High Sierra on Horseback: Photography Workshop

Elevate your photography in the John Muir Wilderness!

Sunrise at Pioneer Basin Lake #2

Get ready for 4 days of intensive photography education, inspiration and practice in the heart of the spectacular Sierra Nevada! Our destination is Pioneer Basin, one of the most scenic settings in what John Muir aptly named The Range of Light. Truly a photographer’s paradise, this remote location is not so easy to access. Fortunately, we will have our equine companions to help us with the heavy lifting as we ride into this magnificent alpine environment. Alpenglow, Golden Hour, Blue Hour…these are the conditions that produce portfolio images. Therefore, our days will start early and end late but there will be plenty of time in between to explore or just soak in your surroundings and appreciate the sheer beauty of unspoiled nature. Your level of photography experience is not as important as your desire to grow your image making abilities.

Cresting Mono Pass

Ken will serve as your photography instructor for this unique adventure offered by Rock Creek Pack Station. RCPS’ expert guides are equipped with detailed knowledge of the natural history of the Sierra as well the ability to wrangle up some amazing mountain meals. No prior riding experience is required but this trip requires a basic level of fitness including the ability to walk at high altitudes for several hours at a stretch. If you have any questions about your fitness to tackle this adventure, please contact RCPS.

For more information about this trip, please contact us by email or phone 949-282-9660

To register for this trip, please visit the RCPS Trail Rides page or call 760-872-8331


Dates: July 24-28, 2017
Cost: $1,450
Locations: John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada
What's Included: All meals, tent lodging, pack & riding stock, guides/wranglers/cook, photography instruction
What's Not Included: Photography equipment, sleeping bag and pad, personal items, gratuities, alcohol.

What's Included:

Included: All meals, tent lodging, pack & riding stock, guides/wranglers/cooks, photography instruction.

Not Included: Photography equipment, sleeping bag and pad, personal items, gratuities, alcohol.

FAQs (Freqeuntly Asked Questions):

Q: How much riding experience do I need?
A: No prior horseback riding experience is required. The horses are gentle and surefooted and the RCPS crew are experts at matching your mount to your riding abilities. Be prepared, however, to spend a fair amount of time in the saddle. Our destination is deep in the mountains and the rides in and out are day long (approx. 6 hrs) affairs. There will also be shorter day rides from our base camp to explore the surrounding territory. Also, be advised that although we will be riding on established trails, there are inherent dangers associated with riding in the mountains including uneven terrain, loose rocks and overhanging tree limbs. If you any questions about whether this trip is right for you, please contact RCPS directly to discuss your concerns. 
Q: What kind of photo gear should I bring?
A: A digital SLR or mirrorless body with 2 or 3 lenses and a good tripod should be the core of your photo equipment kit. As far as focal lengths, 24mm or wider on the wide end and ~200mm on the long side will serve you well. A mid range zoom is also especially handy. All of the focal lengths mentioned are “35mm equivalent”.  If you are unfamiliar with this term, try googling it or contact us. Other things to consider are a polarizing filter, macro lens or extension tubes,  cable release/timer and a compact photo bag or backpack to hold everything. Don’t feel like you need everything mentioned here…gear is great but learning to See is better! Limitations actually help you be more creative and having too much gear can often be a hindrance. But if you are just dying to try that extreme wide angle or other gadget you don’t have, consider borrowing or renting.  Finally, don’t forget extra memory cards, batteries and a lens cloth/brush. We will have a generator/power station to charge batteries but make sure to bring your charger!
Q: How much gear can I bring?
A: The great thing about this trip is that you don’t have to lug all your photo equipment, camping gear & food on your back! There is a 35 lb weight limit per person for anything going on the pack horses/mules but his does NOT include camping gear or food. So basically, you have a 35lb budget for clothes and photo gear that you are not carrying on your person. This should be plenty as most people choose to ride with a camera, lens, water bottle and rain jacket so these items are not part of your weight budget. 
Q: What kind of photo opportunities can I expect?
A: World class alpine landscapes are definitely the star of the show in this part of the John Muir Wilderness. Watching grey Sierra granite magically transform to orange and crimson as it is reflected in the still waters of an alpine lake at sunset is a sublime experience. But mountain landscapes are just one of many subjects that may attract your attention. Other types of photography that you can explore here include:
Wildflowers/Macro – July is the peak of wildflower season in the Sierra. Depending on the year, the blooms can range from moderate to stunning. Our camp is near treeline which is a bit high for most wildflowers but we will pass through flower filled meadows on our way in and out. We may even make a day trip down to lower altitude if the blooms are exceptional.
Night Photography – our trip begins just one day after the new moon making it an ideal time to attempt some Milky Way or Star Trails photos. I will cover the basics of night photography in one of our ‘classroom’ sessions. Don’t forget your tripod!
Black & White – Contrast is one of the keys for great black and whites so when the sun gets too high and harsh for good color images it is often perfect for black and whites.  This is Ansel Adams country after all so why not give it a try?
Wildlife – The Sierra Nevada ecosystem supports populations of bighorn sheep, deer, bears, mountain lions and more. We will be very lucky if we spot one of these large mammals but you never know. More likely sightings include marmots, ground squirrels and birds.
Equine – if you are very nice to the horses, you may be able to talk them into to modeling for you :).
Q: Do I/ Can I bring my own camping gear?
A: All camping gear is provided but some people prefer to bring their own tent, which is fine. If you choose to bring your tent, it will not be counted against your weight allowance.
Q: What will the weather be like? What kind of clothing should I pack?
A: In general, the weather should be nice but these are the mountains so you have to be prepared for a little of everything. The weather can be wildly variable and change quickly. I always dress myself mentally in layers when packing for a mountain trip. Next to your skin should be your base layer (long underwear), then maybe a t shirt or long sleeve shirt and pants. Good mid layers include wool sweaters, thin down jackets/vest or a fleece/soft shell jacket. For your outer layer, you definitely want a waterproof jacket & pants. It can be quite chilly at night and early mornings so if you get cold easily, you may want to add an extra layer. Don’t forget accessories like sunglasses, hat/beanie and gloves. That’s the basic kit as far as clothing. 
Q: Will we be in one place or move around?
A: We will have one base camp in Pioneer Basin for this trip but we will ride out from there on horseback most days to explore and photograph the surrounding area.
Q: How many people will be on this trip?
A: The maximum number of guests we can bring on this trip is 11.
Q: Which airport should I fly into?
A: The closest airport is Mammoth-Yosemite (MMH), a small regional facility. The next closest airport of decent size is Reno, NV (RNO) which is about 3hrs from Bishop. If you fly into Mammoth, we can pick you up but if you fly into Reno you will need to rent a car or arrange other transportation.
Q: Where should I stay before/after the trip?
A: The closest non-camping lodging to RCPS is historic Tom's Place which offers cozy rustic cabins (no wifi or phones). A little further away, there are  many hotels to choose from in Bishop and Mammoth. There are also many US Forest Service and private campgrounds in the area. Google is your friend or feel free to contact us or RCPS for specific recommendations.
Q: Where is Rock Creek Pack Station?
A: RCPS is located on Rock Creek Rd off of Hwy 395 between the towns of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes. If you are familiar with the area, this is the Tom’s Place exit. A map and more detailed directions are available here

For additional information about our Workshops, visit our About AoS Workshops Page.