Visionary Wild, LLC • 2200 19th St. NW, Ste 806, Washington, DC 20009

E-mail:    •    Tel: 1-202-558-9596 (9am to 5pm, EST).

Justin Black – Managing Director: 1-202-302-9030 • Email:

Jennifer Woolley – Director of Operations • Email:

We look forward to hearing from you!


Limit 6 spaces | $8,249* Closed
Expedition January 24 - 30, 2012 | View other workshops

Yucatán with Jack Dykinga, Alfredo Medina and Justin Black

Map via Google

In the final year of the 5,126-year Mayan calendar cycle, we bring you a very special expedition for six photographers into this land of hidden cenotes, stunning pre-Columbian cities, elegant haciendas, and abundant tropical life.

The Mexican state of Yucatán, on the west side of the peninsula, is a world apart from the more familiar tourist Mecca of Cancún.  It is a wonderful, safe, and intriguing place, rich with human and geological history and overflowing with haunting beauty. Subtropical forest conceals beneath its roots a geological sponge of porous limestone. The Chicxulub impact crater, created by the asteroid that ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, filled with water that dissolved pockets and channels in the subterranean limestone around its periphery, creating myriad caves and underground rivers.

Whenever these caves and sinkholes open to the outside world, they are known as cenotes (seh-NÓH-tehs). The inspiration for countless Mayan legends, these crystal clear underground pools and grottoes will be a primary focus of this expedition, which will also feature pre-Columbian Mayan sites, elegant and updated 19th-century haciendas full of historic character, and the largest pink flamingo colony in the world at Celestún Biosphere Reserve.

Of the thousands of cenotes distributed across the Yucatán, some have wide-mouthed cave entrances, inviting the visitor to walk in to discover the fantastic subterranean grottoes they conceal. In the darkest cenotes, we'll creatively illuminate the walls, stalagmites and stalactites, and other formations both above and below water, using lamps and strobes that we bring along. Others admit brilliant shafts of natural light that spotlight the blue water and reflect to illuminate the interior. Some cenotes are open-air sinkholes holding inviting pools of cool, clear water. Most are undeveloped and virtually impossible to find without the benefit of a knowledgeable local guide.

We have arranged for our friend Alfredo Medina to lead the way. Since 1992, Alfredo has lived in Quintana Roo on the peninsula's east coast, where he owns a high-end printing business. He carried out extensive photographic coverage of Yucatecan cenotes for his beautiful book Cenotes: Imprints of Water and Light in the Jungle, published in 2008. Alfredo is also co-photographer for the book Birds of the Yucatán Peninsula (1997). Alfredo and his wife, Sara, serve as trustees for the non-profit conservation organization Amigos de Sian Ka'an, promoting conservation action on the Yucatan peninsula.

Jack Dykinga and Justin Black collaborated with Alfredo in October 2009, during a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the Yucatan operated by the International League of Conservation Photographers, while Justin was the ILCP's Executive Director. Guidance by Alfredo and his wife Sara was critical to our RAVE assignment, accessing beautiful cenotes off the tourist routes, known only to the friendly and gracious Mayan locals. Alfredo is a true gentleman explorer, a gifted photographer, and an absolute pleasure to work with.

In addition to several cenote excursions, our group will visit the pre-Columbian Mayan City of Uxmal, spectacularly situated in the Puuc hills south of Merida. Considered by many to be the most architecturally beautiful Mayan city, Uxmal was built between 600 and 900 A.D. Due to excellent construction, it is one of the few Mayan cities to remain sufficiently well-preserved to provide the modern visitor with a good sense of what the central ceremonial district would have been like at its peak. The pyramids, temples, hieroglyphs, mosaics, and sculptures here are sublime and full of mystery.

Another Mayan pyramid rises immediately behind the main house at Hacienda Itzincab-Cámara, our lodging for the first four nights of the expedition. "Itzincab," as it is known locally, is a photographer's dream in itself, with recently restored 19th-century architecture, lush tropical gardens, and excellent bird habitat. We were welcomed as guests at Itzincab during the ILCP RAVE and were singularly impressed by the hospitality of the staff, the comfort and elegance of the accommodations, and its exceptional suitability to serve as a workshop base. Read more about this special place below under "Accommodations."

For our final two nights, we will relocate to Eco Paraiso near the estuary of Celestún Biosphere Reserve, where 30,000 pink flamingos gather in January each year to form the largest colony of the species to be found anywhere on Earth. Celestún is also host to over 300 other species of birds and many species of reptiles, including Morelet's and American crocodiles, four sea turtle species, iguanas, land turtles, and boa constrictors.

Jack Dykinga

Taste life and strive to make a difference.

Pulitzer Prize (1971 Feature Photography) winning photographer Jack Dykinga blends fine art photography with documentary photojournalism.  He is a regular contributor to Arizona Highways and National Geographic Magazines.  His ten wilderness advocacy, large format books include: Frog Mountain Blues, The Secret Forest, The Sierra Pinacate, The Sonoran Desert, Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau, and Desert: The Mojave and Death Valley.   He authored and photographed Large Format Nature Photography, a “how to” guide to color landscape photography.  Jack Dykinga’s ARIZONA, released in 2004 from Westcliffe Publishers, a compellation of Jack’s best Arizona images and: IMAGES:  Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon released by Arizona Highways, May 2008, reflect Jack’s love for Arizona. Jack’s latest books are highly educational and showcase his talents as a photographer: “Capture the Magic,” released November 2013, delves into composition and the creative process, and “A Photographer's Life: A Journey from Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer," released January 2017, recounts the events and influences throughout his 50-year career that shaped the subject matter, style, and design in his art.

