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The Digital Complete Nature
Photo Course

Exposure, Composition, Lens use,
Electronic Flash, and more ...


Master the Digital Concepts a
Photographer really needs to know



at the
Hoot Hollow
DIGITAL Institute

fog and forest

Many digital shooters simply do not know or understand the incredible opportunities digital presents. Consequently, they are not exploiting the incredible advantages that digital photography has to offer. We'll show you how to get the most out of your photography by incorporating digital's full potential!
Read an Interesting Interview with Joe


The Olympus System CNPC - focus on Olympus
Dates: June & July 2024

Price: $ 2295 - includes lunch, some dinners, and lodging!
(single occupancy)

(Contact the office right away if you are interested in this course)

Please read some of our testimonials for our Courses.

But here are some excerpts if you don't wish to read all of the texts:

Most importantly, I wanted to convey that I was elated to discover that two of the giants in wildlife photography whom I have long admired from afar were indeed “real” people without ego. You both should be made aware of how approachable and open you are. I never felt like the course was a money grab and your hearts were not in it.

I learned so much and can't wait to practice it all. Joe - you are a great teacher and have a natural way of explaining things that just makes sense. That is a gift.

It was definitely a superb week of learning. And it was great fun being part of the group. I definitely left the week feeling like I learned more than I would have thought possible.

I want to thank you and Joe for an amazing week. Not only for your incredible patience and the invaluable knowledge you shared with us but also for the fabulous food and hospitality.

You both have a very refreshing teaching style, that allows people to absorb and actually learn what you are teaching. As I stated to Joe, before coming to your course, I could not even spell meatr-rring! And now I can't see myself shooting any other way than manual mode. This has been the best spent money, I have invested into photography….should have done it years ago!

No matter what the skill level, students have an opportunity to practice every aspect of the course through field assignments and class review.  All of this is conducted in a comfortable and friendly, fun setting.  I would highly recommend the DCNPC to anyone looking to improve their craft or even as a refresher.



For over thirty years we have been offering THE COMPLETE NATURE PHOTO COURSE here at Hoot Hollow. And for the last eighteen years, those courses have been digital-based. The digital world is now the norm and we are excited about the photographic possibilities this provides.

We wish everyone that did our photo tours and safaris would take this course to maximize their experience and photo opportunities. This course would be a great introduction for a later tour to Kenya, India, Tanzania, Brazil's Jaguars, or Rwanda's Gorillas.

The D-CNPC is unique. The course stresses the importance of sound photographic techniques, emphasizing exposure, composition, and flash to make THE BEST IMAGES YOU CAN, RIGHT IN THE CAMERA. However, shooting digital provides a completely unique advantage -- allowing photographers to combine Photoshop techniques to maximize their creative and digital potential, and you'll be learning how this can be done. You'll see photography as you never have before, developing a competence in your skills while learning exciting new ways to further your artistic vision.

Limited to 8 participants, with two instructors for all field sessions, our people enjoy quality, personal care in this fast paced, challenging week.

Master Exposure - Learn how to make a great exposure and forget all the guesswork! 
Composition - Learn the fine points of effective compositions - in Class and in our Field Sessions! 
Master TTL Flash - Everything YOU need to know, including how to balance flash with daylight as YOU control your lighting.
Lenses - Know what they do and how to use your lenses effectively, from powerful wide-angles to close-ups via macros or telephotos.
Digital Workflow - Make and keep order with your digital files.
RAW Conversion - Maximize each digital shot and eliminate/reduce any need for Photoshop!
Image Management - Effectively using Bridge.
Maximizing the Digital Potential - LEARN how to use Masks and make digitial composites, including panoramas!

If this interests you, PLEASE READ ON!

stream pano

About the Course...

Time Frame: Each course is intense, requiring commitment and long hours on everyone's part. Depending upon the weather, some days begin before sunrise, to capture the magic of early-morning light, and continue throughout the day. After the evening's break for dinner, we meet for image sharing via digital projection, and further instruction. On most days we are often ending after 9PM!

