For me, one of the hardest parts of leading a workshop is the fear that I will disappoint my clients. Typically, I know very little about my participants until the moment I meet them and it is impossible to predict the diverse range of abilities, photographic and otherwise, belonging to those who sign up for any given workshop. Catering an experience to meet the needs of participants is challenging without knowing in advance what those needs are, so even the best planned workshops of mine are always largely improvised. Itineraries always change, and lessons and locations often get decided upon last minute. I’ve always gotten very positive feedback from the workshops I lead, so I’m not really sure why that fear of failure lurks still, but its definitely there.
One of my worries going into the AMC Fall Photography Weekend was that I really had no idea what the fall foliage was up to. I live about 2 1/2 hours south of the White Mountains and due to other commitments I had not had any opportunities to visit the area since a climbing event three weeks prior. Because of my new job and lack of accumulated vacation time, I couldn’t get up to the Whites any sooner to check out the foliage, so I ended up with just one day to scout – one day to figure out enough spots for three days of shooting in a variety of possible weather conditions I could not accurately predict.
So Thursday was all about scouting. Or at least it was supposed to be, but of course things are never really that simple.
While working on my programs the night before, my laptop screen went dead. Normally this would be annoying and mildly inconvenient because I use an external monitor at home, but two nights before a workshop and three hours from home is far less than ideal time to have a major component needed to deliver your instructional materials die. Because I didn’t have a backup monitor or computer with me, I spent a chunk of Thursday morning scavenging the Highland Center for an external monitor and then heading into North Conway midday to pick up extra adapters to connect the monitor and projector to my MacBook. To rub a little salt in the wound, I also managed to spill a bottle of water in my car and soak a couple of my guidebooks, one of which, ironically, was the White Mountains Waterfalls guidebook.
Equipment casualties aside, Thursday was a great day. I drove down 302 and Bear Notch Road, downtown and along the Kanc, and up I-93 and Route 3. I stopped at dozens of places, including rest stops I had never visited before and places that had many memories attached to them. Unlike most other times I explored the area, I was alone and had the freedom to explore as I pleased but also a clear mission: to hit as many potential spots as possible in a day. I usually visited a spot only briefly – long enough to assess the foliage, accessibility, and under what conditions the light and photography would be best – before moving on. I trotted along trails and snapped iPhone shots of everything.
My first visit to New Hampshire was in February 2009, and on that trip I saw Mount Washington and the White Mountains for the first time. Since then, I relocated to the state and have done my fair share of hiking, camping, climbing, and exploring in these magnificent mountains. My connection to this land is very tangible – I remember my first visits to many places and I remember the people who introduced them to me. Revisiting familiar places while scouting became a trip down memory lane. I fondly recalled bringing my mom to The Basin, camping with Camp Dudley’s Boys Camping Society at Covered Bridge Campground, hiking up the Hancocks with my friend Brett and his dog Pemi who was named after the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and stopping at highway pull-offs with various groups of friends, from the folks at Brooklyn Outfitters who brought me up Mount Washington in the winter for the first time to my friend Lisa from New Jersey, one of only three people from that area that have come to visit me since I moved to New Hampshire four years ago, to my ice climbing buddies.
Many of the places I visited were recommendations from my friend Jerry Monkman, a fantastic photographer based out of Portsmouth, NH. Jerry’s images partially inspired me to move to New Hampshire, and at this point he is a good friend of mine – I know his family, pets included, and we spent all of last summer working on a documentary together. Jerry has authored numerous books about photography and exploration in New England, several of which were published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, and he even used to lead the AMC Photo Weekends. That was until last year, when a cancer diagnosis left him too ill to do so, and Jerry kindly suggested to the AMC that I take his place. Thanks to Jerry, I have had many amazing photo opportunities since relocating here. So it was only fitting that, as I scoured the land in search of photo spots to take my group, Jerry should be the one guiding me.
The last place I stopped on Thursday was a location called Artist’s Bluff, which overlooks the highway intersections at Franconia Notch and provides a great view of Echo Lake and the surrounding mountains. I found my way to the top, taking the long route, and snapped a few photos as the sky grew dark with clouds. Thinking there would be no sunset and I was going to miss dinner if I didn’t make it back to the Highland Center by six, I turned and headed down the mountain only to run into another photographer on his way up – my friend Jim Salge! He chided me on heading down before sunset, and I immediately turned around and hiked back up to the bluff with him, where we waited together for color that never came.
Here’s where the story gets really cool – my very first visit to New Hampshire, back in 2009, was largely because of the efforts of Jim. At the time, I was dating another photographer and the NH trip was a Christmas present. My boyfriend had stumbled across Jim online and sent him an email, and Jim ended up giving him a ton of advice as to where we could go and shoot. Our whole vacation itinerary was based on the recommendations of Jim Salge! I never met Jim on that trip, but later, when I moved to NH back in 2010, we went on an overnight hut trip in the Whites and have been friends ever since. Even cooler, Jim is a New Jersey native like me. He moved to NH after college at Rutgers University to work as a meteorologist in the Mount Washington Observatory, and loved it and stayed. His story is not too dissimilar from mine, so you can imagine how awesome it was to run into him on the mountain.
After shooting, we headed back to the Highland Center, where Jim filled me in on a couple other spots near Crawford Notch where I could bring my group. Jim was headed in another direction – he’s the blogger behind Yankee Magazine’s Fall Foliage Reports, so he has a lot of ground to cover and a short window in which to capture and assess foliage throughout the region. I ended up scouting the two locations the following morning – just hours before my participants arrived – and they ended up being some of the most popular spots on our trip.
So in just 24 hours of scouting, I was reminded of how wonderful the photography community we have here in New England is. In no other place have I met photographers so consistently kind, open, and friendly, and willing to share awesome locations with others. Territoriality doesn’t seem all that common here and that’s kind of nice. In New England, photography, like many other aspects of our culture, is a collaborative process not a competitive one. Thanks to friends like Jerry and Jim, I have become even more familiar with the land I love, and every time I visit the places they have shown me I am reminded of our friendship in a beautiful way.
This is Part 2 of a multi-post series on my Appalachian Mountain Club Fall Photography Weekend workshop. Read Part 1 here and stay tuned for the next post in this series, coming soon! (Click here for the third and final installment.)