My Experiences at Blackwater Falls

Elakala Fall, Blackwater Falls State Park

One of the great rewards of nature photography is finding a new and unexpectedly beautiful place to photograph and explore. Imagine my surprise to discover one of these treasures at Blackwater Falls State Park, tucked away in the often-overlooked wilds of West Virginia. I made some of my favorite photographs of 2020 there, and I’m excited to share this spectacular location with a new group of students through my Visionary Wild Workshop, which takes place September 27 to October 1, 2021. 

I hope you can join me as we explore, photograph, and enjoy this beautiful autumn wilderness, just a three hour drive from Washington DC. It is a perfect workshop location, with its accessibility and a wide variety of inspiring photographic opportunities. Our workshop is timed to take place during peak fall color, which happens earlier than some other autumn foliage locations. Register now to join us, and we’ll help you discover this spectacular place for yourself.

Blackwater Falls has the size and freedom a nature photographer needs to wander and explore, as they discover both the landscape and themselves. Its details, intricacy, and textures keep the mind and spirit engaged and stimulated. It’s the kind of location that will draw me in, again and again, and I think you’ll feel the same.

In 2020, when I signed on to teach with Visionary Wild at Blackwater Falls State Park, I thought I knew what to expect…and I couldn’t have been more wrong. From my research, parts of it looked like the western slope of the Appalachians, which I explored during my college days as I was honing my craft. I saw some similar scenes and photographic opportunities, and a chance to help the class make some very solid work in a beautiful location. But I wasn’t prepared for just how unique and stunning the Blackwater Falls / Dolly Sods region is. 

Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods Wilderness

On a high plateau in the Allegheny, with elevations reaching 4,000 feet, I entered an ecosystem unique from what I expected. Temperature, climate, and flora conspired to make it feel like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In fact, it’s called “Little Canada,” because it has species that are not found outside of the near-arctic tundra of Canada. Standing in the quiet wilderness, you would never suspect this place was within a half-day drive of several major Eastern U.S. cities. 

After checking into the lodge at Blackwater Falls State Park that first night, I discovered it was perched on the edge of a deep river gorge, with spectacular views across and down the canyon, its walls peppered with fall color from the dominant red maples as well as the yellow of other trees. I’ll admit that I can be a bit hard to impress, after living 20+ years on the edge of the Yosemite wilderness, but I was truly awed, and I couldn’t wait to explore more. 

Moss Hummock, Canaan Valley State Park

If I had been on my own, it would have taken a lot of work to discover the many treasures of this area, but with Justin Black as my guide, I was able to enjoy the crash course. Justin has been visiting this location since his childhood, and explored it on backpacking trips and photo assignments–you may even recognize the area from some of the work he’s done for FujiFilm. It’s clear why the location continues to inspire him to return, again and again.

We started our scouting day by heading to Bear Rocks in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, near the highest elevation in the area. Details of the landscape change with altitude–you’ll find different plants, trees, and birds. Entering a new elevation range is often like visiting an entirely different place. You may have never experienced this, if you live in the flatlands of the midwest, but for those who have spent time in the mountains, it’s something we look forward to. Even a 1000-foot difference in elevation can tremendously alter the photographic possibilities. 

Wild Cranberries, Canaan Valley State Park

The changes elevation brought at Bear Rocks were immediately evident. As we approached, we discovered a vista of hundreds of acres of wild blueberry bushes with flaming red foliage, contrasting against the evergreens and exposed light-colored rocks of the region. I had seen this kind of ecosystem countless times, as I worked on client photos of Alaska over the years, but I had never traveled far enough north to see it myself, and I never expected to find it in West Virginia. 

Grabbing our gear, we hopped out to further scout the many trails through the red foliage and white rocks, leading to the cliffs of Bear Rocks, which look east into a deep valley with 180-degree panoramic vistas of distant peaks and valleys. We were there during late morning, and in average light, but it was still spectacular. Picturing what it would look like at sunrise, with the warm sun bringing out even more in the white rocks and red foliage, set my heart pounding with excitement. It was a great location!

Next, we headed back towards the lodge to explore some fire roads that promised tundra-like bogs to explore. Here I found a whole ecosystem unto itself, with many beautiful plants, mosses, and flowers, all with intricate textures and colors. Every square meter of this environment offered a completely different macro vista, and I felt like I had been let loose in an Elliot Porter book.

