FirstLight Workshop


FirstLight Workshop presents: Absaroka Ranch-Cowboys, Workflow & Printing Workshop, July 3-8, 2016



…FirstLight Workshop is thrilled to be offering this unique, hands-on photographic workshop…

Entrance to Absaroka Ranch

Entrance to the Absaroka Ranch

Summer in Wyoming: perfect temperatures during the day, often brisk at night, a breathtaking panorama of stars, wranglers gathering horses in early morning, evening cocktail parties with friends (or, soon to be friends) and wonderful photographic opportunities.  This is what FirstLight will be serving up this July 3 – 8.  Join FirstLight at the Absaroka Ranch, bordering Yellowstone National Park for a “Cowboys, Workflow and Printing Workshop.”

This workshop is designed to equally emphasize shooting, workflow, and printing.  We’ll be photographing incredible scenes of wranglers working horses, amazing landscapes and portrait sessions.  These shoots will be during the optimum light of early morning or late afternoon, to achieve the best possible photographic quality.  During the middle part of the day, we’ll critique your photo shoot, providing important feedback to your photography followed by instruction in workflow and optimizing images for output.   Each day you will print your best photo from each photo session on very high quality digital printers. We’ll be using Moab Juniper Baryta Rag, an incredibly beautiful and highly reviewed digital paper.

These critique sessions will be led by Jay Dickman, Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Geographic photographer, also founder of FirstLight Workshops. Jay’s co-instructor is Frank Varney, Associate Professor in the Commercial Photography Program at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design.  Prior to this position, Frank held the Photography Department Chair at the Colorado Institute of Art for 19 years.  FirstLight is one of the only workshops that provide this incredible ratio of instructor to student.

All gourmet meals (the food is simply amazing; you won’t go away hungry!!) as well as accommodations are included in the price of this signature workshop.  Absaroka Ranch will provide an opening cocktail “meet & greet” party on the day of your arrival, Sunday, July 3, as well as evening cocktail parties each day before dinner at the ranch.

***In addition, our sponsor, Olympus, will be providing camera kits of their top-of-the line Micro Four Thirds cameras as well as lenses.  If you’ve beE-M5MarkII-GMT_right_M0818Fishen thinking of “going small & mirrorless,” this is your opportunity to test drive one of these cameras***

Historically, our students have flown in and out of Jackson, Wyoming Airport (JAC), an hour and a half drive from Absaroka Ranch.  The majority of attendees rent their own car, often taking advantage of the proximity to Yellowstone National Park, visiting at the end of the workshop.  The Absaroka Ranch Workshop will culminate after breakfast on Friday, July 8.  This provides plenty of time to drive to Yellowstone.  FirstLight can also connect you to a transportation service to handle getting to and from Jackson Airport, this will be at your expense.

Due to the limited amount of rooming available, you will be sharing a room with another FirstLight student.  This is a good incentive to check with your best-friend photographer about attending the workshop.

This workshop will fill quickly, if you are interested, don’t hesitate to call or email with any questions.

Buck, model released cowboy

What’s included: 

Workshop fee: 4 days of instruction and critiquing, with a morning and afternoon shoot each day, except Thursday, which will host a morning shoot only. Opportunity to use Olympus digital camera equipment.

Printing:  1-13 x 19” print per photographic opportunity: 1 print Monday, 2 prints-Tuesday, 2-Wednesday and 2 -Thursday. You’ll be printing on our favorite digital paper, Moab Juniper Baryta Rag

Accommodations:  5 nights, Sunday, July 3 ~ Friday, July 8. You’ll get to room, at no extra charge, with another FirstLight student!!

Meals: FirstLight  provides all your meals, from the opening night, Sunday, July 3 – final breakfast, Friday, July 8. The gourmet food of the Absaroka is another featured highlight of this event.

Cocktail events:  FLW and Absaroka will provide wine and beer at the opening night event, as well as an evening event each of the 4 days of the workshop

Photos ©Jay Dickman, all rights reserved.

What’s NOT included:

Liquor: wine and beer is provided at cocktail events

Transportation most attendees of our other events in the Dubois area have rented cars, as they enjoy the photographic possibilities of this incredible area.  We can connect you with a transportation service to get your to the Absaroka from the Jackson Airport and back, at your expense.

