Big Sur Coastal Landscapes Workshop
Note: We almost always do our Marin Headlands and Big Sur workshops back to back, so you can book both to make this a 2-day workshop.
Authorized permittee of the California State Parks
Photos from the past workshops
It has been called "the greatest meeting of land and sea on the planet." National Geographic Traveler Magazine includes this region in its list of "Top 20 World's Greatest Places." Famed author Henry Miller is quoted as saying, "it is here in Big Sur that I first learned to say Amen." For over a century, Big Sur has provided inspiration to painters and poets, writers and musicians, and most notably to us here at Aperture Academy, to photographers searching to capture the grandeur of one of earth's most scenic coastlines.
Big Sur refers to that 90-mile stretch of rugged and awesomely beautiful coastline between Carmel to the north and San Simeon to the south. Highway 1 winds along its serpentine length and is flanked on one side by the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains and on the other by the rocky, dramatic Pacific Coast.
From there, we'll continue to head south along Highway 1. The scenic qualities and the natural grandeur of the coast which result from the imposing geography, rich vegetative compositions, and the dramatic meeting of land and sea, provide the photographer with a bounty of photographic delights. Although the image possibilities are seemingly endless along every curve of the road, we've selected a variety of locales that represent some of our favorite spots. As with all our workshops, we'll work extensively with you on composition, tools and tips for determining the optimum exposure, filter use, as well as a host of other topics to help you get the most out of your camera.
For those of you who have visited this area before and for those of you who will be first timers, it will be easy to see why Big Sur has attained a worldwide reputation for its spectacular beauty. If the dramatic contrast between land, sea, and sky, coupled with a bit of history, and a speck of bohemia excites you, then this workshop is for you.
Equipment To Bring
DSLR or Mirrorless Camera
Required: You'll want, and need, the full power and creative control
of a Digital SLR or Mirrorless Camera to get the most out of your learning experience on this workshop. We teach all
brands and models of Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and more!
Required: Stability is everything in Photography! Using a
sturdy tripod will help improve your compositions and get sharper images. A tripod also helps you
have both hands free to focus (pun intended!) on learning and getting "the shot"!
Optional: Even though a Polarizing filter is optional, we highly
recommend them as they help give the clarity and color of your photos that extra "pop". Just like
sunglasses, a polarizer will bring out the very best in your photos!
Optional: A shutter release allows you to take a photo without
touching the camera. This helps ensure a sharp photo and is very important
for long exposures in dark areas, or at night. They are affordable and a great tool
to have in your camera bag!
Neutral Density Filter
Optional: If you buy any filter, buy a Neutral Density! (Graduated 3-stop Soft Step)
While it is optional for this workshop, if you bring one we'll teach you how to use it and you'll be amazed
at the advantages you'll see instantly from this filter.
Be sure to buy the right
ring millimeter size!
We recommend a graduated
3-stop Soft Step (Cokin calls it .9)
Need Gear? Visit BorrowLenses for a special package designed specifically for Aperture Academy students for this workshop.
What's Included/Not Included
What's Included in Your Workshop:
- Hands-on Instruction by 2 or more professional photographers
- Transportation during the workshop
- Water (snacks for extended workshops)
What's not included
- Transportation to/from Workshop starting location
- Instructor Gratuities
- Meals during workshop breaks
Safety, Confidence, Being Prepared
Aperture Academy is a professional organization dedicated to safe, quality, positive experiences for our students, and a responsible stewardship for the breathtaking locations and beautiful wildlife we enjoy at every workshop.
We work with the United States Department of Interior, the National Park Service and the US Forestry Service to obtain all the proper permits to operate safely, conscientiously and legally. We carry much more than the required minimum of insurance, and our skilled instructors are certified as Wilderness First Responders, in CPR, as well as in the Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics program. They are qualified and rated to drive Class B vehicles. And, have we mentioned that each is an accomplished, successful professional photographer?
Every "ApCad" member is dedicated to ensuring our students receive the best care and guidance possible, so each of them have the opportunity to get the most remarkable, enjoyable and enriching photography experience available anywhere in the world.
What to Bring
- Your Digital SLR or Mirrorless Camera. If you have two bodies, bring both. This is a
digital photography class, but if you have a favorite point-and-shoot or old
film camera you like, bring it along, and if time permits, you can use it as
- Lenses. Try to cover a range from very wide (17-20mm), for landscape
images, to zoom ranges (100-400mm) for wildlife. It's not uncommon to see
wildlife on workshops (even those structured for landscape instruction), so
it's best to be prepared, if possible. We also encourage you to bring other
lenses, like a macro or fish-eye lens if you have them, because there are
always endless creative possibilities to be found on our workshops.
- Tripod. This is a necessity for ALL our workshops. It can be windy
in many of the areas we take you, so the sturdier your tripod, the better.
If you haven't purchased one yet, you can e-mail our instructors; they would
be happy to assist you in selecting a tripod that is perfect for you.
