Frequently Asked Questions
What are your goals as workshop or tour leaders?
For our workshops, our goal is for you to learn the craft of the subject we are teaching, and to thoroughly understand it. Whether that’s basic photography in our Digital Complete Nature Photo Course, or flash in our Advanced Course, or Photoshop or Lightroom in one of our Digital Courses, we direct all of our energies to that goal, while making the experience fun and enjoyable, too.
As Mary always says, we love what we are doing, but we have fun doing so. We are known for our energy, excitement, and enthusiasm, and our participants have a great time while they are learning.
On tours, our goals are for our participants to make the best images possible, as we take them, lead them, and instruct them on how to make great shots on location.
What is the difference between a photo workshop and a photo tour, or a safari?
This is one of the most important questions we can answer, because we feel the definition used by many photographers offering either, or both, is blurred and can create a bad impression, or a disappointing experience.
On a workshop, our focus is on learning. Learning the craft, mastering the skills, and becoming competent in whatever the topic is that we are teaching. People photograph on most of our workshops (Photoshop courses may be the exception) and usually end up making great shots, but our emphasis here is on learning how to do so and in not being distracted by great subjects that might lure you into doing what you’ve always done and not applying what we are teaching.
We could make our courses easy feel-good experiences where we simply encourage or flatter our students as they do what they always do, and perhaps take some nice shots while doing so. Our goal is to hear at the end of one of our workshops comments like, ‘I learned A LOT,’ or ‘This was the best thing I could have ever done for my photography,’ or ‘This was a life-changing event for me!’ We’re less concerned with hearing comments about their shooting – that will come next!
Most of the time we do not photograph while on a workshop, except perhaps to demonstrate a technique that requires our being behind our own cameras and lenses. With small groups we may photograph on rare occasions if we feel that doing so will provide our students with examples or with working techniques that are meaningful. Bottom line, we feel that a workshop’s photography experience should be with the students, with the instructors there to facilitate and instructor those students.
On our photo tours the emphasis is upon making great shots, and our goal here is to do everything we can to facilitate this for our participants. On a tour we take photographs, but we do so as we lead, show, and help you take your photographs first. We firmly believe that a tour should be participatory and that our participants will get the most out of an experience if their leaders are excited and enthusiastic, and not merely going through the motions.
What exactly do you mean by this?
The easiest way to express this is to simply say that we are not bored with what we do but instead we are excited and enthusiastic about our work. There have been a few locations where, after several years of going there, we simply grew tired of the shooting. For example, we had a very popular tour to the canyon country of Utah but on our last tour there we felt that we had had enough, and we didn’t offer the trip again. We worried that we might become flat and disinterested, and rather than leading the charge to take that hill, to make the best photographs, we’d just direct our participants to a location and let them go. We want to participate with them, to show our participants angles, perspectives, and techniques, and to truly do that with all your heart, you must be doing it, too. Otherwise, it is too easy to simply go through the motions.
As anyone who has taken our tours can tell you, we’re always the ones who are willing to climb the hill, tromp through the rain, endure the bugs, or whatever, and by our example we hope we are motivating our students to give it their all, too!
What would you recommend a new student or photographer do first? What should I take?
As the above answers may imply, we wish that everyone would take our Complete Digital Nature Photography Course first so that our participants, on tours and safaris, got the most from their shooting opportunities and truly learned their craft in a learning environment, not on a once-in-a-lifetime shoot.
That said, probably 50% of our photo tour and safari participants have not done so, and these folks usually do quite well. Of course, we always teach and help out on a tour or safari, but it is much harder to systematically explain exposure or flash or composition when everyone is worried about a fleeting photo opportunity. On a workshop we can take the time to explain and show, so if you need the help we’d recommend taking a photo course first.
There’s an added benefit there, too, especially if you are considering a safari. By investing in a one week course you’ll feel confident in investing more time and money in a more costly and lengthy safari than you might if you did not know the person you’re travelling with. Although we’re not worried about that, as we’re confident you’ll have no regrets!
