A Weekend in Tucson, AZ and Saguaro National Park

Tony Redhouse at Dusk
Mary and I just returned from a photography workshop in Tucson, Arizona with National Geographic Traveler photographer Catherine Karnow and another instructor from the Sante Fe Photography School, Jennifer Davidson.  The workshop plan had three shoots: a “walk around” downtown Tucson; a dusk shoot of a Native American medicine man; and a morning in Saguaro National Park photographing cactus.  Even before we went, I knew the landscape shooting would be more natural and easy for me, but the other two would be a challenge,because I do not like to make photographs of people.  I looked at Catherine’s work on-line before the workshop and did not immediately connect with her style.  To see how we did go to our photoshelter site to see our creative southwest  nature pictures.

During the first evening preparation session, Catherine showed some of her photos and gave us our assignment for the morning – make naturalistic portraits of strangers.  She described how she planned her photos; worked with her subjects; and what kind of knowledge, feeling, and artistic impression she wanted to make with her photos.  I was skeptical that I could pull it off and was even less interested if I could, anyway.

In the morning we made our way around the “artist’s area” of downtown Tucson and into the main downtown area.  We began by working with Catherine, and I watched her engage strangers and bring them into our photography workshop.  Mary and I then took off on our own and met several very nice people and made their photographs, including a 90-year old WWII veteran that I especially liked.  Mary had two great successes with a portrait of an older gentleman with piercing blue eyes and a weathered and tanned face.  She also befriended a Native American flutist and worked with him for several minutes to get just the right composition.

Gentleman with piercing blue eyes
WWII Veteran Near the Tucson Courthouse

That evening we met Tony Redhouse, the medicine man, and he sang, danced, drummed, and fluted for all of us for two hours.  We were able to capture him in many costumes and positions in different lighting situations.  He was very patient and accommodating for the photographers, even though his rituals were deeply meaningful to him.

Tony Redhouse

The next morning was our Saguaro visit and it went just fine for me.  I felt confident in what I was doing and even without good light managed to make a few good impressions. 

Three desert saguaros

As we did photo review, I started to see the better people photos from the less successful ones and began to look for and learn what made a good natural portrait and how to do it again.  It is always easier for me because I have Mary as a partner, teacher, and cajoler.  We were able to see everyone’s work and the workshop leaders made a short “film” of the best of the best (http://www.santafeworkshops.com/FridayShow/NGE_Tucson_022411.html).  During the final session, Catherine showed us her latest work for Traveler.  My eyes saw the same types of photos, but my mind saw something completely new and different.  I now understood her compositional constructs; the use of motion in her photos; the way she used light like all good photographers; and why having someone in the photograph brought it to life.  I also had that sinking feeling that comes from pre-judging something that you know nothing about, but think you do.  Before the workshop I did not know how to make natural portraits.  I am not sure I do now, but I do have a new and humble appreciation of the work it takes to make great travel photographs.  Just a few tips that I remember:

1. It is still about the light – early morning or dusk still produces the best photographs

2. Put people in the photographs so that your viewer can imagine themselves being there too

3. Use the motion of people walking, biking, or driving to covey movement.  Do not worry about always having everything sharp and in focus

4.  Don’t assume that people don’t want their picture taken.  We never had one person say no, and in fact many were flattered and said we made their day. 

Southwest home with woman walking dogs

4.  Try not to do the iconic photograph; or better yet, do the iconic composition and then challenge yourself to do it more creatively.  Create a sense of place and time by mixing the old and the new; contrasting colors and shapes; or adding elements that tell the overall story.

To see more of our photographs, go to www.pamphotography.com.

Sign for Fox Theater
Street scene with Fox Theater


  1. Jack Graham

    Nice stuff—you might want to make sure you guys carry model releases, just in case you want to enter the stock fray. I can send you mine( given to me by John Shaw)–easy and doesn’t scare folks away.

    Also check out this website if you have any interest in the stock business. Remember… everyone has a camera these days

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