North Cascades

Passport Series Night Photography Workshop

In the northern regions of Washington state, some of the least-visited and most beautiful mountains in the U.S. rise dramatically from the landscape under untainted dark skies. An alpine wilderness rife with dramatic peaks, lush forests, placid lakes, gushing waterfalls, curious wildlife and more. We will explore by day and night, visiting and photographing different regions of this peaceful, special place.

Workshop Gallery

photos © Chris Nicholson

Workshop Details

August 2-7, 2020 — Sold Out, Join Waitlist Below

This is a 6-night, 6-day workshop. Your adventure begins on the morning of Sunday, August 2, and ends after a final shoot on the evening of Friday, August 7.

$1,850 + applicable taxes. Register below.

Skill level

Open to all who have an understanding of the basic principles of photography and of their cameras.

Class size

14, with 2 instructors — 7:1 ratio

NPS website

North Cascades National Park

Our workshop mission is to explore every U.S. national park. As with all our Passport Series locations, it may be years (if ever) before we return to any specific park. If you have a dream of making epic long exposures at night at North Cascades, we hope you join us.

Workshop Leaders

Register Now Waitlist Only

HOPING TO GET A SPOT? Sign up Below for our no-fee WAITLIST

  • Deposit of $500 is required to reserve your spot at the workshop.

  • Balance of $1,350 is due on May 4, 2020. Pay balance here.

  • You may choose the “Pay in Full” ticket if you desire to pay all at once.

  • Last day for a cancellation request is May 3, 2020 (see cancellation and refund policy).

  • The workshop fee does not include lodging, food, or transportation to and from Orkney.


The North Cascades Experience

Washington state has three national parks. Two of them (Olympic and Mount Rainier) are among the most visited parks in the U.S. The third is North Cascades. And hardly anyone goes there. In 2018, it was actually the sixth least visited national park.

That means three things for us:

  1. It’s a well-kept secret. And photographers love well-kept secrets.

  2. It’s relatively remote, which means the dark skies are dark.

  3. We won’t be bumping elbows with a lot of other people—especially at night, when we’re unlikely to see anyone else at all.

North Cascades contains what is undeniably some of the premier mountain scenery in the United States. The peaks are jagged, roughly hewn by millennia of glacial activity and volcanic eruptions. The lakes are vast and beautiful, reflecting the surrounding alpine scenery in morning and evening calm. And the nights? Wow. Sparkling. Serene. Spectacular.

North Cascades is at once easy and challenging to get around. Part of it is national recreation area, with roads that make travel easy, and activities that make vacations memorable. And parts of it are remote, vast stretches of untamed wilderness. We will enjoy the perks of the former while also exploring the edges of the latter.

We will visit the lakes, beginning with a two-hour passenger-ferry ride on Lake Chelan to the tiny enclave of Stehekin, where we will lodge and photograph for two nights. Then we’ll venture to the center of the park, where we will photograph along the main road. From there we’ll head into the Mount Baker Wilderness, where we’ll explore the trails around Artist Point, with their breathtaking views of the park’s Mount Shuksan.

Each night we will photograph in moonlight and starlight, enjoying the precious nights of the Pacific Northweat.

What You Should Know

Participants must have at least basic photo skills, know their cameras well, and be comfortable shooting RAW in manual mode with a DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera.

Night photography experience is not necessary, but even folks with extensive experience shooting at night will find this class challenging, stimulating and inspiring. For more advanced night photographers, we can offer a portfolio review and specific challenges and goals, and will offer guidance in the field if you mainly want to concentrate on creating portfolio images or learning more advanced techniques.

If you would like to attend this workshop but are unsure whether you have adequate night photography skills, we can offer pre-workshop tutoring to get you ready for your adventure with us. Alternatively or additionally, a few of us have written books that may be productive pre-workshop reads.

What You Will Learn

We hope to push you to step outside your comfort zone—to test the limits of what you and your camera can do. You’ll go home after the workshop with a solid grasp of night photography in dark and moonlit environments, and a good foundation in light painting techniques.

TOPICS COVERED WILL INCLUDE:

  • combining moonlight with light painting

  • creating star trails in both moonlit and dark skies

  • using PhotoPills to plan a Milky Way shot

  • creating low-noise star-point photos with Starry Landscape Stacker and Sequator

  • how to plan, shoot and process night-sky panoramas

  • and more …

This workshop will have both field and classroom instruction, but more of the former. Because we will be changing our home base every two days, we will meet for image review and post-processing only on the two “sitting still” days.

At night, participants can stay out shooting as long as they, or their camera’s batteries, hold out. While in the field, the instructors will demonstrate their own techniques and will work with participants one-on-one to make sure everyone gets the most out of the workshop. Our locations have generous room to explore, so everyone will be able to spread out and not get in one another’s way. Each participant will have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Chris and Gabe in the field.

We do not tell our attendees what to photograph, and won’t line you up in a row to all shoot the same thing (unless it’s helpful to get some people on track). Instead, we encourage you to use what you have learned to create your own unique images, and to let us guide you through the process should you desire. We do not teach you to do what we do, but rather how to develop your own night vision.

