Workshops by Focus: Mountain Light

Expedition July 5 - 22, 2021
6 spaces | $* Register

For lovers of wild mountain landscapes, few destinations on Earth are more spectacular than the Kyrgyz Republic (also known as Kyrgyzstan) with its soaring peaks ranging from Alpine to Himalayan in beauty and scale, glaciers, pristine lakes, wild rivers, spruce and fir forests, alpine wildflowers, and expansive high pastures. The Tien Shan mountains rise higher and wilder than the Rockies, Sierra Nevada, Alps, or Andes – peaks below 16,000-feet in elevation are barely considered worthy of a name. Along the Chinese border, the Kokshaal-Too range soars to truly Himalayan heights, including the world’s most northern summits over 7,000 meters (22,965 feet): Khan Tengri (translation: Lord of the Skies) and Jengish Chokusu (also known in Russian as Pik Pobeda, or Victory Peak). The landscape beneath the peaks is sublime: glacier-carved gorges, slopes covered in alpine wildflowers (there is more edelweiss here than in the Alps), raging rivers, spruce and fir forests, and high pastures (“jai-loh”) where semi-nomadic Kyrgyz graze small herds of horses, yaks, sheep, and cattle during the short summer.

Kyrgyzstan’s majestic mountain landscapes and unspoiled natural beauty make it a gem for avid photographers, but it has been relatively unknown and little-visited. Kyrgyzstan is now gaining recognition as a highly desirable travel destination for its magnificent mountains, glacier-fed lakes, wild rivers, comfortable climate, and unique and welcoming culture. It was recently ranked #5 on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019 Top Countries list. While others are just discovering Kyrgyzstan, Visionary Wild recognized its vast opportunity for photography years ago. Based on extensive scouting we have carefully developed an exceptional photography-focused itinerary for those seeking to travel in style and comfort, with a spirit of exploration and adventure.

Our adventure begins in the Kyrgyzstani capital of Bishkek, where our guests will be met at the airport and transferred to the thoroughly modern Solutel Hotel, offering excellent accommodations and English-speaking staff, conveniently located in the city center. There, we will welcome you to our introductory orientation and first dinner as a group. Early the next morning, we load up into our four-wheel-drive caravan, comprising three highly capable and comfortable Toyota Sequoias to carry our six guests, plus Visionary Wild photo leaders Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, both veteran Kyrgyzstan travelers. Two additional 4WD support vehicles will carry gear, provisions, our cook and camp staff. From there, we set off on our spectacular route through the Tien Shan mountains.

Our itinerary is designed to take advantage of prime light on the landscape morning and evening each day. After dark, clean air and absence of light pollution provide a superb opportunity for nighttime landscapes including the Milky Way. Wildlife we typically see at some point along the way includes golden eagles, Marco Polo sheep (the largest wild sheep in the world), Lammergeier (a bird of prey with a ten-foot wingspan, related to the Egyptian vulture), ibex, and marmots. If we are very lucky, we might even see a wolf or snow leopard. We will also enjoy excellent opportunities to interact with and photograph the Kyrgyz people themselves, particularly herders in the high pastures, families at our yurt camps, and at the sprawling and colorful Osh Market in Bishkek. This will be a highly productive and immensely fun photographic adventure that you’ll never forget.

Kyrgyz Republic
Map via Google
Expedition August 6 - 23, 2021
12 spaces | $* Register

If there is one place on Earth that represents the high Arctic in microcosm, it’s the Svalbard Archipelago. Wildlife is abundant here, featuring a large population of polar bears, as well as arctic foxes, walrus colonies, reindeer, blue whales, dolphins, seals, and numerous bird species. The landscape is characterized by rugged snow-capped mountain ranges, stunning fjords, vast glaciers, and icebergs, and towering cliffs that host busy seabird colonies. The beautiful serenity of the Arctic pack ice begins at the Archipelago’s northern end, where polar bears roam the ocean in search of seals. In the ice with the sun arcing low along the horizon, it becomes abundantly clear that you are truly on top of the world.

Designed for photographers by photographers, this extra-long itinerary provides quality time to photograph unrushed in the best locations, while most other Svalbard trips follow week-long tick-list itineraries with much less time in the prime spots. We will take you to the places we have fallen in love with on several prior voyages, making the most of this great spectacle of Arctic wildlife, ice, landscape, and light. Over the course of numerous expeditions and workshops together over the last 16 years, leaders Frans Lanting, Christine Eckstrom, and Justin Black have established a superb collaborative chemistry and will provide generous and effective expert photographic instruction to the small group of just twelve guests throughout the voyage.

Our private-charter expedition vessel, S/V Noorderlicht, is an ice-strengthened Svalbard specialist. She makes a superb platform for photography, with her spacious main deck low over the water, creating excellent vantage points, particularly if we are approached by polar bears on the ice, or walruses in the water. She also happens to be, in our opinion, the most visually striking vessel operating in Svalbard, making her a great model to incorporate into landscape scenes for scale and color accent (Noorderlicht is the red vessel in background of at least one of the trip gallery images). Well-suited to expedition cruising among small islands, she can get into locations that larger ships cannot access. Her two Zodiacs facilitate landings and wildlife photography opportunities in otherwise inaccessible areas.

As masters of the vessel, your leaders will coordinate with the highly qualified captain and crew to do everything possible to maximize photographic opportunities and to ensure the best possible journey. We will enjoy extra elbow room onboard Noorderlicht, in the Zodiacs, and ashore as our group will be limited to 12 guests plus the three leaders though the ship has accommodation for up to 20 passengers. Our small group and this vessel maximize our enjoyment and appreciation of the high Arctic’s immense serenity and vastness, a far more pleasant experience compared to waiting in line to go ashore or visit the buffet on a vessel with over one hundred other passengers.  Noorderlicht’s cabins are small, but they all have comfortable upper and lower berths, a cupboard, a washbasin with hot and cold water, and excellent ventilation. Shared showers (4) and toilet facilities (5) are conveniently located near cabins. Meals aboard Noorderlicht are served family-style, with fresh ingredients and healthy options available (catering well for vegetarians). We are assembling an excellent wine list for the trip as well!