This sounds like an incredibly long day, but the days are fun, and extremely productive, and in truth, the time speeds by in an incredibly fast and enjoyable week.


Our Format: The D-CNPC is divided into lecture, computer lab time, and field camera sessions in a flexible schedule that accommodates the group's needs and accounts for the vagaries of weather. Most lecture and in-door instruction and computer lab time occurs in the late-morning, early afternoon, and after dinner -- times when the light is NOT at its peak. Photography can occur at any time, but generally occurs before and after breakfast and in the late afternoon. This schedule results in some shooting every day, so you'll have plenty of time to practice your new skills!

Our Participants: This course is designed for any photographer seriously interested in improving his or her skills in photography and digital photography. This course IS NOT for beginners who have not read their camera manuals or who own simple point and shoot cameras. The course is designed for digital SLR shooters, amateur or professional, who want to advance their skills in the most productive manner possible.

Basic computer skills are required: You must know how to create a folder, and have a basic familiarity with such basic tasks as dragging files or folders. You don't need to be a computer whiz, but we cannot spend time teaching the basics of working a computer. If you have questions on this, please call and we can guide you on your decision.

This special course is limited to eight, with at least two instructors
for all field sessions.

Evaluating Your Skills: Participants are given a pre-course homework assignment designed to test your skills and provide a base-line for our assistance. Although doing the homework isn't mandatory, it's a fun exercise that assesses your abilities and helps us help you.

During the week, you'll have several shooting assignments to complete -- a week long portfolio (easy to get as we shoot during the week) and a short personal assignment, where some of these shoots will require computer manipulation as we composite images of varying exposure latitudes or composite for panoramas. Fun, challenging, and aimed at making you the best you can be -- you'll love the shooting.

craneflyPreparation: Prior to arrival you'll be sent a full list of equipment and suggested clothing, as well as your homework assignment. A large amount of photo gear is NOT required for the course. In fact, I'd rather you purchase gear after you do the course, so that you'll buy right based upon your needs.

Equipment: The course is designed for digital cameras, and if you are shopping for a new camera, buy a MIRRORLESS camera. That's where the market is going, and mirrorless cameras are offering the greatest variety of features. However, traditional digital cameras are fine as well.

if you need help on buying equipment for the course, please feel free to call us for our best recommendations. The course is limited to digital SLR shooters -- since we'll be discussing TTL flash, using varying focal length lenses, etc. We feel that point-and-shoot digital camera users would not obtain sufficient benefit because of the topics we'll be covering. Your basic equipment should include a DIGITAL SLR 35mm camera or mirrorless SLR and a few lenses, if you have them. I'd suggest a wide-angle lens and a medium range zoom lens (an 80-200 or 75-300 are great focal lengths), and you might find a lens offering macro capability (either through close-up lenses, extension tubes, or with a true macro lens).

An electronic flash is extremely helpful and we'd recommend having one along. Please call our office if you need advice on models. However, a tripod is required. If you do not have a tripod, we can give you some recommendations.

haybalesLocation: The D-CNPC is based out of our Hoot Hollow Institute, located on the grounds of our rural home in central Pennsylvania. Hoot Hollow is mid-state, northwest of Harrisburg. The nearest full-service airport and car rental is the Harrisburg airport.

Lodging is included, at a farm vacation home, which we have been using since the inception of our D-CNPC and CNPC courses here at Hoot Hollow. The Farm is an extremely target rich photo environment filled with interesting subjects, including Americana, farm animals, tools, and, nearby, wonderful Pennsylvania scenics.

Lunch is included. Lunch is served at Hoot Hollow. We'll also host a welcome and farewell dinner here at Hoot Hollow. The food is delicious. All refreshments, including snacks, soft drinks, wine, and beer, are included. Don't plan on dieting that week!

