New Mexico Photo Workshop

This is a PHOTO WORKSHOP TOUR. Photo workshop tours are designed to include a significant teaching component to complement the photography, including critical subjects such as light, composition, perspective, camera techniques and settings.

For details of how Tropical Birding will be operating this tour, here are our guidelines and tour practices: Safety Tour Regulations and Policy.

Every winter, thousands of waterbirds descend on Bosque del Apache NWR for the season, creating a world renowned wildlife spectacle. While this collection of birds includes ducks and shorebirds, which will provide plentiful photo opportunities on their own, it is the “blizzards” of Snow Geese, and sprawling stands of hundreds of stately Sandhill Cranes that bring most people here, and especially the bird photography community that has long considered this a hallowed destination. On this tour, there will be a wonderful variety of ways to photograph these birds, individually for a portrait shot, or collectively, on the ground with a sun setting or rising behind them, but of course, also within majestic flights, when the sheer variety of opportunities can seem overwhelming. The Tropical Birding guide will help you home in on the shots presented in this workshop, where classes accompany the field sessions to ensure you not only leave with cards full of images, but cards full of images enhanced by what you have put into practice following the combination of classroom and field sessions. Another joy to this tour is that we will be based out of one hotel throughout, meaning you only have to unpack once, and we will spend all of the field sessions within the extensive Bosque del Apache NWR, which always presents masses of photographic prospects, with its impressive desert sunsets and bird-packed wetlands.



Day 1: Arrival in Albuquerque. After arrival in New Mexico’s largest city, you will be transferred to a local hotel for the night. An early afternoon arrival is recommended, so that you have some downtime before meeting with the rest of the group for dinner, and the first presentation of the tour. Your Tropical Birding guide will take this time to introduce you to the photography of the area, and how best to approach some of the sessions in the coming days. This will be supported by later presentations during the remainder of the tour. Night in Albuquerque.

Presentation (at hotel in Albuquerque): “Introduction to Bird Photography at Bosque del Apache”.

We'll ensure we are around for the evening fly ins of cranes
We'll ensure we are around for the evening fly ins of cranes (Ben Knoot)

Day 2: Bosque del Apache NWR. The refuge is only 90 minutes away, and so we will have time for an opening session within the refuge during this morning. We will use the time in the morning to scope out multiple sites around the refuge, and confirm which are the most productive at the time, as these can vary based on recent local conditions, such as weather and corresponding water levels. There will always be multiple, excellent sites for bird photography within this large refuge, although these are not permanently fixed every year. Therefore, we will check multiple locations during the morning, to find the ones that are best suited for the group’s needs; this will include finding best spots for morning take-offs at sunrise and evening, sunset fly-ins, as these are often the critical locations for the most impressive shots. Our morning explorations will be put to use during our first afternoon photoshoot there, and in the following days.

The following five nights of the tour will be spent in good accommodation in Socorro, a wonderful central New Mexico town that is located less than twenty miles from the refuge.

Presentation: “Bird Photography Basics”. This will take place after a meal break, during the middle of the day in Socorro, and further aid us in preparation for the afternoon photography session.

Snow Geese number in the thousands in this bumper season
Snow Geese number in the thousands in this bumper season (Ben Knoot)

Days 3-5: Bosque del Apache NWR. All of these days will be spent photographing some of the thousands of birds wintering within the refuge. At certain times, we will specifically focus on the two flagship species, Snow Geese, which occur in massive, raucous flocks at this time, and Sandhill Cranes that gather in great numbers to roost each day there. Thus, the bookends of the day are often the best times to visit, and our schedule will reflect that. We will take advantage of early morning, specifically at sunrise times, both for the seductive lighting, but also as this is the time when thousands of birds remain from having roosted there overnight, and later begin to take off spectacularly as they seek alternative, more widely scattered areas, for foraging during the day. This makes for fantastic morning flights of birds as they take off, en-masse. Similarly, we will be there in the afternoons, when the birds congregate once more to roost in very specific locations that concentrate the numbers of them spectacularly, both making the most of the gorgeous afternoon light, all the way to sunset, while accompanied by constant flights of cranes and geese, descending on specific locales to rest the night.

Thus, the photo sessions will be focused on either ends of the day, with presentations to compliment these during the middle of the day, when we take a break for lunch too. While, undoubtedly, we will inevitably focus for long periods on the Sandhill Cranes and the Snow Geese, the refuge is home to many other ducks and geese too, so while we will take time with these celebrity subjects, we may also return with photos of others such as, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck and scaup. Gamebirds, raptors, herons, egrets, shorebirds, blackbirds, and many other birds also frequent the refuge at this time, and so even away from the masses of geese and cranes, we are going to be kept busy whenever we are inside Bosque del Apache. It truly is a haven for wintering wildlife, and a dream locale for bird photographers.