Our itinerary begins in Oslo, Norway, with pick-up at the airport and transfer to The Thief, a modern, waterfront Scandinavian boutique hotel that is one of Oslo’s very best. In the afternoon, we will hold an introductory reception and orientation meeting, followed by dinner at one of Oslo’s fine restaurants. The next morning, we fly as a group to the small harbor of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen, where our ship awaits us. That afternoon, we embark and set off for our adventure together!

We hope you will join us for this intimate 15-night private-charter expedition (within a 17-night all-inclusive itinerary) aboard the two-masted schooner S/V Noorderlicht, photographing the wildlife, landscape, and pack ice of this gem of the High Arctic.

Svalbard
Map via Google
Expedition November 10 - 23, 2019
8 spaces | $13,500* Register

PATAGONIA is vast and beautiful, and there is a great deal most visitors never see, beyond the most iconic locations like Torres del Paine National Park. While Torres represents a wonderful microcosm of what Patagonia has to offer, Chile’s little-visited Aysén region is home to soaring peaks, pristine lakes, wild turquoise rivers, water-sculpted marble caves, unique forest ecosystems, and numerous glaciers descending from the massive Northern Patagonian Ice Field. It offers the passionate photographer incredible opportunities for landscape, wildlife, and cultural photography, without the tour buses of the more heavily touristed Patagonian destinations. Put simply, the wild serenity, scenic splendor, and photographic potential will amaze you.

We are visiting in the Patagonian spring, when the lupines and other wildflowers are in full bloom, the rivers are roaring, and the high peaks still wear veils of fresh snow. Our trip begins in Balmaceda, Chile (population approximately 500), the location of the regional airport, with direct flights from Chile’s capital of Santiago. You will be met upon exit from baggage claim by our local guide team, headed by our good friend Ruth Cohen, regarded as one of the very best guides in Chilean Patagonia. Then, transfer to Patagonia House, Ruth’s excellent boutique lodge on the outskirts of the regional capital of Coyhaique (population approx. 50,000). We’ll all gather there and then kick off our adventure with a festive welcome dinner to get to know everyone. The next morning after breakfast, we will load up in our two spacious passenger vans, with plenty of extra room for gear and luggage, and proceed on the rest of our journey through the stunning landscape of Aysén. We will take helicopter flights to do aerial photography over the ice cap, a jet boat trip to the face of the Leones Glacier, and an excursion by boat through the fjords. See below for the full itinerary.

Eddie Soloway and Justin Black will lead this small group of passionate photographers (limited to eight guests) on field sessions adapted to make the most of the best opportunities presented to us by light, weather, landscape, and wildlife each day. Emphasis will be on creative photography and hands-on mentoring in the field. We’ll photograph when the conditions and light are their best, and we’ll gather for presentations on composition, visualization, qualities of light, technique, and digital workflow at times when light or weather aren’t as conducive for photography (during harsh mid-day light, if a rain storm passes through, etc.). We will also hold constructive critiques of participant photographs and then head back out into the field to apply what we’ve learned.

Excursions will include helicopter flights (each guest gets one flight) to do doors-off photography over the spectacular Northern Patagonian Ice Field and Monte San Valentin, a jet boat excursion from Lago Leones to the Leones Glacier, a boat excursion to Marble Caves on Lago General Carrera, as well as a day aboard a private expedition boat to visit the fjords and the Jorge Montt Glacier. Via our group vehicles, we’ll visit spectacular locations that we have explored on prior visits. Some locations involve short hikes, but nothing particularly strenuous.

Each evening, we will gather for a nice dinner and some good Chilean wine. Then it’s off to bed to get some rest, as most mornings we’ll be out around 5:30am to take advantage of the incredible pre-dawn light. Breakfasts and lunches will be handled in relation to our photographic activities, served either at our accommodations or local restaurants, or in the field as a gourmet picnic.

Hidden Patagonia
Map via Google
Creative Core April 15 - 19, 2019
10 spaces | $3,750* Register

In April, Great Smoky Mountains National Park comes alive with the elegant rebirth of spring in the Appalachian mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Redbud and dogwood trees bloom, fragile new pale-green leaves emerge, and fog brings simplicity to the chaotic the forest backdrop. This is without question one of the gems of the National Park system, and along with neighboring Blue Ridge Parkway it represents the highlight of Appalachia. Offering easy to a wide range of opportunities from expansive landscapes to intimate designs, it’s one of our favorite outdoor photographic “classrooms,” visiting midweek in spring means no crowds in this, the most visited park in the entire National Park System.

Your instructors are two of the most highly regarded – and down to earth – fine art photographers working today: Charles Cramer and Tillman Crane. Working in digital color and black & white platinum-palladium processes respectively, both are renowned as master print makers and natural teachers.

Charles is a masterful artist renowned for landscape photographs that derive their power from their elegant composition and gentle calm. He has returned again and again to Appalachia over the years to draw inspiration from its atmospheric interplay of light, mist, and elegant graphics. Garnering rave reviews whenever he teaches, Charlie enjoys nothing more than sharing his insights, creativity, and craftsmanship with other passionate photographers in an effort to help them refine their own vision.

Tillman’s motto is, “Great photographs can be made in ordinary places.” His distinctive platinum photographs combine 19th-century materials with a 21st century aesthetic. A former photojournalist turned artist, he loves Great Smoky National Park and Appalachia in general for its combination of nature and fascinating human history. Tillman has been teaching the art and craft of photography for three decades, and his passion for the artform continues to evolve as he embraces modern digital technology while simultaneously furthering his mastery of the platinum/palladium print. The focus of his imagery remains on the unique qualities of light and sense of place in the ordinary, everyday locations where he lives and teaches.

