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HomeWorkshopsBig Bend Sept 2016
Advanced Night Photography Workshop
Based in the Big Bend of Texas
September 2016


Dates: September 23 - 26, 2016
Students: 6
Instructor: TJ Avery

Rio Grande and Milky Way

This will be a much more serious event than my previous workshops. Be prepared to work hard, stay out late, and shoot, shoot, shoot! :-)

The Highlights:
- Four nights of shooting
- Advanced instruction on night and dark sky photography
- Assignments and challenges designed to improve your night photography
- Instruction and practice on light painting
- Classroom time devoted to instruction on image processing and also image reviews
- Printed and bound manual for each student covering details on Big Bend and also night photography techniques
- Light painting kit (lights for you to keep)

The Big Bend area of Texas is a rugged and beautiful region of the Chihuahuan Desert in far West Texas. It is a diverse landscape containing badlands, canyons, mountains, and riparian areas along the Rio Grande River. Situated in the middle of this remote landscape is Big Bend National Park, one of the largest and least visited parks in the US. And it is dark at night. Very dark!

It takes an investment of your time to reach the Big Bend, but it's worth it. And this workshop will provide you quality time with the area.

Big Bend is my favorite place to experience the outdoors and photograph. I have spent a lot of time there over the past 12 years, and I will share my experience and knowledge of the area with you during the workshop.

There is much more info below... read on!

Table of Contents for Sept. 2016 Event:
Night Photography
Getting There
What to Bring
Sun and Moon Calendar


NOTE: All times given are approximate. We may shift things around depending on weather, time required to travel to shooting locations, etc. The times and activities listed are just to give you an idea of how the workshop will operate. Please plan on being flexible.

DAY 1 (Fri, Sep 23):
2:00 pm -- Meet at Big Bend Resort & Adventures
2:00pm to 5:30pm -- Greetings and introductions in classroom, and starter course on night photography
5:30pm to 6:30pm -- Break
6:30pm -- Dinner
9:00pm -- First night shoot; stay out until midnight or later

DAY 2 (Sat, Sep 24):
9:00am to 10:30am -- Breakfast
10:30am to 12:00pm -- Classroom session
12:00pm to 1:30pm -- Break
1:30am to 4:30pm -- Classroom session
4:30pm to 5:30pm -- Break
5:30pm to 8:00pm -- Afternoon + sunset field shoot*
8:00pm to 9:00pm -- Dinner
9:00pm -- Night shoot; stay out until midnight or later

DAYS 3 & 4 (Sep 25 - 26):
(same schedule as Day 2)

DAY 5 (Tue, Sun 27):
The workshop will conclude at the end of the night shoot that started the day before. You will probably need the 27th as a travel day to get home.

* a special note about afternoon / sunset shoots: We will venture out into Big Bend to see the landscape in the golden light of the late afternoon, however the main goal for this workshop will be to maximize our time in the field when it's dark enough to see and photograph the Milky Way. This will start approximatly 9pm each evening. Therefore we may not stay to experience and shoot every sunset; we may have to start the process of relocating (and also getting dinner) so that we're on location and ready to shoot as soon as the night sky is sufficiently dark (about 9pm).

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Group shot under the Milky Way just before dawn


This photography workshop will have an emphasis on photographing the dark, night sky and Milky Way. I will instruct you on advanced techniques going beyond those typically covered in my past workshops.

To get the most out of this workhop, you should understand the features and functions of your camera and know how to operate it in manual mode. You will also be expected to have practiced night photography prior to this workshop. You will be expected to hit the ground running and begin taking good exposures on our first night of shooting.

This workshop is open to anyone. However, to get the most out of it, please consider the above stated prerequisites. Coming to this workshop with the suggested experience means that you will get the most that this workshop has to offer.

We will learn in the classroom as well in the field. It will be several intense days of photography, but everyone will have a few hours of free time during the day to nap and catch up on things.

We will visit many different well known locations inside and outside of Big Bend National Park. Such locations may include Santa Elena Canyon, Rio Grande Village, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Chisos Mountains, Boquillas Canyon, Ernst Tinaja, Sotol Vista Overlook, and the Terlingua Ghost Town. We will also visit some out-of-the-way locations: spots that I've discovered on my many trips to the area that are off the beaten path yet easy to reach.

We will enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the local desert inhabitants and also the spicy and colorful cuisine. Life in the area runs at a slower pace, and folks spend time enjoying their surroundings.

Storm Clouds, Rainbow, and Sierra del Carmens

Our classroom will be based at Big Bend Resort and Adventures (formerly known as the Big Bend Motor Inn) in Study Butte. We will have:

- technical guidance and instruction on night photography
- critique of your images shot during the workshop
- instruction on processing and editing your night photos

I will provide you with printed materials for the workshop. This will include notes on photography (particularly shooting at night) and also information on many different locations inside and outside of Big Bend National Park.

I will be 100% available to you during the workshop. I may set up my camera to demonstrate something or to take images to use as examples during our time in the field. But I will be on hand to help you, to point out things of interest and potential, and to answer your questions.