Night & Light Conditions

Travel

You’ll probably want to fly into the Seattle airport, grab a cup of coffee at Espresso Vivace, shore up on supplies at the REI mothership store, and then drive the 120 miles to the park. But there are other options.

Nearby Airports:

  • Bellingham, Washington (BLI) — 1.5 hours from the park, but limited flight options

  • Seattle (SEA) — 2.5 hours

  • Vancouver (VYR) — 3 hours

You will need a rental car. There is no need for four-wheel-drive. We will be changing our hotel base every two days (see below), and the drive between each is about three hours. If you are interested in carpooling or sharing a rental car, let us know and we will try to connect you with another attendee looking for the same. You are responsible for arranging and paying for your own transportation.

 

Food & Lodging

The experience will be akin more to a road trip—we’ll be changing our base every two days in order to maximize the photography opportunities the park offers. We will be using four lodging locations over the course of the workshop:

  1. a single night in Chelan to be in place for the morning ferry ride to Stehekin

  2. two nights at a lodge in Stehekin

  3. two nights at a cabin park near the main section of the park

  4. two nights near the Mount Baker wilderness

You are not required to stay at the official workshop lodging, though doing so does make it easier to meet with the group each morning. Lodging info and group codes will be sent after registering. If you are interested in sharing rooms, let us know and we will try to connect you with someone like-minded in the group. If you are interested in camping, North Cascades has plenty of quiet spots, and we’d be happy to help you find one.

We encourage eating two meals per day—a good late breakfast and a great late lunch. Restaurant options are limited in all our locations, but they do exist. When on the night shoots, you may wish to bring snack food or a sandwich and plenty of water.

You are responsible for arranging and paying for your own meals and accommodations.

Weather

We’ll be in the mountains in summer, so in one word: variable. From day to night, we could have temperatures into the mid-80s and down into the 30s. We might get rain, we might get lightning, we might get fog—we might even get widlfire smoke. But we chose this time of year because it’s when we’re most likely to have the clearest skies at the best shoot locations. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready with different night photography techniques to make the best imagery possible for different conditions.

Recommended Attire

Shorts or light pants and short-sleeve shirts for daytime, pants and long-sleeve shirts for night. A sweatshirt and medium-weight jacket will likely be useful, and a base layer might not be a waste of packing space. Bring a rain jacket and rain pants, just in case. Layers are good. Comfortable and protective shoes are recommended for getting around. There won’t be long hikes, but we always recommend quality trails shoes or hiking boots.

Considerations

No vigorous activity will be required during the workshop, but please consider your physical abilities prior to registering—there will be a little walking involved at a couple of locations. There won’t be any long hikes, but there will be trails, particularly around Artist Point. Even then, the area is diverse and beautiful enough so that you can venture as far as you’re comfortable and still have plenty of breathtaking scenery to work with. You should be comfortable carrying your own equipment over uneven ground in the dark.

Please read our FAQs section for more information about skill and gear requirements, and other information that pertains to all our workshops.

If you have questions, please contact us—we're happy to talk it over with you.

 

Making mountain memories ...

I ‘stretched out’ in my sleeping bag in the passenger seat of my rental car—a nice, small, budget-friendly sedan. I can’t say I was comfortable, but I slept.
— Chris

My first visit to North Cascades National Park was in 2016, right after spending time in Seattle and Olympic National Park filming my segments of our CreativeLive course. The visit was something of a reward to myself—I’d been to Washington several times in the previous few years and months, including four trips to Olympic and two to Mount Rainier, but never to the state’s third national park. After a busy summer with lots of deadlines, I decided to take a few days to head north into the Cascades and shoot for just me.

Of the things I knew about the park before visiting, two were most prominent:

  1. that is has amazing mountain landscapes, and that

  2. relatively speaking, hardly anyone goes to see it

When driving into the park for that first time, the former was definitely proven true. And the latter? Definitely false.

What?! Where did all these people come from? I hadn’t bothered to make camping reservations, and every site in the park was spoken for. At least I’d have the park to myself at night though.

Wrong again. Each time I drove to another spot to shoot, there were people everywhere—walking in the dark, even snuggled into sleeping bags on the ground.

It turned out I had picked one of the few “busy” times to be there. The Perseid meteor shower was coinciding with a new moon—on a weekend—and the local knowledge led people into the park to enjoy the show.

With nowhere to sleep (even the few hotels and inns were sold out), I “stretched out” in my sleeping bag in the passenger seat of my rental car—a nice, small, budget-friendly sedan. I can’t say I was comfortable, but I slept. In a few one- and two-hour increments. I did this for two nights, and by the third, even though some campsites had opened up, it started to feel like part of the experience for me. I asked a ranger at Mount Baker if “camping” in the car was OK while out for night photography, and with a wink and a nod he gave me his blessing.

Really, I was not comfortable. I was exhausted. I was groggy. But I wasn’t miserable. In fact, I was far from experiencing any displeasure from the experience. To this day, it remains one of my fondest national park trip memories. I can’t be unhappy in such a pretty, pretty place.

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