AirfareThe closest airport is Jackson, Wyoming (airport code: JAC).  Almost all major carriers fly into Jackson.  Salt Lake City is another choice, please be aware it is about a 5 ½ hour drive from SLC to Dubois.  Denver International Airport is about an 8-hour drive.

Laundry & other amenities:   There is a Laundromat in Dubois, the Absaroka does not provide laundry services


What you’ll need to bring:

  1. Laptop with at least 10GB of space
  2. A latest copy of Lightroom, if you don’t have this software, it can be downloaded from the Adobe website as a fully functioning, 30-day free trial.  If working with a trial version, you MUST make sure you have allowed the software to function throughout the workshop.
  3. I suggest bringing two camera bodies–to work with both as well as covering the possibility of a camera failing–this is NOT mandatory, but a strong suggestion.  Don’t forget that we will have Olympus cameras to borrow!
  4. Clothing for the week: FirstLight is a very laid-back group, so don’t even think of bringing a sports coat or dress!!  Laundry is not available at the ranch, but a small Laundromat is located in Dubois, if necessary.
  5. Enthusiasm and the openness to push yourself creatively–and plenty of energy!

Cost for the Absaroka Workshop

THIS WORKSHOP IS SOLD OUT…we are taking “wait-list” registrations, click here to be taken to that page.  If a spot opens, the price of the workshop is $2,900.00.  As always, we provide a discounted price for our FirstLight alum-please contact us for that price.  Please note, we no longer accept credit cards (if need to pay by credit card, you will pay a processing fee, call for details).  Payment is accepted via check, bank transfer or PayPal.  Click here to be taken to registration page.


 Proposed schedule for the Absaroka Workshop

(subject to change)

 Sunday, July 3

Participants will arrive at the Absaroka Ranch, 3PM check in. We will host an opening beer and wine cocktail event followed by dinner and opening session.

Monday, July 4                                    sunrise 5:44 am     sunset 9:03 pm

Happy 4th of July!

5:15 am    We will be heading out of the Absaroka in time to arrive at the CM Ranch, where we’ll photograph an early morning horse drive.  We’ll then head back to the Absaroka in time for a gourmet breakfast

8:00 am Breakfast at the Ranch

Mid-morning(time announced after morning shoot)  we’ll meet at the workshop headquarters, just steps from your cabin, where Frank will provide instruction on downloading your images.  He’ll also provide a tutorial on how to go through your photos, selecting the 10-15 best from the morning session.  You’ll then call upon Frank or Jay to sit down with you at your laptop, where you’ll receive invaluable information on your images.  This is one of the most instructive and critical components of this workshop: getting feedback on what is working, and as importantly, what is not working in your images.  We’ll further narrow this selection down to 5 images, which we’ll collect.  After the critique session is over, we’ll project all those selects from each participant-and hear from Frank or Jay as to why the image was selected and why it “works.”  We ask those who are waiting for their critique to begin, to please pull a chair up to one of the review sessions that are occurring.

Lunch at the Ranch

Early Afternoon Frank will provide his first tutorial on working in Lightroom to optimize your images.  During the afternoon session, you’ll print a 13 x 19” print from your morning shoot.

Cocktail party followed by dinner

 8:00 pm         head into Dubois to photograph fireworks (we’ll go over low-light photography earlier

Tuesday, July 5                                 sunrise 5:44 am      sunset 9:03 pm

5:15 AM    We will depart Absaroka for an early morning landscape shoot, which will include horses and riders, returning to Absaroka for breakfast

8:00 am Breakfast at the Ranch

 9:00 am    Meet at workshop headquarters for downloading, selecting, critiquing and reviewing images.  Followed by projection session of best images

Lunch at the Ranch

 1:00 pm   Opening afternoon session by Frank on optimizing images-followed by printing of two large images, from previous photo sessions.

6:00 pm cocktail party followed by dinner at Ranch

8:00 pm  late afternoon photo session of horses and wranglers on Absaroka property

Wednesday, July 6                                     sunrise: 5:45 am   sunset   9:02 pm

6:00 am  photo shoot of horses being “turned out” into Absaroka pastures,

7:30 am    Breakfast at the Ranch

 9:00 am    Meet at workshop headquarters for downloading, selecting, critiquing and reviewing images.  Followed by projection session of best images

Lunch at the Ranch

 1:30 pm  session by Frank on optimizing images along with conversions to black and white–followed by printing of two large images, from previous photo sessions.