This all-inclusive workshop will be based at Highland Manor Inn, in the village of Townsend, Tennessee, the quietest of the three “gateway” communities accessing the park. This base of operations provides excellent access to field locations. Along with eight field sessions, Charlie and Tillman will present projected lectures on composition, light, exposure control, anticipating and working through changing conditions, and essentials of digital image development. A minimum of two constructive critique sessions will provide essential feedback on images created by participants in the workshop.

This Creative Core workshop deals heavily with developing creativity and visualizing compositions, with a great deal of photography in the field. Creative Core workshops are general outdoor photography workshops designed to expose participants to the full creative toolbox, but the emphasis of individual participants’ work is up to them. Whether they wish to focus on classic landscape, abstraction, color, black and white, HDR, panoramics, multiple exposures, or all of the above, any enthusiastic photographer will feel right at home in this workshop. Together, Charlie and Tillman have over 75 years of combined experience successfully accommodating a range of experience levels within the context of photographic workshops.

In advance of the session, we supply materials to get everyone up to speed with fundamentals of digital camera set-up and technique, as well as essential equipment recommendations, recommended packing list, and other guidelines to ensure that everyone is ready to make the most of the experience. Users of film are of course welcome to join the workshop, though in order to participate in critiques they will need to either bring digital files or prints of existing work.

Note: This workshop is operated under National Park Service Commercial Use Authorization.

Great Smoky Mountains
Map via Google
Expedition July 5 - 22, 2019
6 spaces | $14,500* Register

Client Testimonials

“Kyrgyzstan was an amazing trip! Truly a unique country. I’m in to return with you next year.” –Dan W., three-time Kyrgyz Republic expedition participant

“The Kyrgyz trip has been one of our best. Full marks to Visionary Wild and the Kyrgyz team on the ground here for a seamless trip.” –Alastair F. and Helen M, 2018 participants

Lonely Planet recently ranked Kyrgyzstan #5 on its Best in Travel list of ten top countries ripe for travel in 2019, and we are not surprised. Two of the six participants from our 2017 expedition to the Kyrgyz Republic  came back with us in 2018, one of them is joining us yet again this year, and the other hopes to go again next year! Yes, it’s that good. 

For lovers of wild mountain landscapes, the Kyrgyz Republic is among the most underrated travel destinations on Earth. The Tien Shan mountains rise higher and wilder than the Rockies, Sierra Nevada, Alps, or Andes, and peaks below 16,000-feet in elevation are barely considered worthy of a name. Along the Chinese border, the Kok Shaal-Too range soars to truly Himalayan heights, including the world’s most northern summits over 7,000 meters: Khan Tengri and Jengish Chokusu (also known as Pik Pobeda, or Victory Peak). The landscape beneath the peaks is sublime: glacier-carved gorges, grassy slopes covered in alpine wildflowers, raging wild rivers, spruce and fir forests, and high pastures (“jai-loh”) where semi-nomadic Kyrgyz graze small herds of horses, yaks, sheep, and cattle during the short summer.

The sheer scale and beauty of this landscape is phenomenal, but what is almost unimaginable is the fact that it is barely on the tourist radar. The Kyrgyz Republic is solidifying democracy, and the Kyrgyz people take their freedom seriously. Though it is commonly referred to as the “Switzerland of Central Asia,” this complimentary moniker neglects to recognize the nation’s unique qualities. A former Soviet republic with slow economic growth, Kyrgyzstan has been spared excessive development, so what it lacks in infrastructure is made up for with glorious wild nature. The Kyrgyz people are a nomad culture that boasts the longest history of all currently extant groups in Central Asia. Over the last fifteen centuries, their language and culture have survived the Chinese, the Mongols, various Khaganates, the Russians, the Soviet era, and the challenges of building a viable democracy.

Our adventure begins in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, where our guests will be met at the airport and transferred to the thoroughly modern Solutel Hotel, offering excellent accommodations in the city center. There, we will welcome you to our introductory orientation and first dinner as a group. Early the next morning, we load up into our four-wheel-drive caravan, comprising three highly capable and comfortable Toyota Sequoias to carry our six guests, plus Visionary Wild photo leaders Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, both veterans of three prior trips to Kyrgyzstan. Two additional 4WD support vehicles will carry gear, provisions, our cook and camp staff. From there, we set off on our spectacular route through the Tien Shan mountains.

Our itinerary is designed to take advantage of prime light on the landscape morning and evening each day. After dark, clean air and absence of light pollution provide a superb opportunity for nighttime landscapes including the Milky Way. Wildlife we typically see at some point along the way includes golden eagles, Marco Polo sheep (the largest wild sheep in the world), Lammergeier (a bird of prey  with a ten-foot wingspan, related to the Egyptian vulture), ibex, and marmots. If we are very lucky, we might even see a wolf or snow leopard. We will also enjoy excellent opportunities to interact with and photograph the Kyrgyz people themselves, particularly herders in the high pastures, families at our yurt camps, and at the sprawling and colorful Osh Market in Bishkek. This will be a highly productive and immensely fun photographic adventure that you’ll never forget.

Note: We advise anyone considering this adventure to read “Travel in the Kyrgyz Republic,” farther down on this page.

Kyrgyz Republic
Map via Google
Expedition April 5 - 16, 2019
10 spaces | $10,995* Register

This combination of workshop and expedition is a unique hit! The leaders knew the area, worked well together, imparted their knowledge with enthusiasm and congeniality to each participant and the local staff were professional and helped us as a group and individually at all times. The logistics and lodgings were excellent. An outstanding photographic experience! –S. Dater, 2015 Patagonia participant

We returned home with lots of great memories and many images to review and process! It was a very well organised trip & thanks again to the entire team. We will definitely look at Visionary Wild when planning future trips. –G. & H. Cuff, 2018 Patagonia participants

Patagonia: the word is synonymous with awe-inspiring landscape, and Torres del Paine National Park is both its crown jewel and a microcosm of the most aesthetically appealing features of the region. This hybrid program – part expedition, part workshop, led by National Geographic photographer Michael Melford and Justin Black is designed to maximize opportunities to execute well-crafted and compelling photographs that capture the spirit of this incredible place. Participants will have ample time to get to know Torres del Paine during its colorful autumn splendor, and your photography there will benefit from the opportunity to revisit fruitful situations to apply lessons learned and to take advantage of changing weather and light. The goal is for each participant to come away from this trip with a strong body of work, a new body of knowledge, new friendships, rejuvenation, and priceless memories.