Our shooting locations will all be in large areas where the group will spread out. It may too difficult for me to visit with everyone as they shoot in the field, so if you need my help, make contact with me (yell, wave, or use a walkie-talkie; I will have some available). I will come see you and help to the best of my abilities.

I will help to coordinate shooting between groups at night (during the long exposures, all lights must be off). I will also demonstrate light painting and assist with the lights as you all shoot.

We will have a blast. It's great fun to play around with long exposures and lights :-)

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Light Painting & Milky Way

Night Photography

One of the greatest and most beautiful aspects of the Big Bend is the night sky. There is very little light pollution, and the Milky Way can be seen brightly on a moonless night.

We will shoot at night and capture the stars and Milky Way. We will visit different locations that offer a variety of foreground subjects to work into your compositions.

In addition to advanced instruction in night photography, we will stay out for longer periods of time at night to offer you more opportunity to shoot. Our schedule will involve having a quick dinner so that we are in the field and shooting as soon as it's dark enough to see the Milky Way.

Night shooting (field work) includes:

- Images that freeze the apparent motion of the stars (minimizing star trails) and capture the Milky Way in combination with Earth-based objects (features on the landscape, structures, silhouettes of people, etc)
- Dealing with shallow depth of field (when shooting at a wide aperture at night) by focus stacking
- How to minimize digital noise while shooting
- Light painting with different light sources and also different temperatures of white lights
- Light painting setups to cover different subjects (people, structures, etc)
- Panoramics at night
- Long exposure star trail photos
- How to shoot time-lapse sequences

3-shot Panoramic

Processing and editing subjects covered (in the classroom):

- Settings for processing raw images
- General editing steps (both Lightroom and Photoshop)
- White balance and color correction to achieve desired result
- Reducing digital noise using software
- Stitching panoramics shot at night
- Producing files suited for printing or web use

Night Sky Timelapse
(short video with two sequences)

You will receive a small kit of LED lights to use during the workshop. These lights are yours to keep.

I will also bring my big box of misc. lights for you to use. This lighting kit includes many LED candles, flashlights of different colors, and a UV light (scorpion spotting, anyone? :-)

LED candles

The night sky in Big Bend is something to experience. It will take your breath away as you stare up into the billions of stars that make up our galaxy.

The workshop will take place during a new moon. The good part of the Milky Way (the wide, colorful portion with loads of detail) will be up in the sky to the south-southwest after sunset. We will have opportunity to spend 3 to 5 hours shooting it each evening provided the weather cooperates.

See the Sun and Moon Calendar for details.

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Tent and Stars

Getting There

The Big Bend area is located in remote, southwestern Texas. Big Bend National Park and the villages of Study Butte and Terlingua are part of the Chihuahuan Desert that extends throughout that area of Texas and northern Mexico.

Road map of Texas; click to see larger

The closest commercial airports to Big Bend National Park are Midland/Odessa Airport (MAF) in Midland, TX or El Paso Airport (ELP) in El Paso, TX. From Midland/Odessa, it is a 235-mile drive to the park headquarters. From El Paso, it is 330 miles. The drive from El Paso is a much more scenic route if you have the extra time to drive it.

The Big Bend National Park website contains a lot of useful information about the park, traveling to it, and visiting/using it. Note that you will need to pay a $20 entry fee to the park, and the fee will be good for seven days.

Map of Study Butte-Terlingua; click to see larger

Study Butte-Terlingua is just outside the west entrance of the park. It contains only a few hundred permanent residents, but there are restaurants, hotels, and convenience stores available. There is even a small grocery store (Cottonwood General Store) that is fairly well stocked. There are no chain stores or restaurants (e.g. Walmart) in the area. The closest "big" city is Alpine, about 80 miles to the north.

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Star Trails - 41 Minute Exposure


The workshop will be hosted at:

Big Bend Resort & Adventures (formerly known as the Big Bend Motor Inn).
Located at the intersection of TX 118 and TX 170 in Terlingua, Texas 79852.

To make a reservation, please call the motel directly: 432.371.2218

We have a block of rooms set aside for the class. Please mention that you are with the "Thomas J. Avery Photography Workshop". The room block will expire August 22, 2016.

We also have a meeting room reserved at the motel. Our classroom sessions will be held in this meeting room.

Self Portrait under the Milky Way

For additional information and to register for this workshop, please contact me (TJ Avery) and let me know that you are interested in registering for this workshop.

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What to Bring

When you make the commitment to attend this workshop and make all the arrangements for your trip, you will certainly want to arrive with what you need. While gear doesn’t make the artist, having a checklist handy while you are packing can prevent being in a beautiful place with a dead battery and no charger.


Quick Checklist

- Camera body (DSLR or mirroless) - see note 1 below
- Lenses - see note 2 below
- Camera bag (something comfortable like a backpack or large waist pack)
- Batteries and spare batteries (and don't forget your charger)
- Memory cards
- Tripod (absolutely manditory for the 30-60 sec. exposures at night)
- Flashlight or headlamp (one with a "red mode" for preserving night vision is handy)
- Filters (especially a circular polarizer)
- Computer equipment (laptop, charger, USB cables, card reader, USB memory stick)
- Clothes, toiletries, & medicines
- Passport, green card, etc. (You will pass through a few immigration checkpoints on the highway as you come and go to the Big Bend area. If you are not a US citizen, please bring your documentation showing that you belong in the US.)


