What's it like to spend 4 days taking pictures with a nationally renowned photographer, who's work has appeared in over 100 magazines from National Geographic and Outside to Fortune and Newsweek? A lot of fun as it turns out! Layne Kennedy is a boyish bundle of non-stop hyper kinetic energy. In addition to his magazine work, he has been teaching outdoor photography workshops in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin for 15 years. And so, when I registered for his Fall Photography Workshop, I new I was going to learn a lot!
I've always owned simple point and shoot cameras, and I particularly enjoy taking pictures while traveling, but it wasn't until 2 years ago that I bought my first professional camera, a Nikon D70 digital SLR. Last Christmas my wife gave me a telephoto lens, a Tamron 70-300, and my enthusiasm for photography had been steadily growing. With decent equipment, and some practice my pictures were starting to earn some compliments from friends and family, but they were nowhere near professional quality. Layne's Fall Workshop looked like a great opportunity to try to take my skills to the next level.
Class began Wednesday evening in the new timber frame "Fish House" building on the North House Folk School campus on the beautiful Grand Marais harbor. Our start was delayed an hour while we waited for one of our students who was arriving by sailboat from Cornucopia, Wisconsin. The delay was quite welcome in that several of us had driven straight through from the Minneapolis area, and hadn't had a chance to have dinner yet.
Layne introduced the class with a slide show of his work which he used to highlight different aspects of the photographic techniques we would be learning about during the workshop. Layne's primary work is as a magazine photographer, and so our mission for the workshop was to shoot pictures that would tell a story of the Grand Marais area for an imaginary magazine article. After 3 days of shooting we were all going to be expected to pick 10 pictures to tell our story. This element of storytelling definitely added a new layer of challenge to our work, not only were we going to try to take good pictures, but we also needed to try to tie them together in a narrative way.
Our first day started at 6:45am on Artist's Point to shoot the sunrise, and it didn't stop for more than 12 hours until after we had shot the moon rise and the sunset as well! Over the course of the day we drove almost 100 miles with prearranged stops to shoot pictures of Norwegian Fjord Horses, and the fort at the Grand Portage National Monument. We also climbed 2 old Forest Service fire towers for spectacular panoramic views of the fall colors, and made numerous spontaneous stops along the side of the roads to shoot everything from picturesque cabins to bullet ridden road signs. By the end of the evening when I pulled out my laptop to review the days work, I had shot over 350 frames (more than I normally shot in a month)!
The next 2 days continued at the same frenetic 12 hour a day pace with stops for portrait sessions of several area artists, and nighttime streetscapes, as well as plenty of shots of fall colors, sunrises, and scenic rivers. Throughout it all, the seven of us students followed along like ducklings with our camera bags and tripods as Layne zipped from location to location tirelessly demonstrated his technique, and helped us setup our own shots.
The Kadunce Creek, 6 miles east for Grand Marais, provided one of the more memorable shooting locations of the trip on our third day. A parking lot along highway 61 above a beautiful cobblestone beach, provides access to a trail that follows the creek inland to join up with the Superior Hiking Trail. Half a mile upstream are 2 small but spectacular waterfalls located deep in a slot canyon. The upper falls are almost invisible from the trail high on the cliff, but they are easily accessible by leaving the trail early, and walking upstream in the bottom of the canyon.
We followed Layne up the canyon hopping from rock to rock and sometimes wading in knee deep water, with vertical cliffs rising straight out of the water on both sides. At the base of the upper falls is a large pool with a circular eddy filled with fallen leaves. Layne demonstrated how to take a long exposure shot that would blur the leaves into a colorful swirl. I took several self portraits of myself standing knee deep in the center of the pool frozen in focus in the center of the swirl of motion. I took another shot of Layne setting up his tripod in the middle of the pool to get just the right angle to photograph the waterfall.
Over the 3 days we took photos from many improbably positions from lying in a barnyard to frame a shot under a horse, to standing on the roof of my truck to catch the rising sun aligned in the mouth of the giant walleye that guards the door of the Beaver House tackle shop in downtown Grand Marais.
At one point on a roadside stop in poor light with nothing particularly interesting to shoot, Layne was demonstrating the use of camera motion to blur a picture and make it more interesting, and shared an anecdote that for me highlighted the difference between us photography enthusiasts and a real professional. Most of us take pictures of things that we find pretty or interesting, but a professional on assignment has to bring back great shots even if the light was bad, or it was raining, or the subject matter just wasn't very interesting.
Another aspect of our class was learning to take advantage of opportunities to get a unique shot that might really make our story. On the second day, we were stopped on the side of the Sawbill Trail shooting a clump of birch trees when a group of hunters drove by in a pickup truck with a freshly killed bull moose on their trailer. Layne flagged them down and asked if they would be willing to stop so that we could take pictures of the moose, and soon he was standing on top of the ATV’s on there trailer to compose a shot from above showing the two proud hunters framed by the moose’s antlers.
Sorting through over 900 photos to pick just 10 to tell my story was probably the biggest challenge of the trip. I narrowed it down to 117 that I really liked, and then it started to get hard.
We gathered back at the Fish House on our final evening for a slide show of everyone’s top 10 photos. Some of us had family members with on the trip, and Layne had invited many of the people that we photographed to join the class to watch the show, and so the audience swelled beyond our small classroom. The show started late, but we passed the time sitting around a bonfire on the beach with a few bottles of wine and local fudge, and nobody seemed to mind.
Layne was shooting his own pictures throughout the class, as well as serving as instructor and travel guide, and the highlight of the evening was definitely seeing Layne’s top photos of the same subjects we had shot. His artistry was a strong demonstration of how much more I still have to learn about photography. I’m looking forward to taking another one of his workshops next year, and continuing to refine my skills.
Layne's workshops are open to students shooting both traditional film and digital cameras, but in our class 100% of us were shooting digital, and Layne said that while he still always carries a film camera with him, he hasn't actually used film on a major assignment in over 2 years.
The North House Folk School in Grand Marais provides hundreds of classes on a wide variety of topics from basket weaving to wooden boat building and photography. Next year’s Layne Kennedy photography workshops at North House are scheduled to start on July 25th, 2007 and October 3rd, 2007. More information is available on their website at http://northhouse.org.
Layne Kennedy is a nationally renowned photographer based in Minneapolis. More information about his work and photo workshops can be found on his website at http://laynekennedy.com.
This site is the place where I highlight my favorite photos. It's not intended to be a complete collection of my work, just random photos that I'm proud of. Checkout my Eric Bowen Photography site for a more complete collection of my work, and to buy prints or digital originals of most of the images you see here. Thanks!