Puma Extension – Save $1,000: Those interested in the best opportunity on Earth to photograph wild pumas up close should note that this itinerary is preceded immediately by and can be combined perfectly with our Pumas of Patagonia trip led by Roy Toft, March 30-April 6. Joining us for both itineraries entitles you to a $1,000 discount on the combined cost (on a per person basis, in either single or double-occupancy).

Torres del Paine National Park and Biosphere Reserve is the centerpiece of Patagonia – the ultimate distillation of the region’s most inspiring qualities. It’s one of those rare places that routinely exceeds the grandest dreams of even the most experienced photographers. Peaks and spires thrust abruptly upward above turquoise lakes, forcing moisture-laden winds off the ocean to form soaring lenticular clouds that catch the fiery sunrise and sunset alpenglow. Glaciers spill down from the Patagonian icecap, depositing cobalt blue icebergs on the shores of Lago Grey. Endemic lenga and ñirre tree forests glow in hues of gold and copper in the southern autumn. Rivers tumble over cascading waterfalls as condors ride thermals on the flanks of the Cordillera del Paine mountains. Guanacos, foxes, and pumas range over the golden pampas, and flamingoes wade the lagoons. At this time of year, the days are a manageable length with extended periods of dawn and dusk, and the sun never rises more than 35 degrees above the horizon. The quality of light is spectacular.

 

Michael Melford and Justin Black will lead the small group on field sessions adapted to make the most of the prevailing conditions each day. Emphasis will be on photography and hands-on mentoring in the field. We’ll photograph when the conditions are good, and we’ll gather in the lodge for presentations on light, composition, visualization, technique, and digital workflow at times when light or weather aren’t as conducive for photography (during harsh mid-day light, if a rain storm passes through, etc.). We will also hold constructive critiques of participant photographs, and then head back out into the field to apply what we’ve learned.

Excursions will include trips by ferry to visit the calving face of Glacier Grey and, via our group vehicles, spectacular locations around the park that we have discovered and scouted thoroughly on numerous prior visits. Some locations involve short hikes, but nothing particularly strenuous.

 

Torres del Paine
Map via Google
Expedition March 30 - April 7, 2019
6 spaces | $13,995* Register

Pumas, wild and up close, beneath the Torres del Paine

Pumas are secretive survivors, adapting to a tremendously diverse range of environments. Also known as Mountain Lions or Cougars (all are Puma concolor), they sometimes thrive in surprisingly close proximity to humans, but rarely permit themselves to be seen, much less photographed up close and eye-to-eye. So, you might wonder what our secret is to reliably photographing wild pumas up close on this Patagonian expedition.

To find out for yourself, make pictures you never imagined were possible, and learn a great deal about puma behavior in the process, join Roy Toft on a huge private ranch, Estancia Laguna Amarga, with panoramic views over one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth: Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. A healthy population of wild pumas roam free there, moving at will between the ranch and park, and we have mastered the art of successfully tracking these apex predators through this landscape of rolling hills beneath the Paine range.

Based out of excellent accommodations at Hotel Las Torres,  we will observe and photograph many of these amazing cats at distances that can be surprisingly close. With the help of our top notch Puma spotters and guides, our 2018 group had several close-up encounters, including one individual that calmly approached us within thirty feet. Note that the pictures illustrating this page are all the product of Visionary Wild’s 2018 Puma trip, not a “greatest hits” collection accumulated over the course of several visits or months on location. The simple fact is that the opportunities here are unrivaled anywhere in the Puma’s expansive range. Please watch the videos below (made on an iPhone) for a first-hand glimpse of Pumaland:

Though we will use 4WD vehicles to drive into the vicinity of puma sightings, and may sometimes see pumas from our vehicles, venturing out on foot yields the best opportunities. Throughout the itinerary, we expect to walk a total of about one to two miles each day in hilly, uneven terrain, split between two field sessions. We do recommend that you are fit enough to hike with gear, including tripods and long telephotos. With advance notice, porters can be made available to assist with carrying equipment (at additional cost); please inquire for further details.

On the way back to Punta Arenas, we are including a special day to visit the private “Cerro Palomares” Condor Roost Cliff where Andean Condors fly. From convenient perches, we will photograph scores of “below-horizon fly-bys” of Andean Condors, the world’s heaviest flying creature. The roost cliff normally has 60-90 Andean Condors on it in the late afternoon as they fly back and forth below the horizon, offering the world’s most spectacular photo opportunities for this impressive bird.

Landscape Extension – Save $1,000: This itinerary dovetails perfectly with our Torres del Paine landscape photography workshop, led by National Geographic photographer Michael Melford, and Justin Black of Visionary Wild, which meets the Puma group at Hotel Las Torres on April 6, and ends in Punta Arenas on April 16. Joining us for both itineraries entitles you to a $1,000 discount on the combined cost (on a per person basis, in either single or double-occupancy).

Throughout the itinerary, we expect to walk a total of about one to two miles in hilly terrain each day, split between two field sessions. For a more pleasant photographic experience, we do recommend that you are fit enough to hike with gear, including tripods and long telephotos. Porters are available (by advance request and at additional cost) to assist with carrying equipment; please inquire for further details. Though we may sometimes see pumas from our vehicles, venturing out on foot yields the best opportunities.