6:00 pm  cocktail party followed by dinner at the Ranch

 7:45 pm  portrait session at Absaroka.  We will be there to work with you in the process of photographing people.  Natural light and reflectors are the theme of the day, and we’ll end the day with photographing wranglers around the campfire.

Thursday, July 7                                     sunrise 5:46 am       sunset: 9:02 pm

6:30 am shoot on ranch of horses being driven in to corrals from mountain pastures

8:00 am  Breakfast at the Ranch

 9:30 am  Meet at workshop headquarters for downloading, selecting, critiquing and reviewing images.  Followed by projection session of best images

Lunch at the Ranch

 1:00 pm  Opening afternoon session by Frank on optimizing images followed by printing of two large images, from previous photo sessions.

6:30 pm  cocktail party and dinner at the Ranch

 8:00 pm  Final slideshow of the best images from the week.

Friday, July 8                                    sunrise: 5:46 am

8:00 am   Breakfast at ranch

Guests all depart after Breakfast

Happy Trails!!!!  

Last day, heading back to Tylerton                                                        Olympus E-M1 12-40mm f2.8


Where’s Jay?

Working with Mirrorless Cameras

The globe-trotting, equipment lugging, moment-gathering photographer and the eternal quest on how to make life easier. This is the dilemma for both the aspiring photographer and the working professional, reducing the footprint (weight and size) but not the quality of the image.

As the technology in digital photography makes huge strides, the life of the photographer should be made easier. The sensor technology is amazing today, and quality of images has never been higher. Also, speed of the gear is fantastic and shooting high frame rates with almost no slow down allows the digital photographer to stay with the subject until they are able to capture the moment.

Banded sea krait, Niue, South Pacific Olympus E-M1, 7-14mm f2.8

Banded sea krait, Niue, South Pacific                    Olympus E-M1, 7-14mm f2.8

However, the bane of the photographer continues to be the weight and massive size of today’s DSLR cameras. Carrying a modern single lens reflex can become an aerobic activity: 4-5 pounds of camera with a lens the size of a cricket bat does not necessarily incentivize the photographer to carry that gear for extended periods. It’s not only the weight; in many places the last thing I want to do is carry, and exhibit, large and obviously expensive gear. The smaller “equipment footprint” I can make, the more I can disappear into the background. Large and cumbersome cameras can “intrude” on a situation-I’d rather be invisible as a photographer in many shooting environments, and most of today’s DSLR cameras take this possibility into the other direction.   Working in many locations (both domestically & abroad) the more I can look like a tourist, not a pro the better, along with lessening the chance of theft or other negative happenings.

Wave breaking in front of iceberg, Canadian Archipelago

Wave breaking in front of iceberg, Canadian Archipelago       E-M1 50-200mm

There is a new paradigm in camera equipment today: younger photographers are essentially NOT carrying heavy & cumbersome DSLR cameras anymore.   I think in part because they’ve grown up with cell phones as their image making gear. Another appealing aspect of the mirrorless systems, as their footprint and ergonomics are so much less intrusive than DSLR cameras.

Water pump, Kachhpura village, India Olympus E-M1

Water pump, Kachhpura village, India                                                        Olympus E-M1  40-150mm f2.8

I’ve been shooting with the Olympus OM-D system since its release in 2012. This is one of the mirrorless cameras, called so as the mirror “box” has been eliminated and replaced with an electronic viewing system. The most obvious benefits of this design are less weight and smaller size which equals more ease in carrying. As the thought goes, what is the best camera to own? The one that’s in your hands when you need it. And, by creating this very light-weight system, the camera is most often with me when those photographic opportunities arise.

King penguin breast feathers, Gold Harbour, South Georgia E-M1 50-200mm

King penguin breast feathers, Gold Harbour, South Georgia                                        E-M1 50-200mm

Add to this formula the sensor size of the “Micro-Four Thirds” system, adopted by Olympus and other companies in the Micro Four Thirds consortium. Lenses also become much, much smaller due to a sensor about half the size of a full sensor camera. This allows the lenses not only to be much smaller, but effectively “doubles” their effective length. (We still use the 35mm equivalence as the measurement formula for thinking about lens-length.)