Price: The tuition for the DCNPC is $2195 and includes dinner on Sunday and Thursday, lunches Monday through Thursday, Wednesday breakfast in the field (if the weather permists), lodging (based upon single occupancy from Sunday to Thursday), and instruction. The fee does not include transportation to or from the course or during the course.

Some of what you'll learn...

Pa foggy forest1. Workflow - Most digital photographers' image files are chaotic. We'll teach you a meaningful system, our system, that really works!

2. Exposure - You will become masters of your photography.
Here's a testimonial:
While most pros will tell you to just use your camera on Evaluative Metering and either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority (or even Program), Joe and Maryann ACTUALLY teach you how to see light and how to evaluate it.  Even though 90% of the time, your camera will get the right exposure in evaluative metering - what about the other 10%?   If you know how to read the light - then you can get 100% of the shots 100% of the time! 

Many Photographers have switched to Mirrorless systems and we'll cover Mirrorless settings in detail!

3. TTL Electronic Flash - Flash imagery will no longer disappoint you. Many students feel this is one of the most important items
that they learned during the course, but knew nothing about before
they began the course!

Here's a testimonial:

The flash material is also going to prove invaluable. I have always been apprehensive to use flash in my photography. No more! I’m seeing all sorts of new possibilities now.

4. RAW Conversion - You'll understand the power of RAW and be able to convert images so that no Photoshop work is required.

5. File Management via Adobe Bridge
While there are plenty of programs to manage your digital files,
it makes plenty of sense to use one program that covers all of
your needs. Photoshop, with its RAW converter, and Bridge,
covers all your needs, and hence we'll be using and teaching
this program for our learning. If you are proficient with another system, like Lightroom, you are welcome to use that program.

Even if you use Lightroom or another program:
We do strongly recommend downloading a free trial of Photoshop and Bridge before the course so that you can participate if you are intrigued!

6. Essential Photoshop Skills - If you wish to take your skills to a higher level you'll learn the tools you need to know. Most importantly, you'll understand Layers and Masks - skills often a part of advanced Photoshop courses but easy to understand if introduced correctly.

Please note, however, that this is not a Photoshop course - we're just introducing, explaining, and teaching skills that will allow you to maximize the potential of your digital images. If you have minimal experience with Photoshop you'll be able to implement the skills ... but my point here is to demonstrate the power of digital, whether or not you can use that information at this time.

7. Maximizing the Digital Potential -- You'll learn how to shoot and make an exposure composite and a Panorama that comprises 2 images, or 12!

foggy forest 1foggy forest
The RAW converter allows you to capture and express what YOU saw, and on a foggy morning during one of our field trips we photographed these scenes, one which we rendered 'as is,' and the other converted in ACR. You'll learn how to master the Adobe RAW Converter during the Workflow sessions of the Digital Complete Nature Photo Course in Pennsylvania. This is the same as Lightroom's Develop module so even as we teach using the Adobe RAW Converter, if you are a Lightroom user, you will understand what we are doing and will be able to then revert to using Lightroom after the course.

8. Learn From Your Shooting. You'll be making photographs all week - we won't. Except for instructional demonstrations with our cameras and lenses, we won't be photographing during your week. Instead, our creative energies will be devoted to helping you reach your creative potential.

The Workshop Topics
covered in class and afield

Exposure: Recognizing middle-tones; exposing for all tonalities, gray, black, and white; using your camera on manual and on spot metering mode; using the sunny rules. You will be shooting your camera on Manual Mode and on Spot or Center-weighted metering. For those students who have only used matrix or evaluative metering on one of the programmed modes (like A, S or Tv, or P) this is a radical departure but an extremely important step in mastering photography.

This topic, exposure, is one of the KEYS to successful shooting, and you will master exposure during this course! Everyone does! And everyone feels this is one of the most important aspects of the course and the most satisfying.

We are convinced that we offer the most complete and thorough treatment on exposure anywhere. You will learn, and your photography will be changed forever.