Sandhill Crane will be one of the main focus birds on this tour
Sandhill Crane will be one of the main focus birds on this tour (Ben Knoot)

Presentations (to be given at the hotel in Socorro):

Day 3: “Mastering Flight Photography”. This will be of particular use during both the morning and afternoon sessions within the refuge when birds fill the air, while leaving or coming in to roost in incredible numbers.

Day 4: “Pushing the Creative Bounds of Your Photography”. We will discuss new ideas and directions to take your photography. Some of these techniques include panning, creative lighting and perspectives.

Day 5: “How to Maximize Field Photography”. Tips and tricks for realife, in the field, photography (i.e. away from feeder set ups or static situations like nests, in other words “on the fly photography”). This can greatly increase the number of species open to be photographed, and therefore add yet more to your personal photo catalog.

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A "Blue" Goose coming into land (Ben Knoot)

Day 6: “Clean-up Day in Bosque del Apache”. This day has been set aside to focus specifically on whichever areas/species require further attention. This is the day we focus on finding whet we have not, or getting the shot that has eluded us. This could be in the form of further sunrise and sunset photo shoots with the flagship geese and cranes, as many are forever seeking a better shot in these addictive situations, or we may decide the chase after some other birds that have eluded us in recent days. Irrespective of the plan, any bird photographer, will inevitably start to feel a sense of sadness at soon leaving a place that has given so many images and sights to photograph. For good reason, some photographers mark this refuge on their personal calendar each and every year!

There are no presentations on this day in order to maximize our final field time.

We'll spend long periods focusing on the thousands of Snow Geese to photograph
We'll spend long periods focusing on the thousands of Snow Geese to photograph (Ben Knoot)

Day 7: Socorro to Albuquerque for departure. After breakfast at the hotel, we shall pack up and leave Socorro, when the guide will drive the entire group to Albuquerque airport in time for noon departures or later. There will be no photography on this day.

Gadwall are among a long list of waterbirds we can photograph on this tour
Gadwall are among a long list of waterbirds we can photograph on this tour (Ben Knoot)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Easy. This is a fairly easy going tour. We will aim to often be at the refuge for sunrise shots (by around 6:30am at this time), and often stay until after sunset (around 5:15pm at this time). Therefore, we are likely to be leaving the hotel around 5:45am in the morning, and not leave the refuge following an afternoon session until around 5:30pm. There will be breaks in the middle of the day back at the hotel, between these periods.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. Walking is mostly flat. Most of the photography is done by the road or on a very flat and well maintained trail. The drives are not long on this tour; with the refuge only 20 minutes from the hotel in Socorro, and the drive between there and the airport only 90 minutes or so.

CLIMATE: Though New Mexico is a desert, it is often cold in this season. The mornings will be frigid but the days somewhat warm. Temperatures in this season vary from average lows of 30F (-1C) and highs of 61F (16C). A heavy coat, gloves and a beanie (wool hat) is recommended for the mornings. Although rainfall can occur in this season, it is generally regarded as one of the driest months of the year.

ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout, with full-time electricity, 24-hr hot water, and en-suite facilities throughout. Wi-Fi is available at all of the hotels used.

PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: This is a photography focused workshop with the goal of learning how to better your photography skill and thinking. We also want to capture terrific images.

GEAR: For this workshop, it is suggested that you bring a long lens (something around 400mm) as well as a midrange zoom lens (something around 100-400mm). The long lens will be useful for the birds and distant fox photos. The mid-range zoom lens will come in handy when we visit the den sites. A tripod can be used but is not necessary. The guide will not allow you to use flash on the fox dens though it should not be required anyway. If you wish to bring a flash for the bird photography (again, it will not be necessary) that is up to you.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, there are no special travel requirements. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which can be applied for online. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodations from the night of day 1 through the night of day 6; meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 7 (if you do not leave too early for that); all park fees to sites stated on this itinerary; one airport transfer per person/couple (by hotel shuttle, this might be shared with others) at the start of the tour (the departure drop off at tour end will be at a specific time for the entire group, with the guide doing this-please confirm this with the office before booking any flights);Tropical Birding photo workshop leader from the night of day 1 through to the group drop off at the airport on the morning of day 7; ground transport for the group, to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to day 7 in a rented modern vehicle with the Tropical Birding guide as the driver; (although people are welcome to self-drive if they prefer).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area. Any extra nights you wish to stay in the area; any flights; optional tips to the tour leader; tips to any baggage handlers if used anywhere; international and domestic flights to get there; any passport or visa fees; excess baggage fees; snacks; any drinks other than drinkable water; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, internet, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.