you someone to take you to a location and abandon you, or do you think that amount should include all trip prep and planning from experienced leaders and hands-on assistance throughout the workshop on every shoot? Should that money include the knowledge of a leader who knows the place well enough to make changes and decisions on the fly in changing conditions, or simply just a tour guide that shrugs and says ‘oh, well.’
What should you look for in a photo workshop leader? First of all, you should look for a company whose only business is photography workshops who employs actual photography instructors as their trip leaders. This company should also have a vested interest in STAYING in business. What does that mean? The workshop company should be ACCOUNTABLE – accountable for your money and accountable for your trip expectations.
This means the trip leaders are accountable for all of this as well. Are the leaders the same people who run the business? They should be. You want your interactions to be known by the people responsible for every aspect of the business.
What are the leaders’ motivations? Do they just want to get their own vacation paid for, or is it their goal (and their JOB) to make sure YOU get everything you expect from a photo workshop? Are they just there to point the general direction you should go and then start their own shooting, or are they walking around checking in with everyone and offering help the whole time?
Do the leaders get proper permits for their trips? All National Parks require Commercial Authorizations for groups who pay someone money to be led through the park. We have heard of numerous group leaders who don’t get permits and tell their PAYING customers to say they are all just friends or club members if a Ranger stops them to ask for the permit. This is hogwash and completely unacceptable for someone who just charged you money for a photo workshop. ANY company, organization, photo club or individual who charges money to lead a group in a National Park MUST get a permit. After all, YOU paid for it….they should have it.
Number of Participants
How many participants are you expecting on your trip? This is KEY to your enjoyment of a photo workshop. There are 2 aspects of this: 1) There should NEVER be more people than an instructor(s) can give individual attention to. Tuition SHOULD include individual attention if the customer needs it. 2) Even if they have 2 or 3 instructors, there is a number that is just too many to be in one particular spot. Too many photographers in one area are always jockeying for position and unfortunately getting into everyone else's shots. We've know of companies that have 14-16 people on one trip. This is WAY to many customers to be able to serve well.
Please make SURE to ask any photo company their top limit of participants on any given trip, Here are OUR numbers, in writing:
Some workshops may cost a little more than others, but that is so we can keep our numbers small so our customers get the most value for their money.
Still interested in going on a photo workshop? Well, here’s the sum of our advice….and YES, possibly a little self-serving: If you are paying SIGNIFICANT money ($400 or more) for someone to lead you on a photography workshop, choose an actual COMPANY whose business it is to run photography workshops. Travel with a reputable company who uses actual photography instructors whose JOB it is to make sure you are happy…..not photo club volunteers who also want to shoot....and certainly not a guy who just wants his vacation paid for by others.
We are not saying you can’t have fun with a group of people who are all paying their own way with no workshop fee being charged. In that case you should have no expectations of what others' roles should be and you can just go and handle everything on your own. Of course, that could be great!
But the bottom line is, if a group, organization or individual is charging you money to lead a photo workshop, be smart with your money and make sure you know what you ARE and ARE NOT getting for those dollars. Make sure you go with the group who gives you the most value for your money.