1. Cameras Bring a DSLR or mirrorless (with EVF), or any camera on which you can manually adjust your aperture, shutter speed and ISO. If you have a backup body and/or a favorite point and shoot camera, bring them along too. For getting the best results on our night shoots, I would HIGHLY suggest you bring a camera body capable of shooting at least as high as ISO 6400. Most DSLRs made in the last few years will do this. Please also bring your camera manual. We will dive into some advanced settings for the night photography.

2. Lenses Bring lenses to cover a range from super wide angle to telephoto. If you have a specialty lens like a macro, the Lensbaby or a fisheye, be sure to bring it. A workshop is a great time to try an old lens in a new way. For getting the best results on our night shoots, I would HIGHLY suggest you bring a lens with a LARGE aperture. To capture the Milky Way combined with land-based objects, a wide and fast lens is neccesary. Some examples::
- 14mm f/2.8
- 15mm f/2.8 (fisheye)
- 14-24mm f/2.8
- 16-35mm f/2.8
- 20mm f/1.8
- 24mm f/1.4
- 28mm f/1.8

If you do not have a fast lens such as these, then please consider renting one for your trip. I highly recommend Lens Rentals ( Many of my students in past workshops have rented special lenses with good success. I have as well.

3. Computer stuff Our classroom will have desk space and power outlets so each student can set up an individual work station. Please bring a laptop with photo editing software so that you can download, process, and edit the images you shoot during the workshop. Free Wi-Fi is available at the main office of the motel. It may be available in our classroom, but please do not count on it.

4. Weather Dressing in layers is the best way to go. Our field outings may span many hours in the day, temperatures, and even elevation changes. A rain poncho is always a good addition to your camera bag. Check the extended weather forecast and come as prepared as you can. Good comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots are a must. Bring a hat for protection from the sun.

Average high temperatures in September are generally hot. 90-100°F during the day is likely. Typical low temperatures can be around 60-70°F. The rainfall average in Sept is fairly low.

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Photographer in the Badlands


Below are the policies, terms and conditions of this workshop. If you have any questions, please contact TJ Avery.

Payment for the Workshop:

Tuition for this workshop is $900.

If you sign up prior to July 23, 2016:
• $300 deposit is due immediately to secure your spot on the workshop
• $600 remainder is due July 23, 2016

If you sign up on or after July 23, 2016:
• $900 is due immediately

Please note that payment of your deposit (prior to July 23) or full payment (after July 23) is required to secure your spot on the workshop. My workshops typically fill up early and I start a waiting list.

Your tuition of $900 covers your participation only. Transportation to and from the workshop, park entrance fees, lodging, rental car (if needed), and meals are your responsibility.

If you Cancel:

If you cancel more than 4 months prior, then your deposit is returned minus $25 admin. fee.

If you cancel 2 to 4 months prior, then your deposit is retained **

If you cancel less than 2 months prior, then All funds are retained **

** EXCEPTION: If the workshop is full (9 students) and you cancel, then I will try to fill your spot from the waiting list. If I’m successful, then I will refund your payments (minus a $50 admin. fee).

Workshop Cancellation:

This is a rare possibility, but life is life and things happen. I’ve never had to cancel a workshop before. Chances are extremely low, but, if it does happen, then I will refund your money in full. If this bothers you, then please consider making refundable travel arrangements or getting trip insurance.

Students Shooting the Milky Way

Equipment Insurance:

I strongly suggest that you insure all of your equipment prior to leaving for a workshop. The greatest danger to your gear is yourself :-) I've never experienced a theft, but I've seen a lot of camera gear banged up in the Big Bend.

How to Register for a Workshop:

Please contact me (TJ Avery) by email and request registration. I will send you all the details.

Guest and Spouse Policy:

Everyone attending the workshop must pay tuition.

I understand that you may have a spouse, friend, partner, or significant other (who is not into photography as you are) that you really want to take with you and show them the Big Bend. Many of my students in the past have done so, and they've enjoyed it.

PLEASE understand that your guest will NOT be allowed to attend the classroom sessions. They may tag along on our field outings, but they will not receive any photographic instruction. They are welcome to join us for any meals.

The issue is that bringing a non-workshop participant along with you adds to the size of the group. And the larger the group is, the more difficult it is to get around.

Only a few non-tuition-paying guests will be allowed to attend. Please contact me prior to committing to the workshop and let me know if you plan to bring a guest.

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Light Tornado

Past Workshop Details, Images, & Feedback/Testimonials from Students

Big Bend Photo Workshop, Oct. 2011
Big Bend Photo Workshop, Feb. 2012
Big Bend Photo Workshop, Oct. 2012
Guided Shoot in Big Bend, Oct. 2013
Big Bend Photo Workshop, Oct. 2014
Big Bend Photo Workshop, Apr. 2016

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Sun and Moon Calendar

Table generated by:

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All images copyright of Thomas J. Avery