From Good to Real Good
by Bob Cook
with introduction
by Alain Briot

Other essays in this series

Bob Cook attended the Navajoland Workshop in Fall 2008. Here is Bob's account of his journey as a photography student. I found Bob's narrative to be both unique and interesting and I decided to publish it here. You can see more of Bob's work on his website by following the links in the text below.

Alain Briot

Yellow Tseyi Trees
Bob Cook

From Good to Real Good
By Bob Cook

This essay is aimed at photographers who are considering attending an Alain Briot workshop.  I was a "good photographer" who attended Alain’s Navajoland workshop.  This was a workshop focused on capturing images in the field. I believe that as a result of attending this workshop I became a "real good photographer." I will try to explain how this process went.

Since I’m speaking about being a “good photographer" let’s get our watches synchronized as to what I mean by the term.  I think there are three aspects to Photography:

-Technical mastery of the camera, accessories, and processing computer/software/printer

- Artistic skills in beginning the image through the viewfinder and ending with a print and web image

- Business skill in marketing and selling the images

All three of these factors are extensively discussed in Alain’s amazingly comprehensive website and taught during his workshops.  I do recognize that the third factor --marketing-- is optional.  One can be a terrific photographer without caring to sell one's images although I think the discipline of the market can be quite a push towards developing further skills.

Here’s how I slotted into the “good” category when I decided to take the workshop.  I had taken “hobbyist” style photos all my life.  At age 60, I had retired from business and was pursuing a most enjoyable second gig as a fine art painter.  I’d been at this for 18 months and had managed to get into a few local galleries and had sold about 40 paintings.  I noticed that my galleries were routinely selling photographs that were not, in my view, all that great so I figured I could sell some photos too.  I set some up as limited editions and did sell a few.   My technical “mastery” consisted of using a Canon EOS-20D with a bunch of lenses and processing via Photoshop Elements with fairly good computer skills.  I had a Canon Pro9000 printer which can handle up to 13x19.  My artistic skill was being cross fertilized by my painting and my business skill did make a couple of sales.  You can look at this web link to see the type of photos I set up as limited editions as a pre-workshop, good photographer:

My reasons for attending the workshop were naturally to improve my photography but I was equally thinking of improving my eye for images which I thought could translate over to my painting.  Two for the price of one!  And I love Navajoland so visiting there again was quite a draw.

Pink Swirl Rock
Bob Cook

Attendee make-up
There were 11 other workshop attendees.  Several had attended previous workshops with Alain and Natalie.  Prior to my meeting them, I thought that my camera equipment (upgraded to Canon EOS-40D) and general ability to talk technical points would be at least representative if not superior.  Not exactly!  I felt like a soldier reporting for combat with a squirt gun.  Several other participants had wildly more powerful and expensive equipment.  And I kept hearing strange, alien sentences like, “well, if you do three quarter stop, 7 exposure HDR’s, you’ll find that in house profiling from a test strip will always give richer highlights assuming you’re running a GS600 on Hahnemühle pearl”.  And the answer would come, “yeah, everyone knows that.”

But for me, this was no bad thing.  Look how much I had to learn!  On the technical side, some of the other attendees were on a plateau and could only refine details.  As the workshop moved along, I was learning as much from the group as from Alain and Natalie.  In big gulps.  And with my painter’s eye, I was probably more of a match for the group in artistic skill.  Great equipment and technical skill is very valuable, especially with modern products, but it can only take you so far.

So when I finished the workshop, I felt like it had been a worthwhile experience.  But during the ensuing couple of months, I worked through the “to-do” list I’d given myself and put together a new computer workstation complete with Photoshop CS3 and some other programs.  And all this took a lot of studying which I wouldn’t even had sensed the need to undertake if not for the workshop.  So I’ve gone from feeling the workshop was worthwhile to feeling it was transformational.  And I think it’s taken me from being a good photographer to a real good photographer, which is quite a journey in only five days, the length of the Navajoland Workshop.

Here are some pictures I took at the workshop but processed during succeeding months.  I hope you agree that they are real good:

Some final points:
My thesis is that the “good photographer” has a lot to gain from attending Alain’s workshops. These workshops are fun but also a lot of work.  The best light for landscape photography is dawn and sunset, so your working day is long.  It can also be cold, hot and/or overcast or rainy. All these situations offer excellent photographic opportunities so it is important to be out in the landscape all day in order to take advantage of the best light whenever it happens.

And part of becoming a "real good photographer" is that you end up putting a lot more time and effort into creating that final image.  This includes time behind the viewfinder and time in front of the monitor.  But the rewards are great.  And for me, they crushed the costs.

    White Silver
    Bob Cook

Essay and photographs Copyright © Bob Cook 2008
All rights reserved worldwide