- Filters. We do a great deal of work with filters in our workshops, so,
if you have them, bring them. We highly recommend a Circular Polarizer, and
a (3 or 4) soft-step graduated neutral density (GND) filter. We also use
straight neutral density filters, which will help us get longer exposures in
all times of day, but this isn't as important as the first two mentioned. We
have a few extras that can be loaned out, but you're going to love what you
see with the filters, and you'll want to have your own.
- Extra batteries. Bring at least 1 or 2 extra batteries. Cold
temperatures and long exposures can drain batteries very quickly. There is
no worse feeling than arriving at the last spot of the night for sunset and
having a dead battery.
- Extra memory cards. Our instructors will show you the benefits of
shooting in RAW format, which is a better method for photography, but takes
up more space on a card. Having multiple memory cards will be to your
- Clothing & shoes. Bring layers of clothing you can add
if/when temperature and wind conditions change, and they can! And wear good, comfortable walking shoes!
- Lunch, or money for lunch. And snacks. On two and three day workshops,
we provide snacks and water. On one day workshops, we
stop for lunch at a local food establishment where you can purchase food or
eat what you have brought for yourself.
- Your sense of adventure! We want to teach you what it is YOU want to
learn, and have you come away with some good images. And, since the nature
of outdoor photography means we're subject to weather conditions, which we
can't control, sometimes we must be flexible with the itinerary. So, come
ready for anything. Because we are dedicated to do everything possible to
ensure you're in the best places at the best times to get amazing images.
- Your Thinking Cap! Show up ready, because you're going to learn! Some tips:
make sure to read the workshop details before you arrive, so you know what
to expect, and what to bring; bring a list of questions you want to ask the
instructors; check the weather forecast so you're aware of possible weather
changes; and most importantly, show up with a brain that is ready for
learning, and we promise we'll fill it up with as much information as you
:: What should I expect? ::
All workshops are designed to help you learn how to take better photographs and offer a complete immersion into digital landscape and/or wildlife photography. You will learn important photography techniques such as how to properly expose a composition, when to use a filter for best effect, and how to understand and adjust camera settings for optimum results.
Class sizes are kept small (approx. 12 students) to afford each participant one-on-one instruction and to maximize individual attention. The Instructor ratio is usually 6 to 1.
All trips require walking, and usually a little hiking, on uneven terrain. You will want to wear the right clothing, footwear, and keep in mind you could get a bit of a workout!
:: Why only Digital? ::
Digital photography offers unique opportunities for in-field photography workshops. By reviewing captured images as soon as they happen, we can examine exposure,
composition and histograms, and instantly learn what works--and what doesn't.
:: What should I bring? What is required? ::
- All workshops require a Digital SLR or Mirrorless Camera and a tripod. (Note: Filters (Graduated ND and Polarizer) and a
shutter release cord are not required, but highly recommended.)
- Bring a laptop on workshops 2 days and longer if possible, as we will spend time, when not in the field, reviewing and critiquing images.
- It is advised for you to dress in layers, as all workshops are held on location and often temperatures and conditions can change rapidly.
- Food and beverages will not be provided, so please bring plenty of water and nourishment.
- All students are expected to arrive on-time and to work together as a group to learn, not
only from instructors, but also from each other.
:: What kind, and how much, equipment should I bring? ::
Bring it all if you can! You never know what you might see. On many workshops we focus on landscape photos, but you never know when wildlife might enter the scene
and provide the perfect opportunity to photograph them in their natural habitat. It's always better to go into the field with too much gear, rather than miss an opportunity because of not enough equipment.
:: Is transportation provided? ::
Each student is responsible for their own transportation to and from the workshop meeting location. Once on location, we will provide transportation for all enrolled students over the course of the scheduled workshop.
:: Can a non-photographer friend or spouse attend the workshop? ::
Non-photographer friends and/or spouses are welcome to attend, but will be subject to the full tuition fee based due to transportation availability.
:: Does weather ever alter or cancel events? ::
Only if conditions pose a safety risk. Often, poor weather can make for dramatic photographic opportunities, so if rain is forecasted,
pack a light jacket or rain poncho and bring something to keep your camera dry (a hotel shower cap is ideal).
:: What happens if I have to cancel? ::
Because of the limited number of workshops and availability of one-on-one instruction sessions, once we schedule a spot, it won't be available for anyone else, therefore we can not offer a refund unless the cancellation is 90 days before the workshop date. This policy is necessary to assure us that those who sign up are serious about the adventure and will not back out, ruining the opportunity for someone else.
However, there is an exception to every rule. If, for some reason a workshop or one-on-one is cancelled by its instructor, you will be entitled to a refund, or may choose a credit for a different date. [Read our refund policy and other terms here]
:: Be prepared to take better photographs! ::
These workshops will help you develop skills, learn techniques and get to know your camera and equipment like never before. As a bonus, you will have a fun time and build friendships while learning to improve your photography technically. The result? You'll be capable of producing photographs as beautiful as any professional!