You two are always recommended when East African Photo Safaris are mentioned. Why? What qualifications do you have, or what sets you apart from others offering safaris?
The short answer is experience, and Joe wrote a lengthy article on Naturescapes.com about choosing a photo safari if anyone wants to delve even further.
To summarize that article, and this question, we’ve been doing safaris together since 1988, and Joe’s been doing so since 1985. We’ve conducted at least one safari, but often two or three back-to-back safaris every year since (excepting one), and have accumulated over two and a half years field experience in Africa doing so. Joe’s been to 10 different African countries on safari, and Joe and Mary probably hold the world record for mountain gorilla treks, having done 50 as of 2009.
We know Africa inside and out, have used the same guides for years, and our participants can feel confident that they’ll get the best natural history photography experience possible. Our brochures on our safaris spells this out in detail, and also warns off those who are thinking of visiting Kenya or Tanzania as tourists, and not as serious photographers.
How long have you been doing workshops and leading photo tours?
We have been running photo workshops from Hoot Hollow since 1991, and leading photo safaris, tours, and workshops since 1984, and led his first safari in 1985. Joe has been a full-time professional nature photographer since 1983, and has been publishing images in major natural history magazines since 1972. His first sales, to the National Wildlife Federation, occurred in 1968 when he was a high school junior.
How old are you guys?
Joe was born in 1952, Mary Ann (I always call her Mary) in 1956.
What qualifications do you have for leading workshops and tours?
Both Joe and Mary have BS degrees in Biology, and Joe has a Masters in a media degree. Joe taught high school biology for 6 years before diving in as a full-time professional, and Mary did medical research at the Hersey Medical Center in Pennsylvania. That’s our academic background.
Our qualifications, truly, result from our collective experiences as photographers and as teachers/instructors/leaders since 1985. When Joe was learning his craft there were only two or three books devoted to nature photography (Joe has written 7 books since then on this subject!), so much of what he learned was from personal experience. Mary’s career began after meeting Joe, and she has been involved with the teaching and leading of trips ever since, beginning in 1988.
Have you written any books on your subjects?
Joe’s written 7, including The New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, and African Wildlife.
Mary has written 29 children’s books, covering a vast eclectic range of subjects from Flying Squirrels, Jupiter, Grasshoppers, Leopards, Ducks, Mosquitoes, and more.
Together and with one of their digital/Photoshop instructors, Rick Holt, they have also authored the definitive guide to digital nature photography, Digital Nature Photography, From Capture to Output, available as a pdf book.
Have you received any awards for your photography?
Many times. Mary is probably the only two-time 1st place winner in the same year in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. Both Joe and Mary Ann have also been 1st or 2nd place winners in the US version of this competition, Nature’s Best, and have won 2nds or 3rds in many of the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions over the years. In fact, no other husband and wife team have won as many times in this competition.
Our work, either photographs or books, have been selected as ‘best of the year’ or outstanding book of the year in various publications or organizations as well.
Where is Hoot Hollow?
Hoot Hollow is located in the center of the state of Pennsylvania, about 45 miles SE of State College, the home of Penn State University, and about 70 miles NW of Harrisburg, the state capital.
How did Hoot Hollow get its name?
When we moved to our rural location our new neighbors told us that we lived ‘in the holler,’ and since we heard owls there frequently, and love owls, we coined the name.
Where is the nearest airport for attending a course at Hoot Hollow?
The nearest airport with major service from nearly all airlines is the Harrisburg airport, about an hour and a half drive away.
What is included in a photo workshop or tour?
Most of our workshops are held here at Hoot Hollow and are all-inclusive, with the workshop fee, lodging , and all meals and drinks included. Transportation is not included. Workshops in Arizona include all lunches and some dinners, and all lodging.
Safaris are all-inclusive as well, with the exception of drinks. Photo Tours include the tour fee, any entrance fee, and many meals, depending upon the tour. For example, on our Yellowstone Fall Photo Tour all breakfasts, lunches, and a welcome and farewell dinner are included, while on our Arizona Hummingbird shoots lucnes and some dinners are included. Transportation depends upon the tour – please see the appropriate brochure.