PLEASE NOTE:

  • VISA: No visa is required for stays less than 90 days.
  • TRAVEL INSURANCE: We always strongly recommend arranging travel insurance. 
  • FLIGHTS: No flights are included. Please contact us if you would like recommendations regarding flights to and from Punta Arenas, Chile (airport code: PUQ)
  • GRATUITIES: Baseline tips are included. Our local guides, driver, and lodging staff work very hard to make our experience in Chile be the best it can be, and Visionary Wild budgets for a healthy group tip in recognition of their services. Guests are encouraged to tip additionally if they would like to recognize exceptional service.
  • CAMERA EQUIPMENT: Participants will carry their camera body and lens; a tripod is optional. Porters are available to assist with carrying equipment; please inquire for further details.
Pumas of Patagonia
Map via Google
Expedition July 5 - 22, 2018
6 spaces | $14,500* Register

When I tell folks that my wife Lena is from Kyrgyzstan, the response is usually, “She’s from Kurdistan?!?” or alternatively, “What? Where is that?” This little-known Silk Road country is, however, home to some of the most awe-inspiring mountain landscapes on the planet, as well as an immensely hospitable culture. Visionary Wild’s first overland expedition there in July 2017 grew out of a lengthy scouting trip that Lena and I made in 2015. This photographic adventure, from the idyllic alpine lake of Song Kul to the glacier-borne basecamp beneath mighty Khan Tengri – one of the world’s most beautiful peaks rising to 23,000ft. – represents what Lena and I consider the finest of the Kyrgyz mountain landscape. We have fallen in love with the Kyrgyz people and their spectacular homeland, and look forward to sharing this wonderful corner of the planet with you! –Justin Black

For lovers of wild mountain landscapes, the Kyrgyz Republic is among the most underrated travel destinations on Earth. The Tien Shan mountains rise higher and wilder than the Rockies, Sierra Nevada, Alps, or Andes, and peaks below 16,000-feet in elevation are barely considered worthy of a name. Along the Chinese border, the Kakshaal-Too range soars to truly Himalayan heights, on the world’s most northern summits over 7,000 meters: Khan Tengri and Jengish Chokusu (known in the Soviet era as Pik Pobeda). The landscape beneath the peaks is sublime: glacier-carved gorges, slopes covered in alpine wildflowers, raging rivers, spruce and fir forests, and high pastures (“jai-loh”) where semi-nomadic Kyrgyz graze small herds of horses, yaks, sheep, and cattle during the short summer.

The sheer scale and beauty of this landscape is phenomenal, but what is almost unimaginable is the fact that it is barely on the tourist radar. The Kyrgyz Republic is an emerging democracy, and the Kyrgyz people take their freedom seriously. Though it is commonly referred to as the “Switzerland of Central Asia,” this complimentary moniker neglects to recognize the nation’s unique qualities. A former Soviet republic with relatively slow economic growth, Kyrgyzstan has been spared excessive development, so what it lacks in infrastructure is made up for with glorious wild nature. The Kyrgyz people are a Turkic nomad culture that boast the longest history of all currently extant groups in Central Asia. Over the last fifteen centuries, their language and culture have survived the Uyghurs, the Chinese, the Mongols, various Khaganates, the Russians, the Soviet era, and the challenges of building a viable democracy while surrounded by less democratic neighbors.

Our adventure begins in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, where participants will be met at the airport and driven to the thoroughly modern Golden Tulip Hotel, offering excellent accommodations in the city center. There, we will welcome you to our introductory orientation and first dinner as a group. Early the next morning, we load up into our four-wheel drive caravan, comprising three highly capable and comfortable Toyota Sequoias to carry our six guests, Visionary Wild photo leaders Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, as well as our team’s Kyrgyzstan native and Russian-language interpreter, Lena Black, Visionary Wild Director of Operations. Two additional 4WD support vehicles will carry gear, provisions, and camp staff. From there, we set off on our spectacular route through the Tien Shan mountains.

Our itinerary is designed to take advantage of prime light on the landscape morning and evening each day. After dark, clean air and virtual absence of light pollution provide a superb opportunity for nighttime landscapes including the Milky Way. We will also enjoy excellent opportunities for photography of the Kyrgyz people themselves, in the high pastures, at our yurt camps, and at the sprawling and colorful Osh Market in Bishkek. This will be a highly productive and immensely fun photographic adventure that you’ll never forget.

Click “read more” at below right for the full itinerary, inclusions, exclusions, and more photos…

read more…

Kyrgyz Republic
Map via Google
Creative Core September 25 - 29, 2017
10 spaces | $3,395* Register

The Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains is one of the most scenic areas of the central Appalachians, at its best when brilliant autumn colors adorn the landscape. We invite you to join us for this exciting photo workshop, timed to operate during the peak of fall foliage among mountains densely covered in yellow birch, red maple, black cherry trees, spruce, and eastern hemlock trees. Color is everywhere at this time of year, framing the five-story waterfall and blowing in the mountain breezes.

In addition to visiting the iconic Blackwater Falls itself, we will take advantage of the best seasonal conditions in the surrounding mountain and valley landscapes, including excursions to Dolly Sods Wilderness and Canaan Valley, the highest large valley east of the Mississippi.

National Geographic photographer Michael Melford and renowned landscape photographer Justin Black will lead this workshop. Both have photographed extensively in the area, and are very familiar with an array of potential locations. Working one-on-one with participants, Michael and Justin aim to improve your photographic vision and composition skills, understanding of how to use changing qualities of light and weather to your advantage, and ability to effectively control exposure. They will also focus on creative exposure techniques to create mood, essential gear and creative tools, fundamentals of digital workflow, digital exposure blending and panoramic stitching, and lots of photography in the field followed by constructive group critiques.

Click the “read more…” tab below right for more information and to see the photo gallery!

read more…

Blackwater Falls
Map via Google
Expedition August 12 - 19, 2017
8 spaces | $6,295* Register

Renowned landscape photographer Charles Cramer and Visionary Wild’s Justin Black have teamed up to lead a small group to the dramatic granite spires, alpine lakes, and meadows in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. “The Winds” are the most alpine range in the northern Rockies, with soaring granite peaks reminiscent in many ways of the High Sierra Nevada but less well known and more lightly visited. The alpine wildflowers in the meadows and nearby lakes and streams offer excellent foregrounds for photographing the east-facing Cirque of the Towers and other nearby peaks, which catch spectacular alpenglow at sunrise.

