What is it like to go on a Marc Adamus Workshop?

Feb 12, 2022

What is it like to take a Marc Adamus Workshop?

In the digital photography age of today it would be safe to say that Marc Adamus has had more influence on the artistic style, in field techniques, and geographic wanderlust of landscape photographers than any other photographer.  As we huddled around a table at a Chilis in Banff waiting for our fearless leader to arrive people wore their badges of dedication like soldiers might commensurate their tours of duty. 

 

 

(Pushing our cameras to the limit to find a line and create mood) Photo Courtesy of Marc Adamus

“This is my 4th time doing this winter tour with Marc” shared one participant from the Eastern US.  Was this a dedication to exploring a region, obsession with a particular image, an allegiance to a new fraternity of pixels and sleep deprivation?  Soon, I discovered I was the only person who had not taken a workshop with Marc.  The soft spoken and kind Doctor from Iowa, Harsha had done 24 trips.   Photographically speaking that was thousands of images and the way that Marc travels, 10s of thousands of images, several dozen helicopter rides, and chances are more than one memorable story, great meal, or never before photographed place.

  No such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.  Staying warm and experiencing the elements.  Photo courtesy of Marc Adamus

I was here for a 6 day photography of the Canadian Rockies in the heart of winter.  Marc’s tours often sell out in minutes, while others seem to be on a pocket menu like In and Out where you have to ask to get added to the list, or have taken a previous workshop with him.   The list of places Marc will take people in the next two years puts even the most adventurous of National Geographic explorers to shame. 

  • 3-weeks Antarctica on private sailing yacht + Patagonia (fly in and out)
  • Karakoram Himalayas of Pakistan high altitude glacier trekking among the world's steepest peaks
  • Hunza region of Pakistan fall colors and Himalayan peaks
  • Ultimate Canadian Rockies: Heli-shooting, fall colors and larches and a week in remote backcountry lodges
  • Alaska in winter, snowmobiling and aurora
  • 2-weeks Alaska in Summer helicopter camping and boating (my signature trip, please inquire)
  • Tombstone territorial park backpacking and aerial photography
  • 2-weeks British Columbia helicopter camping
  • Canadian Rockies in winter
  • New Zealand heli trekking, boating and South Island tour
  • Painted Desert Southwest US tour and introduction to aerial/drone photography
  • Chilean Fiords (Patagonia rainforest and mountains) 20-day expeditions on private boat and helicopter
  • Northwest Territories and Baffin Island of Canada
  • Several different "3-day weekend" dates ranging from the Sierra/Death Valley to the Pacific Northwest
  • Ireland Coast
  • Pacific Northwest in spring - wildflowers, waterfalls, mountains and coast
  • Northern Chile and Bolivia
  • Namibia featuring aerial photography and private vehicles/lodging at remote locations
  • Deserts of Arabia in United Arab Emirates, Saudi and Oman
  • Yukon in Winter and aurora
  • Dedicated Storm Chasing in America in summer
  • Milky Way and Astro over remote, rarely photographed regions of Bristlecone Pine forest
  • Eastern Sierra and Death Valley region (my signature instructional trip)

It was easy to see how people with the time and money could find themselves exploring more than one place with Marc.  With all the places he has been, the images he has captured and a reputation for directness I was not completely sure what to expect.  With ZERO fanfare, Marc walked in, sat down, and started talking.  Not about himself.  But about one of his 4 obsessions.  Weather. 

“We have a great opportunity for a blazing sunset tonight as we have a lenticular cloud forming over the south part of the region, and we will make our way down to this lake where I also think the winds have cleared enough snow for the most amazing ice bubbles you will see anywhere.”   His props to support his work was not PowerPoint or a portfolio of his images, but his smartphone and the Windy App where Marc started to explain how the weather works in the Canadian Rockies. 

The predicted Lenticular cloud forming over the aforementioned Ice Bubbles.  

As I got to know Marc over the next 5 days I discovered he was also obsessed with several other things. 

  1. Food
  2. Putting you in the place to get the shot.
  3. Trip planning and logistics

I had long characterized Marc as an Expedition Photographer.  He spends around 250 days a year on the road with his wife and son joining him at times vs him going home.  He is a wealth of knowledge like I have not quite experienced before.   He has either been to see the places I dream of going, or he knows the logistics required to make it happen.   In his words “My success derives from patient single-minded pursuit of all the unique moments that generate the magic and energy of the wilderness, often spending weeks or even months immersing myself in the landscape he shoots.”