Even after extensive scouting, new discoveries happened every day as the workshop progressed. The amazing cottongrass (which I neglected to photograph last year, a mistake I don’t intend to repeat!), to bigtooth aspens (yes, aspens in West Virginia!) that I didn’t even know could grow this far south, and many more pleasant surprises.

I can’t emphasize how much easier it was to discover the intricacies of this place, thanks to Justin’s knowledge. From my years working with many of America’s top landscape photographers, I can confidently say Justin is a world-class instructor and photographer. Fuji named him one of their X-Photographers, so I guess they agree with me. 

It’s priceless to have the opportunity to see how a working professional and master photographer approaches the many challenges involved with making strong, inspiring photographs. Justin is generous with his knowledge and experience, both in the field where he identifies great photographic possibilities, and in the critique sessions where he brings to the table his extensive professional experience as a international workshop leader, stock photographer, and as the gallery manager for Galen Rowell.

Though it’s easier to brag on Justin’s abilities, I’ll be there too, sharing how I see and approach the landscape, helping to build your craft as well as your vision, and offering straightforward and simple tools that will give you greater confidence in your skills as you master the all-important fundamentals of the craft. If you’ve been helped by my online workshops, this is like one of those on steroids, with day after day of instruction and learning, in real-world settings that let you practice, learn, and grow under our guidance.

Experience the beauty for yourself this fall. To sign up, or learn more, click here or visit

Master File Workflow One Day Overview

How do you take your photograph from average to awe-inspiring? How do you wrangle all of the options available for image processing into an easy-to-understand and repeatable workflow? My one-day seminar will deliver answers to these questions, and more.

In my 25+ years of digital printmaking, I’ve seen a recurring truth: the difference between a good photograph and a fantastic one is often how it’s been processed. Processing is the part of photography people seem to struggle with the most. The problems are many. If you are using the wrong tools, or the wrong workflow, or if you lack a proper understanding of the fundamentals, it’s going to seem confusing and hard.

I have solutions that have helped hundreds of photographers like you, and I am teaching them in a one-day seminar on June 19. I’ll share the same workflow I use to produce museum-quality prints for some of America’s most celebrated landscape photographers. You’ll learn the fundamentals you need to consider when processing. I’ll also walk you through my workflow, showing you which tools I use in Photoshop, and, more importantly, the thought process behind why and how I use each tool. 

The good news is that it’s easier than you think. On workshop after workshop, students have been surprised by how simple my process is, and how it frees them to think more creatively and achieve better results. 

This class is Photoshop based, but you should consider it even if you are not a Photoshop user. Photoshop is easier than you think, if you use my workflow. You can work faster, more intuitively, and more precisely than in Lightroom, which will improve your processing, resulting in more transcendent photographs.

This class is for photographers of any skill level who want a tested-and-proven approach. We’ll cover a lot of ground, and you’ll gain real world, tested, practical workflows that will grow your skill set. 

June 19

11am-7pm Eastern

10am-6pm Central

9am-5pm Mountain

8am-4pm Pacific

Last B&W Class Until Fall

F-1 Engines, Saturn V Rocket, Huntsville, Alabama
Sony A7RII, Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART lens

In the last year, I’ve helped hundreds of photographers improve their B&W processing through my talks and workshops, and I’d like to help you, too. Tuesday, May 11, I’ll be starting another round of my popular four-session Zoom class, Classic B&W Processing with Digital.

My recent talk at the B&H Photo Event Space provides a great (and free!) introduction to the workshop. It touches on many of the subjects this class will explore in greater depth. 

Every time I teach this class, it’s rewarding to see how the participants improve their photography and processing skills each week. Here’s what my students have to say about the class:

I have found the class to be outstanding, not only for learning techniques that are new to me in creating a B&W image, but also the creative ideas to draw the viewer into the scene.
– Brad K.

I want to thank you for your classes and all the extra effort you’re devoting to your students. The information is worth far more than than the price of admission.
– Al H.

This class has introduced me to new tools for vastly improving my images.
– Dennis W.

We’ll meet for four online sessions, each Tuesday through June 1. Each session lasts two hours. The first hour is live instruction, where I teach the techniques I use. During the second hour, I show how I apply those techniques to YOUR photographs, providing insight and critique that will help you learn and grow. 

Each session will be available to re-watch online for two weeks after the class, allowing you to go over the content again, or watch at a different time if you have a schedule conflict. 

