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Photo Courses

Digital Nature Photo Course

Advanced (Flash) Nature Photo Course

One-on-One Instruction on topics of your choice

Photoshop Raw Conversion, Layers and Masks

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.

lightning bugsmilkweed 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 our various nature photography courses 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, 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.
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.

Participants stay at the Mountain Dale Farm, a farm-vacation facility similar to a bed and breakfast. Breakfasts and dinners are served at the farm where our participants eat AS A GROUP family-style. Lunches are served here at Hoot Hollow (the name of our property). We feel this aspect of our course is unique and special -- people traveling alone are not alone once they arrive, and the time spent together as a group provides participants with the opportunity to share information, have fun, and build friendships. One warning, however! The meals both at the farm and 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! One of the advantages, we feel, that we offer is simply the fact that everything is self-contained and included -- all meals, drinks, etc., both at the Digital Institute and also where you spend the night at the Mountain Dale Farm.

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 developed 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. Dinner is served at 6PM, and students return to the Lab by 7:30PM for an optional lab session. Our instructors are present throughout the day and evening sessions. In the evening, the instructors are present and 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.

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 DCNPC 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.

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.
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.

Digital Nature Photography: From Capture to Output

Joe and Mary Ann have recently co-authored a book along with Rick Holt, one of their digital Photoshop instructors. The book "Digital Nature Photography: From Capture to Output" is one of the best books out there for encompassing the basic techniques of digital photography as well as the basic Photoshop techniques required to enhance your nature and wildlife images. One of the most exciting sections covers Digital Workflow, the foundation for all of your digital shooting. This .pdf book is 'The Ultimate Laptop Field Guide' but also has a print-ready version included for those who want a hard copy of the book. This is the perfect accompaniment for this course.

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

FAX (717) 543-5342