This winter trip was probably one of the more docile of trips you might find with Marc.  We were limited by the length of day with sunrise at 8:30 and sunset around 4.  Some of his other trips, I heard stories of people leaving the tour midstream.  This can be a combination of things.  Marc is intense, he will drive hundreds of miles in a day for the right conditions and he has a drive and a fire like you would expect to see in a professional athlete.  One complaint I had heard before is he will literally yell, “This is the shot”.  The first time I heard it, I had to laugh. 

 "The shot."  The right framing for sure and an image he had seen in reverse as we were driving by. But certainly not the only shot we could have captured there.

It was a shot.  It was certainly Marc’s shot.  But as you started to see how he saw it in certain locations or places, it was the most impactful image you could create.  I learned completely new ways to exaggerate foregrounds with wide angle lenses and push the very limits of your minimal focus distance, focus stacking, and how to work an entire landscape without using your tripod.   I came in ready to learn how he saw the landscape and discovered that resting my camera flat on the ground to capture a scene was in fact the only way to capture the image that Marc was trying to get you to see.

Behind the images, you would expect to find some Photoshop master who manipulates his images and scenes in ways you could only dream.  What I discovered was a Photoshop luddite who uses around 12 tools repeatedly.  Marc designed his own process to bring forth depth, emotion, and the grandeur of the landscape.  His knowledge of the elements that draw you into an image was quite impressive.  In his words “My processes involve meticulous attention to detail in my field technique, along with work in today’s digital darkroom to fine tune, optimize and adjust contrasts, colors, tonalities, luminosity, etc. in an attempt to better present to you the experience I felt in being there myself.”

What I felt like the inside of soda can would look like.  An instance where I set my camera lens directly onto the ice and photographed down into the abyss.  

He said that some images he will do 3,000 adjustments.  He doesn’t use layer masks or other cumbersome tools, rather the history brush.  To do this level of work is a dedication to your processing craft that few of us are willing to undertake.   He overloaded us with

Marc sees the landscape in a similar way to how Ansel Adams brought about the zone system.  He can see distinct parts of the image and know how we wants to tackle that part of the image in how he processes it.   This is a skill that cant be taught it only can be earned from years and years of practice. 

What you see and experience with Marc’s work is not everything is in focus.  This image above you can see we are literally inches away from the frost crystals on top of the lake which means that even with focus stacking the parts that are closest to you are out of focus.  But that doesn’t matter as the compositional elements are so strong that they pull you away from the out of focus areas and into the areas of interest. 

Would I take another workshop from Marc again? 

I am hoping to join him in Pakistan for one of his more strenuous backpacking / trekking ones, where I would look to leverage his expertise within remote landscapes but also his expertise in putting together the logistics in a more cost-effective way than I could do myself.    I am trying to move away from grand landscapes as my primary means of expression, but I also think they will always have a place in my portfolio, my work, and be something I will want to continue to experience.

 

Petrified Sastrugi.  These rifts and lines in the snow melted and formed a new pattern for us to work with.    

Is a Marc Adamus workshop right for me?   

Marc is intense.  But he is not a jerk.  He will say what is on his mind.  He is also incredibly patient.  We had a photographer lugging around a huge camera entourage of prime lenses, and a roller bag with a hard case that was the size of a fridge and Marc would patiently help him work with the limitations of what he had.   If you want to immerse yourself deeper into the specific scenes and find more expressive images you might want to try Sarah Marino, Guy Tal, or TJ Thorne.  (More to come on my incredible Guy Tal workshop in Feb of 2002.  That being said I still found plenty of opportunities to discover my own unique images.

 

 Backbone.  The intertwined merger of texture, blowing snow, clouds, snow, mountains and the foundation of what continues to bring me back.  

His other obsession is food.  We ate Greek, Indian, Fine American, and even great pub food.  On his backpacking trips people said the food was gourmet.  His workshops include food and he encourages you to order expensive things.  It was very nice to not have to fuss with the bills, worry about if you underpaid, or wait for 12 credit card slips to come back. 

 Dr Pepper ribs, Poutine, and Mac & Cheese.  The ultimate Canadian comfort food.  

As for the people that have taken his Canadian Rockies workshops, every day and trip has been different for them.  Remember when I mentioned Marc’s obsession with weather.  Well he knows based on wind if you are going to have snow in the trees or cracks on the lakes, based on the cold if you are going to have ice crystals or flowing creeks.  There was nothing formulaic about how he approached the landscape.   He would obsess over the weather details and understand how things would align or not.  It didn’t always work out as you can’t control the weather but he built flexibility to adapt and respond. 

 

Pillows.  We had driven high and low to try and find some breaks in the clouds.  

You can see more of Marcs work here https://www.marcadamus.com/gallery/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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