This will be the last offering of this class for several months because I’ve blocked off this summer to develop new classes on topics ranging from color processing, Photoshop workflow, exposure, and color management. 

Sign up today, then keep chasing the light!

Great Smokey Mountain Workshop April 20-24

I’ve just been added as an instructor on Visionary Wild’s spring Smokey Mountain workshop, and there is currently one spot available if you want to come along.

Tillman Crane and I will be leading you in the amazing opportunities spring presents us in the Smokies from blooming dogwood trees, roaring rivers, and hopefully some misty morning vistas.

If you haven’t seen Tillman’s website, be sure to check out his amazing B&W work that he prints in platinum from digital negatives made with a digital camera. I’ve long admired his work and look forward to instructing with him and seeing more of his prints in person.

Visionary Wild’s leader Justin Black taught in the Smokies last fall and has put together an excellent plan so we can be COVID safe and still learn while enjoying this magnificent landscape. We’ll be visiting mid week which should help us avoid the crowds too!

Check out the Visionary Wild page for this class to learn more and to register.

Free Presentation Tonight

A new photo to get you excited for my presentation tonight! I made this at the start of summer at Kennedy Space center. It was a super challenging subject to photograph because of the spotlit white tiles and the black tiles hiding in the shadows. Really made me push the limits of the camera. 

Tonight’s talk is an free introduction to my four week class with Creative Photo Academy on creating classic B&W photographs with digital tools. I’ll explain what the classic look is, and give you a sneak peak at the tools and thought process I use to create it.

The talk starts at 5 pm PST (California time!) but you need to sign up now at to get the zoom invite.

Looking forward to seeing you all tonight!

Improved Expose To The Right

My latest online workshop takes a deep dive into how to make better exposures. Making a proper exposure is something you need to consider every time you make a photograph. It’s something you want to be certain about, because if you are wrong, you’ll miss the photo.

If you are ready to solve this problem, and be more confident every time you click the shutter, then this workshop is for you. The first three sections are free, so check it out at the link below.

Exposure Workshop – March 14th

Most photographers I know are just fudging on their exposures. We all talk about Expose to the Right (ETTR) and try and read the histogram, and look at the highlight warnings to make a decision, but mostly we’re relying on the wide exposure latitude of our cameras to make it work. And it mostly works…until it doesn’t.

When it doesn’t, we have blow out highlights, lost shadow detail, and increased noise in our images. On my most recent Exposure workshop, we had cameras that were metering up to two stops off.

There has to be a better way!

Fortunately there is! And it’s easy enough for a beginner, but accurate enough for a pro.

This workshop is going to give you more certainty in your exposures. With a simple process, we’re going to calibrate your light meter so that it becomes more accurate than judging histograms or highlight warnings (blinkies.) Once your camera is properly calibrated, you’ll have the tools to get the best exposure any time, any where.

Sign-up online at Eventbrite:

March 21 Workshop – Photo Processing and Printing Lab

Saturday March 21, 10am—4pm
Technology Engagement Center
306 Minerva Drive
Murfreesboro, TN

Fee – $75 per student

This lab session is a companion to my Color and Black & White Processing classes. It offers you an extended time to apply the techniques I’ve shown you, and to have more printing time. 

Expect a very hands on class. You’ll be processing and printing the entire time, and I’ll be bouncing from student to student, working one-on-one with each of you to evaluate prints and make processing recommendations. 

Lab sessions are about working on your photographs, while tapping into my guidance and insight. Through the feedback loop of process, print, and evaluate, we can troubleshoot the issues you are having and improve your processing and printing. This is not a structured and systematic walk through of techniques like my other classes. Rather, it is like a practice session, where you have extended time to apply what you know and refine your understanding of processing in the best way I know how, through applying them to your photographs and making prints. 

A major objective of these sessions is learning to see how your photograph can be turned into a great print. By improving a photograph through a series of prints, you see the potential of the process, which improves your processing techniques as well as your prints. 

Working alongside other photographers is another enriching part of the experience. Seeing what others are working on and how they are working is a learning experience unto itself, and provides a prospective that goes beyond what we get working alone when we are at home. 

This class is open to any photographer at any level. There are no pre-requisite classes, but you should feel comfortable working in the editing/processing software of your choice. You don’t need to be an expert, just eager to improve and learn. 

Print materials will be provided to make 5-7 prints, as time allows. The library has computers with Lightroom and Photoshop available, or bring your own computer.

Contact me with any questions!