In the DIGITAL world, mastering exposure is still important. However, digital shooters have the added advantage of seeing a histogram that illustrates the exposure values, and of shooting in RAW format to further adjust exposure. We'll explain the benefits of each. We'll explain how a Histogram works; how to do a great RAW conversion; how to shoot High-Contrast scenes for exposure composites; and much, much more.

Composition: Finding effective compositions, using lenses effectively; seeking the best perspective; understanding hyperfocal distance; knowing zones of sharpness; selective focus; and the rule of thirds. We approach this topic in several ways, in separate lectures on composition and on lenses, and through several in-field exercises where we review work in the field as classroom projects.

In the DIGITAL world, compositions are less restricted as large variations in exposure can still be accommodated by taking two or more exposures and compositing them later. We'll show you how, and you will do, compositions that incorporate large variations in exposure, as well as Digital composites that provide wide, panorama view.

hoverflyElectronic Flash: This is one of the most important topics in the course, second only to exposure in interest and popularity. Many photographers avoid using flash because their images look 'flashed' or artificial. You WILL learn how to balance ambient light with flash, and the wonderful control you can have by actually understanding how flash works and when you'll wish to need it. We'll cover manual and TTL exposures and introduce you to multiple flash techniques; high speed flash; and remote flash setups, as a foundation for even further work with flash.

The Art of Seeing: Many people have the technical aspects of photography mastered, but lack vision. We'll work on improving your personal vision and technique.We'll be doing this through traditional photography, reviewing all the important concepts, but we'll also show you how you can expand your creative vision through Photoshop.

Computer Skills: Although this is not an Adobe Photoshop course, you will be using your laptop with Adobe Photoshop to composite digital images.

Photographers COMPLETELY unfamiliar with a computer should not attend this course.

For everyone else we'll get you started, and you'll learn the basics of how to do great things with your digital images. Please note, however, that this is a digital photography course, not an Adobe Photoshop course, so our treatment of Photoshop will be rather basic and dedicated to making composites.

Mirrorless systems: As these systems become more popular for their decrease in size and weight and their ability to take amazing action shots, we will be covering these systems. We are NOT familiar with the menus of all of the new cameras, so please familiarize yourself and bring your manual if necessary so that we can help with any questions or problems.

Brain-picking time: As I tell every group, consider me a bucket of water and yourself as a sponge. It's my sincere hope, and I make it my goal, to impart everything I know, and that you need to know, by week's end. Saturday's last session is devoted exclusively to this objective.

hay bale

darkdarkerexposure composite
Thinking digitally, we made an image out of an impossible exposure range. On the left, the sun-lit rock is overexposed by 4 stops, while in the middle image the sun-lit rock is correctly exposed, but the surrounding rocks and moss are underexposed by 5 stops. Using two layers and a mask, the two images were composited into one.

You'll learn how to think digitally, and perhaps for the first time,

The course concludes at 11AM, and participants can easily make flights scheduled for after 3PM in Harrisburg.

Each evening concludes with an informal social hour where you're invited to relax, have a beer or a wine or a soft drink, and share the day and unwind in our meeting room.

A Personal Note ...

If you haven't experienced the infectious joy of nature photography, you soon will. And you'll discover this rewarding pursuit only grows more exciting and challenging as your skills increase. And that's the rub, for to get the most out of your shooting, your skills should improve. Unfortunately, on many of our tours and out-of-state workshops we've found participants lacking in the essential basics of exposure, techniques, procedures, and basic usage. That being so, we sincerely wish everyone who takes any of our tours or exotic workshops or safaris would first take the time to do this course. As you'll discover, it will become the foundation of your skills, and your future photography will benefit enormously from doing so.