Marrakech, Fanatchi furnace fueler E-M1 12-40mm f2.8

Marrakech, Fanatchi furnace fueler                                                                                       E-M1 12-40mm f2.8

Side mosque near the Taj Mahal

Side mosque near the Taj Mahal                                                                                            E-M1 12-40mm f2.8

Much of my work these days is with National Geographic Expeditions, Workshops and Adventures, which often involves global travel to places far off the beaten path. My requirements/preference for equipment is heavily based around extremely-high quality, portability and light weight. Travel today, if you haven’t noticed, can often involve minimal space on aircraft, gate agents who don’t follow the “international carry-on regulations,” and a fight for what little space is available on that aircraft. The photographer really has to either minimize the size of their equipment, or be prepared to bid adieu to their roll-aboard at the gate and hope (pray) that it not only makes it to the destination, but that it makes it to the destination in working order.

Buck Draney, Dubois, WY E-M5 14-150mm

Buck, Dubois, WY                                                                                                     E-M5  14-150mm


When I work, I always carry two cameras: one with a wide-angle zoom, the Olympus 12-40mm & the other with a telephoto zoom, the 40-150mm. Both these lenses are quite fast, f2.8 throughout the range, which allows me to work in all sorts of lighting conditions, varying from bright to minimal available light.

Full moon over Smith Island E-M1 40-150mm f2.8

Full moon, Smith Island E-M1 40-150mm f2.8

By doing this I’m actually minimizing the amount of gear I carry. Instead of a bag full of optical choices (lenses) I use these two lenses to accomplish almost all my photography needs. If a specific wildlife or sports shoot, the dynamic does change and I’ll use the appropriate super-telephotos for those assignments. But, these two lenses really allow me to work almost any situation, and by not having the weight of an accessory bag on my shoulder, I’m able to move and react much more quickly to just about any photographic situation.

I shoot primarily for publications that demand the utmost quality of the image, but the newer photographer is also looking for high quality images. Whether posting on a photo-sharing site, publishing ones own book or printing to hang on the wall, celebrating your latest adventure, the smaller camera is much more likely to be in your hands when opportunity knocks!


Bedouin, Petra, Jordan E-M1 12-40mm

Bedouin, Petra, Jordan E-M1 12-40mm



Also -check out “My Shot”, which is a photo sharing site hosted by National Geographic. This site provides a monthly theme/assignment to all participants. It’s a creativity inspiring process, as many photographers submit images (3 per month) to the site, which are then edited down to a select group and published in a layout on the website.


Saunders Island, Falklands (Malvinas) E-M1 12-40mm

Saunders Island, Falklands (Malvinas) E-M1 12-40mm

Quality is amongst the top criteria for my equipment as well, and I’ve found that this system can deliver files that allow me to print to quite large sizes, up to 30 x 40”. Images of the quality required for publication are easily accomplished, as I shoot RAW exclusively. I’ve also found that, to achieve the best image, the proprietary RAW reader really gives me the ultimate quality. Shadow detail and highlights seem to be those areas most benefitted by the manufacturer’s software. I’ll open the images in my camera’s proprietary software and immediately export that image as a 16-bit TIFF. I’ll either import that into Lightroom, or use Photoshop to open that image as a Camera Raw. This provides me access to the highlights and shadow tools, allowing me to pull in available info in the bright areas or open up the shadows.

CM Ranch, Dubois, WY E-M1 9-18mm

CM Ranch, Dubois, WY E-M1 9-18mm

Take a look at the images posted here, all shot with my Olympus OM-D mirrorless cameras and I think you’ll agree that the quality shines in these images, and they are very realistic for so many types of coverage.

I’m actually heading off soon for a FirstLight photo tour in Namibia, in my ThinkTank Airport Commuter Backpack (we are limited on weight, as well as no “wheelies” on this trip) I’m carrying: three OM-D E-M1 bodies, a bunch of batteries, a flash and these lenses: 8mm f1.8, 7-14mm f2.8, 12-40mm f2.8, 40-150mm f2.8 (along with the MC-14 1.4 teleconverter) and the just released 300mm f4.  In addition to my Singh Ray filters, Acratech ballhead and Lexar memory.  So, I am covered, in the 35mm equivalent, in lenses ranging from 16mm out to 840mm. I weighed the bag – under 20 pounds.