This is one of North America’s great mountain wildernesses, but don’t take our word for it. Following a summer 1999 horse pack trip into the Winds, internationally acclaimed mountain photographer Galen Rowell wrote the following in his April 2000 column for Outdoor Photographer magazine:

The Wind River Range is my favorite in the Rockies. Warm, relatively dry summers create a paradise for backpackers, climbers, and photographers. Hundreds of peaks rise over 12,000 feet above glaciers and snows that last late into summer. Melt waters cascade into alpine basins filled with meadows, open pine forest, and countless lakes before joining into rivers separated by the Continental Divide.”

Charles Cramer and Justin Black will lead photography outings morning and evening, and whenever else the light and weather conditions offer compelling opportunities. Night photography of the high-elevation starry skies can be amazing too. Options for midday activities will include scouting hikes, talking photography, relaxing around camp, reading, napping, fishing, lake swimming, etc. Beyond the phenomenal landscape and wildlife photography opportunities, these pack trips provide an excellent shared experience with other passionate photographers, enjoying fireside stories and camping under the stars.

Click “read more” below right for more information and the image gallery…

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Wind River
Map via Google
Expedition September 22 - October 4, 2016
18 spaces | $15,995* Register

Thank you for another fantastic VW expedition! What a privilege to experience and photograph this wild and remote area in comfort while accompanied by the best leaders offering a wealth of experience and a willingness to share their immense talents. Thanks to Justin’s meticulous advance planning, all the arrangements were perfect throughout. –David & Kathy R., 2015 Greenland participants


THIS UNIQUE ADVENTURE MAY NOT BE REPEATED, AS OUR SHIP’S CHARTER COMPANY WILL REPOSITION HER FOLLOWING OUR VOYAGE AND FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.

Greenland’s remote and little-visited ice fjords hold a wealth of arctic grandeur. Towers, arches, and walls of ancient blue ice thrust skyward from the water’s surface. Steep-walled fjords, dramatic coastal mountains, tundra in autumn color, the vast Greenland Ice Sheet, and the Aurora Borealis combine to form an incomparable landscape. Join this world-class team of leaders – Frans Lanting, Christine Eckstrom, and Justin Black – for this exclusive expedition to Greenland’s east and west coasts, photographing this arctic wilderness in all its glory. With generous photographic instruction and attentive support along the way, explore the largest fjord system in the world – Scoresbysund on the east coast – aboard the three-masted expedition vessel Rembrandt van Rijn, followed by a four-night stay on Greenland’s west coast at Ilulissat, where the massive Jakobshavn Glacier calves some 35 billion tons of icebergs into the sheltered waters of Ilulissat Icefjord, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on the world’s largest island. Excursions by helicopter for doors-off aerials, and by boat to get in among the massive bergs, yield extraordinary photographic opportunities.


Greenland was a trip of a lifetime. Imagine fog-shrouded icebergs, vibrant red/orange/yellow tundra, unreal sunsets, glistening ice and snow, colorful villages clinging to rocky headlands, Northern Lights and so much more under the generous guidance of world class instructors. I learned so much while having lots of fun. Thank you! –Ann L., 2015 Greenland participant


Our adventure begins in Reykjavik, Iceland, the world’s northernmost capital. Guests will be greeted upon arrival at Keflavik International Airport and transferred to the elegant Hotel Holt, conveniently located in the city center. After an introductory group meeting and dinner at Grillmarket, one of Reykjavik’s finer restaurants, the next morning we board our private charter flight to Greenland’s east coast. Awaiting our arrival will be our private floating base camp for the first eight days in Greenland: the 168-foot, three-masted schooner Rembrandt van Rijn (click here for more about RVR). We are booking the entire ship for our exclusive use to ensure ample space for our group both on the ship and in zodiacs – our group will consist of sixteen to eighteen participants and three leaders (though Rembrandt normally sleeps up to 33 guests) in addition to her twelve-person crew and expedition staff. She is exceptionally well-suited to exploration and photography along the Greenland coast, with a reinforced hull, expansive unobstructed sight lines even under sail, and very comfortable accommodations. We will make frequent landings by zodiac to photograph in morning and evening light, and as serendipity presents us with compelling opportunities along the way. In addition to the arctic landscape, we will photograph whales if we encounter them, as well a variety of coastal and pelagic birds such as fulmars, kittiwakes, and gannets. The ethereal glow of the Aurora Borealis dancing in the night sky over the iceberg-dotted fjords and bays will be the sight of a lifetime. While underway, in the ship’s common area Frans, Justin, and the ship’s expedition staff will make inspiring and instructive presentations, and offer constructive feedback on participants’ photographs during group critique sessions, with the aid of the ship’s four large LCD screens.

To make this special itinerary possible, we have arranged three private charter flights aboard modern twin-engine turboprop airliners (Dash-8 and Bombardier Q200). After disembarking Rembrandt, a private charter flight whisks us across the world’s second largest icecap to the west coast and the small fishing port of Ilulissat, home to 5,000 Greenlanders and an equivalent number of sled dogs. There, our base will be Hotel Hvide Falk (White Falcon). One of the highlights there will be a series of helicopter excursions (one hour of flight time per participant, each with a window seat) to do aerial photography of icebergs, Jakobshavn Glacier and Ilulissat Icefjord, and to access the Greenland Ice Sheet itself. We will also make excursions on a local charter boats to approach towering icebergs, and hikes on the autumn tundra with stunning views of Disko Bay and the coastal mountains.