The above statement is even more relevant, and important, for digital photographers. While digital photography seems easy, because of the immediate feedback it provides, an 'easy' image doesn't necessarily make a good one. Further, digital shooting opens up a whole new world of opportunity where a photographer is no longer hampered by scenes with varying ranges of exposure (within limits, of course!), or by the limitations of a lens's depth of field. Wide-view images that lose their impact as a wide-angle shot become dynamic, riveting images when shot as a panorama -- sometimes by using a telephoto! A whole new world of photography is now available, one that truly mirrors what our eyes see and not what our films have been able to capture. Now, we can capture what we truly see, using digital to capture the world as we see it.
Many have compared our D-CNPC to a college-level course offered in an entire semester, and almost everyone states that they haven't worked so hard in a very long time, BUT that they enjoyed the hard work! You will, too, and we promise you that you will learn quality photography!

Our goal is not simply to present a thorough and enjoyable Digital Photography Course but, quite sincerely, to offer the most complete, most rewarding, and simply the best instructional program you will find, anywhere. Feedback from our participants tell us we've met that goal; one we intend to continue to meet.

Our Location

farm pano
The landscape of central Pennsylvania is green and rolling, farm country and mountains, offering thousands of subjects from farm scenes to foliage, flowers to fauna, allowing you to practice and perfect the skills you will be learning.

Our Digital Lab is located near McClure, Mifflin County, an extremely photogenic area of central Pennsylvania, about 45 miles SE of State College (home of Penn State University) and 90 minutes NW of Harrisburg, the state capital. All major airlines serve Harrisburg, where car rentals are available for anyone flying in for our courses. By car we are about 3 hours from Philadelphia or Baltimore, 4 hours from New York City or Pittsburgh. Our location is within a day's drive of much of the eastern, southeastern, and mid-west states. For example, the North Carolina border is around 8 hours away, and Indianapolis around 10. If you prefer to drive, rather than fly, we're really not that far away from much of the eastern US. Leaving the main highways, as you drive through the rolling farm country or cross over mountain ridges, one might think we are in the middle of nowhere, but I can assure you that our Digital Lab is absolutely state of the art. The scenic possibilities in the area are fantastic. The farm and our Digital Lab are located in a broad valley framed by Jack's and Shade Mountains, and within a few minutes one can be filming within a hemlock forest, or driving along ridge top roads through miles of deciduous forests, or wandering the country roads through rolling hills in Amish and 'English' farm country.

lmilkweed bug
At dusk, in June and July lightning bugs by the hundreds, and sometimes by the thousands, gather in our meadows. In our 'garden,' colorful milkweed bug nymphs cluster on a milkweed pod.

Our lab is located on our property where we also conduct private and specialized shoots in the Hoot Hollow Institute, a separate building located deeper in our woods. Our property, and the farm vacation lodge where our participants stay are both target rich environments for photographers. Our property is a mix of flower gardens, wild fields, streams, ponds, and forest; the home to flying squirrels, bluebirds, goldfinches, treefrogs, raccoons and more. We've recorded 100 species of birds on our property and virtually every species of nonvenomous reptile and amphibian recorded in central Pennsylvania, as well as most mammal species. It's not unusual to see six or more species of mammal in a single day. In summer there are a variety of insects, including swallowtail and tiger butterflies, and in spring and fall the foliage change (the green wave of spring, the vibrant reds of autumn) makes for dramatic images. The location and landscaping is perfect for breakout sessions and for shooting images that you may wish to incorporate into your digital imagery.

Participants stay at the Mountain Dale Farm, a farm-vacation facility similar to a bed and breakfast. Breakfasts and dinners are not included. The various cabins offer a refrigerator, mocrowave and stove for you to prepare these meals for yourself. Lunches are served here at Hoot Hollow (the name of our property). One warning, however! The meals at Hoot Hollow are tasty and filling and we cater to special diets as needed, so don't expect to go hungry during your stay! You will not lose weight!

The Mountain Dale Farm is a working farm, with chickens, horses, dairy cows, cats, dogs, peacocks, and more. It is a farm filled with 'Americana,' antiques, statues, old wagons, etc., etc. -- filled with potential images. The countryside around the farm, with rolling hills overlooking farm fields and barns, as well as the deciduous forest surrounding the farm, offers the potential for forest, fern, fungi, and macro images.