The specific brochures for a workshop or tour spells out the details, or exceptions, if there are any.
What facilities do you have for your courses?
At Hoot Hollow we have a completely outfitted computer lab with 10 stations, LCD flat screen monitors, card readers, and HP Printers. We also have a separate teaching building (where we used to conduct our film courses) which we now use as a studio for various courses.
Where do people stay for a Hoot Hollow course?
People stay at a farm bed/breakfast or farm vacation facility – the Mountain Dale Farm – located approximately 5 miles from Hoot Hollow. Breakfasts and dinners are served at the Farm, and lunches at Hoot Hollow. The food is spectacular and the service is outstanding at both locations.
What type of lodging do you have for tours or safaris?
Depends on the tour, but we either stay in a lodge or a motel, or on a boat if we’re doing Alaskan whales or bears. On a safari we stay in lodges that are similar to a normal hotel, or in permanent tented camps that are, basically, like a hotel room under canvas and thatch. Each specific brochure explains the accommodations thoroughly.
How many students do you have for a workshop or tour?
Depends on the offering, but most of these are limited to no more than 10. For our African safaris we may have 13 photographers (3 photographers per vehicle with 5 vehicles), but others- like our whales (6 participants) or our hummingbird tours (7) are less.
Workshops are almost always limited to 10.
Where are your favorite places to photograph?
We have two all time favorites. Our home, at Hoot Hollow, where we spend too little time – with much of that devoted to our teaching schedule, and East Africa, particularly Kenya and Tanzania.
We never get tired of Arizona in April, or Yellowstone in late September, and these are constants on our schedule.
What type of equipment do you use?
We use Canon equipment, but both of us were formerly Nikon users, and we’re fairly well informed and competent with the workings of either brand.
Does it matter what type of equipment I use?
Absolutely not. As we stress, it is the photographer, not the equipment, that makes the image and makes a great shooter.
What amount of experience do your workshop students have, and your photo tour participants?
All of our offerings are designed for the serious photographer, those who either wish to learn or wish to make great photos. Generally speaking, Point n Shoot cameras don’t cut it here, even in workshops, because the camera controls are too limited.
SLR type cameras that either have fixed/attached variable focal length lenses (zooms) or the capability of changing lenses is the type of equipment we expect our students to have.
They must know the basic operation of their camera – like how to put in a CF or SD card, and how to make a folder or import a card’s file into a computer. Depending upon the course, other than that we may not expect anything of our students but an open mind, but if they cannot do either of the two operations just mentioned we suggest they take a camera store course or an adult education course first. We are not interested in teaching those basics, and feel that doing so would simply waste the time of our students or participants.
On all of our offerings, the brochure or pre-trip information that Mary sends out will detail in full everything you’ll need for a trip, both with camera equipment and with clothes or packing.
The Gold Schedule is your list of offerings of tours and workshops and courses. How did it get the name the Gold Schedule?
Since we've been doing long before the internet became popular, or even known, our business obviously started as paper-based and our Schedule was printed on gold paper to set it apart from other items that may have been in a mailing. So we called it the Gold Schedule, and the name stuck.
Are you guys really as wonderful as everyone says you are?
Gee, thanks Mom, for that question.
I think our record speaks for itself. We’ve been doing this for over twenty years, and our reputation is outstanding. Many of our tours and safaris go unadvertised because they are filled by repeat clients, and usually at least 50% of any tour or workshop is filled by veterans. Our business grows slowly, in terms of a mailing list of participants, because our client base is so loyal that there is often few available spaces for anyone new.
Various nature photography chat rooms or groups on the web periodically bring up questions about people, or who to go with, etc., and if you visit any of these you’ll see we always come highly recommended. That said, I hope the thoroughness of this FAQ page relays something about ourselves, and hopefully we’ll see you on some upcoming offering!