Click “read more” at below right for the detailed itinerary…

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Greenland
Map via Google
Expedition October 10 - 25, 2016
6 spaces | $16,495* Register

 

 

An intimate first-class photo adventure through the magnificent landscape of the South Island

The NZ trip was really spectacular… and you’re to be congratulated for ensuring that it was such a great experience for us from beginning to end.” –Kathy R., 2014 participant

“The expedition greatly exceeded my expectations. It was no doubt an amazing and awesome experience of a lifetime!” – Susan S., 2015 participant

Towering mountain ranges, hanging alpine glaciers, wind-swept coastlines, crystal blue lakes, pristine turquoise river valleys, and primordial tree fern rainforests are just some of the scenes we will photograph as we explore the South Island on this intimate 16-day journey led by two top pros: National Geographic photographer Michael Melford (who recently covered the South Island on assignment for Nat Geo), and Phillip Bartlett, a renowned Kiwi landscape photographer and guide who is acclaimed for his professionalism and intimate knowledge of New Zealand’s stunning landscape. It was with good reason that motion picture director Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as his location for the fantasy world of Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”: the variety of incredible landscapes found in such a compact area is simply astounding.

We sought to design a trip that would take your breath away, visiting locations off the regular tourist path that offer superb photography. To access these areas we will be travelling by 4WD Toyota Landcruisers, with two guests per vehicle. In addition, private charter excursions by helicopter and boat – at Fox Glacier, Milford Sound, and Kaikoura – provide us access to some truly phenomenal opportunities. All the while, your trip leaders offer generous guidance and instruction to ensure that you make the most of the photographic possibilities.

Our 2014 and 2015 trips were exceedingly well received by our guests (see testimonials at the bottom of this page), but nevertheless we have adjusted the itinerary slightly to maximize the quality of the overall experience.

Click “read more” below right to see the itinerary and photo gallery

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New Zealand
Map via Google
Expedition October 9 - 24, 2015
6 spaces | $16,995* Register

 

 

An intimate first-class photo adventure through the magnificent landscape of the South Island

The NZ trip was really spectacular…and you’re to be congratulated for ensuring that it was such a great experience for us from beginning to end.” –Kathy R., 2014 participant

Towering mountain ranges, hanging alpine glaciers, wind-swept coastlines, crystal blue lakes, pristine turquoise river valleys, and primordial tree fern rainforests are just some of the scenes we will photograph as we explore the South Island on this intimate 15-day journey led by three top pros: National Geographic photographer Michael Melford (who recently covered the South Island on assignment for Nat Geo), Justin Black of Visionary Wild, and Phillip Bartlett, a renowned Kiwi landscape photographer and guide. It was with good reason that motion picture director Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as his location for the fantasy world of Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”: the variety of incredible landscapes found in such a compact area is simply astounding.

We sought to design a trip that would take your breath away, visiting locations off the regular tourist path that offer superb photography. To access these areas we will be travelling by 4WD Toyota Landcruisers, with two to three passengers per vehicle. In addition, private charter excursions by helicopter and boat – at Fox Glacier, Milford Sound, Lake Wanaka, and Kaikoura – provide us access to some truly phenomenal opportunities. All the while, your trip leaders offer generous guidance and instruction to ensure that you make the most of the photographic possibilities.

Our 2014 trip was exceedingly well received by our guests (see testimonials at the bottom of this page), but nevertheless we have made significant improvements to this trip in 2015, upgrading accommodations, adding a second helicopter excursion, and refining the itinerary to maximize the quality of the overall experience.

Click “read more” below right to see the itinerary and photo gallery

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New Zealand
Map via Google
Expedition September 9 - 21, 2015
16 spaces | $14,995* Register

 

 

 

Featuring private charter of the three-masted expedition vessel Rembrandt van Rijn, helicopter flights onto the second largest ice cap on Earth, close encounters with the Arctic’s largest icebergs, and excursions onto the colorful autumn tundra.

Greenland’s remote and little-visited west coast is a world of arctic grandeur. Each year, the massive Jakobshavn Glacier calves some 35 billion tons of icebergs into the sheltered waters of Disko Bay and Ilulissat Icefjord, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site on the world’s largest island. Towers, arches, and walls of ancient blue ice thrust skyward from the water’s surface. Whales and seabirds abound. Steep-walled fjords, dramatic coastal mountains, tundra in autumn color, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the Aurora Borealis combine to form an incomparable landscape. Visionary Wild presents a unique opportunity to experience and photograph this arctic wilderness in all its glory.

Join this world-class team of leaders – Frans Lanting, Christine Eckstrom, Justin Black, and Chris Linder – for our all-inclusive photographic exploration of Greenland’s west coast. The 168-foot, three-masted schooner Rembrandt van Rijn (click here for more about the vessel) will be our private floating base camp for the first eight days in Greenland. We are radically under-booking this comfortable vessel to ensure ample space for our group both on the ship and in zodiacs – our group will consist of only sixteen participants and four leaders, though Rembrandt normally sleeps 33 guests in addition to her crew of twelve. She is exceptionally well-suited to exploration and photography along the Greenland coast, with a reinforced hull, expansive unobstructed sight lines even under sail, and very comfortable accommodations. We will make frequent landings by zodiac to photograph in morning and evening light, and as serendipity presents us with compelling opportunities along the way. In addition to the arctic landscape, we will photograph Disko Bay’s whales, including beluga, bowhead, and humpbacks, and a variety of coastal and pelagic birds such as eider ducks and albatross. The etherial glow of the aurora borealis dancing in the night sky over the iceberg-dotted bay will be the sight of a lifetime.

After disembarking from Rembrandt, we will move on to the nearby town of Ilulissat, home to 5,000 Greenlanders and an equivalent number of sled dogs. There, our base will be Hotel Hvide Falk (White Falcon). One of the highlights of our four days there will be a series of helicopter excursions (one hour of flight time per participant, each with a window seat) to do aerial photography of icebergs, Jakobshavn Glacier and Ilulissat Icefjord, and to access the Greenland Ice Sheet itself, where we will land and photograph at a moulin, meltwater lake, or other interesting feature on the kilometers-deep icecap. We will also make excursions on a local charter boat to approach large icebergs, and hikes on the autumn tundra with stunning views of Disko Bay and the coastal mountains.