A special treat is our 'Happy Hour' that wraps up each evening where the group has a chance to relax, have a beer or a wine or a soft drink and a snack, and we feel that the camaraderie and 'family' that develops from sharing meals is an important aspect of the entire experience. Students get a chance to unwind, of course, but to also ask questions and discuss PS or photography outside of class.

Our Lab

Participants will need their own laptops, but this makes perfect sense since we will be:
Providing a Workflow Methodology that you will want to set up on your laptop, and that you may use for the rest of your life!
Set up your Bridge and Photoshop Preferences and workspace so that it is customized for you.
Set up your Batch Renaming system, so you'll never change.

Our Digital Lab hours and class time generally begin at 9AM and continue until around noon when we break for lunch. Our classes resume after lunch and continue until approximately 5PM or later. You can eat, or do take-out, at a nearby restaurant or cook your own dinner in your cabin. Students return to the Lab by 7:30PM for an optional lab session. Mary and I are present throughout the day and evening sessions and are always available for helping the students as they work on personal projects, applying what they've learned in class. On some evenings, additional instruction and classroom sessions are conducted if the need arises.

About Your Instructors

joe and maryJoe McDonald has been a full-time professional wildlife and nature photographer since 1983. He is the author of six books on wildlife photography and another on African Wildlife, as well as a how-to video produced with his wife, Mary Ann, on Photographing on Safari. His work has appeared in every major nature and wildlife publication published in North America. Along with operating their own stock photography business, Joe is represented by over a dozen stock photo agencies worldwide, including Corbis, Animals Animals, Auscape, Okapia, and others.

Joe is a gifted, inspirational teacher.  What I love about Joe’s method of teaching is that he motivates us to think and apply what we learn in hands-on situations.  Joe teaches with patience, enthusiasm, grace and humor.  I appreciate his sense of integrity and ethics.  Teaching facilities are first class.

In addition to maintaining an active and informative website,, Joe is a columnist for OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, writing the 'Focus on Big Game' column, and Joe and his wife Mary Ann write a photography column for Joe Van Os's web magazine, on wildlife and nature photography.
For over eighteen years Joe and Mary Ann have been teaching photography courses and leading photography tours and workshops. Their very popular photo tours and safaris have them afield for over twenty-five weeks each year.

Mary Ann McDonald, who runs the business end of the Digital Institute as well as thefood-kitchen-cooking team, has been a full-time professional photographer since 1990. Mary is the author of 29 children's books on natural history, including titles on Leopards, Flying Squirrels, Jupiter, Horses, Mosquitoes, and other diverse topics. Her work has appeared in many of the major nature and wildlife publications in North America and is represented by several stock agencies worldwide, including Corbis and the BBC Natural History Archives. Mary Ann has been honored by winning in the Nature's Best Photo Competition and has won several times in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. In 1994, she won two first places, the only time for a woman to accomplish this in the history of the competition and in 2005, both Joe and Mary Ann were selected as winners, the first time a husband and wife team have separately won in the competition in the same year. In 2021, Joe and Mary Ann will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA).

Our Educational Commitment - a note from Joe McDonald

If you've read the above biographies, you'll see that we are dedicated photographers that are interested in sharing our knowledge and helping people. I've been involved in teaching my entire adult life, from teaching assistantships in graduate school to a six-year stint as a high school biology teacher before starting my career as a wildlife photographer and photo workshop instructor. In this role I've been a full-time professional photographer and instructor since 1983.

Our goal is simple - to offer the most complete, thorough, and rewarding learning experience available, in terms of the knowledge you'll gain, the quality of the experience you'll have, the intensity, and, just as importantly, the amiability and fun you'll experience.

Contact us by e-mail.

Phone (717) 543-6423