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The USA Deserts Tour – here’s what our guests thought . . .

Posted on 20th May 2015

After interviewing guests from our Venice, London and Cornwall tours – we decided it was time to go a bit further afield! This month we caught up with Adam Pierzchala who recently went on our ‘Deserts of the South West USA’ tour with Antony Spencer and Justin Reznick. As a seasoned Light & Lander it was great to hear what he had to say about this amazing trip. All images copyright Adam Pierzchala.

Was this your first tour or workshop with Light & Land, and if not, how many have you done before and which destinations?

No, I think that this was actually my 14th or 15th trip with Light & Land! I started in 2005 with a tour to Tuscany with David Ward and Baxter Bradford and I was hooked. Since then I’ve done various trips - to Scotland, Cornwall, the USA, the Canadian Rockies, Norway . . .

We get the idea! So how did you first hear about Light & Land?

I saw an advert in Outdoor Photography magazine, but at around that time both David Ward and Joe Cornish were contributors to the magazine. Their writing and photography was very inspirational (and still is!) and when I saw that they were leaders with Light & Land that was enough to persuade me to join in the fun.

  

First: Arcs and Lines: An abstract from the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Fierce winds were whipping up the powdery gypsum, blurring the foreground and giving it an ethereal appearance.

Second: Bisti Badlands Sunset: Photographing in this landscape of amazing hoodoos and other worldly shapes makes you wonder whether you had somehow landed on another planet!

Why did you choose the Deserts trip specifically?

Well, I discovered my interest in desert areas when on a Light & Land tour to Bryce Canyon and Zion Park, and later on another tour to Death Valley. The bizarre other-worldly landscapes and rock formations, coupled with at times very sparse vegetation, barely surviving in the harsh conditions, fascinated me. This latest tour was to locations that I had not visited before, but had seen many photographs of - especially the iconic sites of the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon, and I wanted to see them for myself.

So as a photographer, what level would you say you were at?

I would like to think that I am at intermediate/advanced level, but the leaders are better judges than me! It actually doesn’t matter what level you are at on these tours, as there is plenty to keep all levels happy - and of course the leaders are there to help you along if you have little prior experience. It is always interesting to see how the other participants approach their work, how they compose their photos. We can usually learn something new from them, and that is irrespective of their level.

After all, a newcomer to photography could already be an accomplished painter, sculptor etc. and so have an artistic insight that they bring to their photography. Having an artistic eye is perhaps more important than knowing all the technicalities of camera craft. Modern digital cameras are so sophisticated and capable these days that getting a failure through wrong exposure, or something being out of focus for example, is actually quite rare. So you can concentrate on the content, rather than worrying about the camera settings.

Can you tell us what were you hoping to achieve from a Light & Land tour, in terms of progressing your photography skills?

Having been a film user for very many years – and indeed I still occasionally use medium format film – I am confident about camera settings etc. I now try to continually improve the artistic side and to discover new ways of portraying what I see, new ways of interpreting the subject in front of the camera. Composition, especially when shooting wider vistas, is what I find most challenging. Being in fantastic inspiring locations goes some way to kicking the creative side of the brain into action!

   

First: Colours of Silence: Pure magic in the White Sands as the dunes glowed in the soft pre-dawn light. Coupled with the total silence all around, this made for a very special experience.

End of the Road: Deep in Antelope Canyon, this dried out shrub finally gave up the struggle to live.

What were your thoughts on the places visited and the time spent at each place?

From the iconic to the truly bizarre, I enjoyed them all. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much from the Grand Canyon, having seen so many photographs from around its rims. Is it possible to come away with something unique that hasn’t been done before? However, the sheer splendour and grandeur of the views stops you in your tracks - and just seeing them is a wonderful uplifting experience. Having had good light conditions as well meant that I am happy with the images that I made, even if they are not especially original. But photographs as a record of our travels also have real value to us as individuals, and if they are somehow above the ordinary then that’s a bonus.

It would have been nice to spend more time in a couple of the locations, but given the time and resources available I think that the tour was balanced well.

Was the level of technical knowledge of the tutors, and their enthusiasm and encouragement, what you were expecting?

On all three counts I cannot fault them. They are hugely experienced and able to talk about the technical as well as artistic side to meet their clients’ needs. Any equipment talk is non-geeky, and aimed at discussing why and how one would use a particular camera setting or focal length etc. - to achieve an artistic goal. Arguments about one brand vs. another are pretty much irrelevant these days for the majority of amateur needs.

    

First: Sculpted: This little detail in a side wash in the Valley of Fire caught my eye. The evening light had faded and it was getting really dark, yet the bright colours still shone through.

Second: Stony Ground: Fabulous reds and yellows of iron oxides, while what are probably iron concretions seem to have flowed down the white sandstone veins.

Third: Toroweap: A remote spot on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. There must be tens of thousands of photographs from here and finding a new composition is probably impossible. But I am very glad to have seen it for myself!

And what about the tutors’ knowledge of the area and the best places to go?

This has to be a prime reason for paying to go on these tours. The investment that the leaders put in to scouting the best locations, and understanding at what time of day and in what weather conditions to go here or there, has a real value. In fact on this tour some locations were so remote and hidden that, even with the leaders’ prior visits and GPS guidance, they still proved a real challenge to find. We weren’t so much following dirt tracks as trying to find the right faint tyre marks from a whole network of them in the scrubland! The end result was well worth the struggle though and we were all truly in awe of the almost extra-terrestrial landscapes we discovered.

Were you happy with the level of one to one engagement with the leaders, and the level of feedback on your images?

Several participants were confident enough to work largely on their own and the group tended to spread quite widely, but whenever I asked for advice or an opinion the tutors were usually nearby to help. I certainly felt that the tuition was appropriate to my level, but I could always ask more questions if I felt the need. There were also many occasions when the leaders were passing by amongst us and proactively asked if we needed help. Additionally, when driving between locations the conversation in the car would often turn to photographic questions and we profited from the leaders’ knowledge.

The intensive nature of this tour, with many late finishes, meant that there was very little time for feedback. This is inevitable given that, when you are shooting ‘til after sunset in remote locations, by the time you get back to the hotel it can easily be 10pm or later! Again it's a question of balance: a tour is more about getting the clients to locations and concentrating on practical photography, whereas a workshop emphasises the tutoring to a greater degree - but this naturally tends to limit how many places can be visited and how much photography in the field can be done.

How was the leaders' ability to accommodate specific requests of the group, and to be flexible to take lighting and weather conditions into account?

I don’t have any complaints on that score. Whether by choice to visit different parts of a specific location, or when through force of circumstance we had to split up into small groups, the leaders ensured that nobody was left out or missed opportunities to stay busy and fully engaged. In fact on this tour they went beyond what would normally be expected, and they even arranged optional helicopter and light plane flights for some aerial photography!

So lastly, if a friend or colleague asked you whether they should consider a Light and Land tour, what would you say to them?

As a long-standing Light & Land client, it’s clear that I’m happy with the company’s service and the photographic knowledge that I have gained over the years - never mind the beautiful places I have visited with, almost invariably, an excellent group of people! I have made new friends every time and I can wholeheartedly recommend Light & Land.

Post By Charlie Waite

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