Click “read more” at below right for addition information, the itinerary, and the complete photo gallery…

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Greenland
Map via Google
Vision March 25 - April 5, 2015
10 spaces | $11,250* Register

This workshop is designed to maximize opportunities for well-crafted and compelling photographs in one of the world’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Participants will have ample time to get to know Torres del Paine during its colorful autumn splendor, and your photography there will benefit from the opportunity to revisit fruitful situations to apply lessons learned and to take advantage of changing weather and light. The goal is for each participant to come away from this trip with a strong body of work, a new body of knowledge, new friendships, rejuvenation, and priceless memories.

Torres del Paine National Park and Biosphere Reserve is the centerpiece of Patagonia – the ultimate distillation of the region’s most inspiring qualities. It’s one of those rare places that routinely exceeds the grandest dreams of even the most experienced photographers. Peaks and spires thrust abruptly upward above turquoise lakes, forcing moisture-laden winds off the ocean to form soaring lenticular clouds that catch the fiery sunrise and sunset alpenglow. Glaciers spill down from the Patagonian icecap, depositing cobalt blue icebergs on the shores of Lago Grey. Endemic lenga tree forests glow in hues of gold and copper in the southern autumn. Rivers tumble over cascading waterfalls as condors ride thermals on the flanks of the Cordillera del Paine mountains. Guanacos and foxes range over the golden pampas, and flamingoes wade the lagoons. At this time of year, the days are a manageable length with extended periods of dawn and dusk, and the sun never rises more than 35 degrees above the horizon. The quality of light is spectacular.

Click “read more” below right for the itinerary and image gallery

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Patagonia Vision
Map via Google
Expedition November 8 - 23, 2014
6 spaces | $14,500* Register

Motion picture director Peter Jackson chose New Zealand as the location to film the fantasy world of Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” for a very good reason: the variety of incredible landscapes found in such a small area is simply astounding! Towering mountain ranges, wind-swept coastlines, pristine river valleys, and moss-covered tree fern forests are just some of the scenes we will photograph as we explore the South Island on this unique small-group 15-day journey led by National Geographic photographer Michael Melford, Justin Black, and renowned “Kiwi” landscape photographer Phillip Bartlett.

We wanted to take you to wild places on the South Island which are off the regular tourist path, locations which are seldom-visited, but that offer superb photography. To access these areas we will be travelling by 4WD vehicles, with a maximum of three passengers per vehicle. In addition, private-charter excursions by helicopter and boat provide us access to some truly phenomenal opportunities.

Click “read more” below right to see the itinerary and photo gallery

read more…

New Zealand
Map via Google
Vision March 26 - April 6, 2014
10 spaces | $11,250* Register

This workshop is designed to maximize opportunities for well-crafted and compelling photographs in one of the world’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Participants will have ample time to get to know Torres del Paine during its colorful autumn splendor, and your photography there will benefit from the opportunity to revisit fruitful situations to apply lessons learned and to take advantage of changing weather and light. The goal is for each participant to come away from this trip with a strong body of work, a new body of knowledge, new friendships, rejuvenation, and priceless memories.

Torres del Paine National Park and Biosphere Reserve is the centerpiece of Patagonia – the ultimate distillation of the region’s most inspiring qualities. It’s one of those rare places that routinely exceeds the grandest dreams of even the most experienced photographers. Peaks and spires thrust abruptly upward above turquoise lakes, forcing moisture-laden winds off the ocean to form soaring lenticular clouds that catch the fiery sunrise and sunset alpenglow. Glaciers spill down from the Patagonian icecap, depositing cobalt blue icebergs on the shores of Lago Grey. Endemic lenga tree forests glow in hues of gold and copper in the southern autumn. Rivers tumble over cascading waterfalls as condors ride thermals on the flanks of the Cordillera del Paine mountains. Guanacos and foxes range over the golden pampas, and flamingoes wade the lagoons. At this time of year, the days are a manageable length with extended periods of dawn and dusk, and the sun never rises more than 35 degrees above the horizon. The quality of light is spectacular.

Click “read more” below right for the itinerary and image gallery

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Patagonia Vision
Map via Google
Expedition August 3 - 10, 2013
10 spaces | $5,500* Register

Renowned landscape photographer Marc Muench and Visionary Wild’s Justin Black have teamed up to lead a trip to the dramatic granite spires, alpine lakes, and meadows at the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. “The Winds” are the most alpine range in the Wyoming-Montana-Idaho complex, with soaring granite peaks reminiscent in many ways of the High Sierra Nevada but less well known and more lightly visited. The alpine wildflowers in the meadows and nearby lakes and streams offer excellent foregrounds for photographing the east-facing Cirque and other nearby peaks, which catch spectacular alpenglow at sunrise.

This is one of North America’s great mountain wildernesses, but don’t take our word for it. Following a summer 1999 horse pack trip into the Winds, internationally acclaimed mountain photographer Galen Rowell wrote the following in his April 2000 column for Outdoor Photographer magazine:

The Wind River Range is my favorite in the Rockies. Warm, relatively dry summers create a paradise for backpackers, climbers, and photographers. Hundreds of peaks rise over 12,000 feet above glaciers and snows that last late into summer. Melt waters cascade into alpine basins filled with meadows, open pine forest, and countless lakes before joining into rivers separated by the Continental Divide.”

Our itinerary begins with a group orientation and dinner at Diamond 4 Ranch in Dickinson Park, Wyoming, on the east side of the Wind River Range (Lander is the closest large town). Our first night will be spent at an elevation of 9,200ft. in the ranch’s rustic cabins, which will serve to help acclimate us to the elevation. After an early breakfast the next morning, the experienced wranglers of Diamond 4 Ranch will lead our group on a horseback ride to camp at Lizard Head Meadows. No prior horseback experience is necessary. The horses are docile and very familiar with the trail to our camp, our base for five nights at an elevation of 10,000ft. – where a camp manager and backcountry chef will take great care of us. This is a “drop” or “spot” trip, meaning that all of our gear, coolers of fresh food, etc., will be carried in on horseback, and our camp will serve as our base for short hikes to explore the Cirque’s rich photographic opportunities.

Click “read more” below right for more information and the image gallery…

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Cirque of the Towers
Map via Google