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Canon in the National Parks: Worth catching if you can.
(Friday, July 11, 2008 - 15:06 EDT)

Canon is sponsoring a series of free educational photo photo classes in US National parks this summer. Catch them in July and August at the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. If your schedule permits, they're well worth the time spent!

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks back to observe and participate in one of a series of free photo seminars being put on by Canon in national parks this summer. Although our experience at Yosemite Park was hampered a bit by the incredible amount of smoke in the air from the California wild fires, I was impressed by the quality of instruction and how useful the participants found the program.

This is Canon's third year of sponsoring these free photo classes, but the first time I'd had a chance to witness a session. The first thing that impressed me was the sheer volume of gear that Canon had committed to the project: There were enough SLR bodies and lenses for 40 people to each have a camera/lens combination, with a few PowerShots thrown in for good measure. SLR bodies ranged from Rebels to 1D-class, with most being either Rebels or 40Ds. The shot above shows the checkout table: People would swap their driver's license for a camera/lens to use for the roughly 2-hour class, swapping back when they returned. While everyone was obviously using Canon gear, I liked that Canon didn't beat people over the head with "Canon this" and "Canon that": They pretty much let the equipment speak for itself, and all the instruction was very general in nature, not at all tied to the specifics of Canon products.

This year, pro photographer Anne Sherwood is coordinating a team of a half-dozen or so other pros and college-level photo students who guide the participants through the various functions of their cameras. (That's Anne above, addressing part of the crowd the morning I was there.)

On a few selected days, Canon's "Explorers of Light" (prominent professional photographers renowned for the quality of their work) appear as guest instructors. The days we visited Yosemite, Explorer of Light Adam Jones was delivering the lessons. Adam's laid-back, non-technical style was a great match for the novice photographers who made up the bulk of the group. The shot below shows Adam explaining a few points about exposure, on the photo walk we took around the floor of the valley.

Most valuable though, was the hands-on time with the cameras. With the cameras in their hands and experienced photographers available to walk them through the controls, even the rankest beginner quickly learned how to judge exposure from a histogram, adjust exposure and white balance, control depth of field with the aperture setting and other key camera features. Along the way, Adam also handed out a lot of very solid tips on composition and framing.

Watching the interaction between the participants and the pros, I was struck by the thought that this is what the average consumer really needs to get familiar with their camera and truly be able to use all its features: If Canon could just duplicate the experience one or two million times over, we'd have a nation of very capable photographers! Sadly, that's not likely to happen, but hopefully at least a few of you reading this will be able to take advantage of the remaining seminars in the program. From Yosemite, the Canon road show has moved on to the Grand Canon, where they'll be until July 22. After that, they'll be in Yellowstone from August 17 - August 23.

Here's the schedule in a bit more detail:

Grand Canyon:
Now through July 22 (except Tuesdays)
Explorer of Light Lewis Kemper July 11-12 (sorry only one day left now, to catch Lewis)
Programs at 8:30am and 12:00pm
Canon tent in front of the Canyon View Information Plaza
Evening program at Shrine of the Ages, 6pm

August 17-23 (except Tuesday, August 18)
Explorer of Light Darrell Gulin, August 22-23
Programs at 10:00am and 1:00pm
Canon tent at the Old Faithful Inn
Evening program in Snow Lodge Meeting room, 5:30pm

If your schedule permits, definitely check it out: I'd recommend the class material for photographers from beginner through intermediate skill levels. - But if you're a more advanced shooter, this is a great chance to check out some cool Canon lenses you might not otherwise be able to get your hands on: Optics range from 10-22mm wide angles to the burly 70-200mm f/2.8 IS L pro-level lens, with a smattering of other consumer-grade zooms thrown in for good measure. - And even an expert photographer could learn a lot from an Explorer of Light, if your schedule could overlap with one of theirs.

And of course, you can't beat the price. (Free)

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