Dykinga’s fine art images were featured along with the work of Ansel Adams in an Arizona Highways Magazine retrospective shown at the Phoenix Art Museum, The Center for Creative Photography, and the Museum of Northern Arizona. 

Recent work includes:

Texas/Mexican border highlighting the biological diversity of protected areas along the Rio Grande River, appearing in the February 2007, National Geographic Magazine.

His illustration of the wilderness lands of Native American Tribes is featured in the August 2010 National Geographic.

Jack has donated his talents to the International Leagure of Conservation Photographer’s RAVEs (Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions) El Triunfo, Mexico, 2007; Balandra 2007, Baja Sur, Mexico; the Yucatan 2009, Yucatan, Mexico; the U.S./ Mexico Borderlands 2009, as well as the 2010 Patagonia, Chile RAVE and the September 2010 Great Bear RAVE in B.C. Canada.

In each case, Jack and teams of celebrated photographers from all over the world pooled their collective talents to highlight potential environmental degradation.

 In April 2010, Jack’s image: “Stone Canyon” was selected as one of the forty best Nature Photographs of all time by the International League of Conservation Photographers, and he received: The Outstanding Photographer of the Year Award from the Nature Photographers of North America in March 2011. He has recently been named the recipient of NANPA's 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award.

He and his wife Margaret live in Tucson, Arizona.  His daughter Camille Bralts lives in Champaign-Urbana. His son Peter Dykinga lives in Tucson and manages Jack’s image collection.

Arizona PBS Interview with Jack:

An Interview with pre-digital Jack:

The Nature Conservancy's Director of Photography interviews Jack

National Geographic gallery of Jack's Native Lands project

Video: Profile of Jack Dykinga

Video: Interview with Jack Dykinga

Learning to See: an interview with Jack Dykinga

Visit Jack's website

Alfredo Medina

Alfredo Medina is an explorer, photographer, diver, printer, and the President of Amigos de Sian Ka'an, a Yucatan-Peninsula-based conservation organization. He carried out extensive photographic coverage of Yucatecan cenotes for his beautiful book Cenotes: Imprints of Water and Light in the Jungle, published in 2008. Alfredo is also co-photographer for the book Birds of the Yucatán Peninsula (1997).

Since 1992, Alfredo has lived in Quintana Roo on the peninsula's east coast, where he owns a high-end printing business. Alfredo and his wife, Sara, serve as trustees for Amigos de Sian Ka'an, promoting conservation action on the Yucatan peninsula.

Visionary Wild founder Justin Black and photographer Jack Dykinga collaborated with Alfredo in October 2009, during a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the Yucatan operated by the International League of Conservation Photographers, while Justin was the ILCP's Executive Director. Guidance by Alfredo and his wife, Sara, was critical to our RAVE assignment, accessing beautiful cenotes off the tourist routes, known only to the friendly and gracious Mayan locals. Alfredo is a true gentleman explorer, a gifted photographer, and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Justin Black

JUSTIN BLACK is a photographer, writer, editor, expedition leader, photo workshops instructor, a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers (ILCW), and a former executive director of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). Since 2011 with Visionary Wild and for ten years at Galen Rowell's Mountain Light Photography, he has created inspiring and effective educational photographic experiences for thousands of passionate photographers. He is widely recognized as one of the world's leading photo workshops organizers.

A professional photographer since 1995 when he signed his first picture agency contract, before founding Visionary Wild he served the ILCP as Executive Director, and for seven years was General Manager and Curator of Mountain Light Gallery.

Justin's photographs have been published by magazines such as National Geographic Adventure, Sierra, Sunset, American Photo, Outdoor Photographer, Rock & Ice, and Nature Conservancy among others. His work has also been published by major news outlets in print and online, and has been used in advertising for brands such as MasterCard, Patagonia, Nikon, and Fujifilm.

Among conservation NGOs that have used his photographs in their campaigns are World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, The Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Panthera, Land Trust Alliance, Earth Justice, The Wilderness Society, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ILCP, and the Wild Foundation.

In 2017, he entered the world of motion pictures as an Executive Producer on the award-winning documentary film, Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas, and Camera, produced and directed by Michele Westmorland. Justin was invited to serve as a judge for the 2015 and 2017 Nature's Best Photography Africa competitions. He has also been an editor and contributor to numerous award-winning photo book projects, including Galen Rowell: A Retrospective; Freshwater: The Essence of Life; The Wealth of Nature: Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity, and Human Well-Being; Our National Parks: America's Natural Heritage; as well as Flying South: A Pilot's Inner Journey by Barbara Rowell. His limited edition fine prints are available through his portfolio website at

An early career as a travel photographer and image licensing specialist led him to Mountain Light Photography in the San Francisco Bay Area, founded by Galen Rowell – a world-renowned National Geographic photographer, author, and mountaineer – and his wife and business partner, Barbara Cushman Rowell. Beginning in May of 1999, Justin managed marketing of the Rowell image collection, assisted Galen on assignments and in his workshop program, and taught seminars on nature photography. In April 2002, the Rowells invited Justin to relocate with them to California's scenic Owens Valley as Mountain Light's General Manager. Justin eagerly embraced his new responsibility, along with the sublime Eastern Sierra Nevada landscape as his new home.

Four months later, Galen and Barbara perished in the crash of a chartered plane, leaving behind a tremendous creative and visionary vacuum. Justin went to work, building on the impressive Rowell legacy to reinvigorate Mountain Light by establishing a seasonal series of guest photographer exhibitions, expanding the image collection, and relaunching the highly acclaimed photo workshop program through collaboration with Galen's leading professional peers, including Frans Lanting, Pat O'Hara, Jack Dykinga, John Shaw, David Muench, and Jeff Foott. In May 2008, Justin's successful efforts were recognized by both Sunset and American Photo magazines, as each magazine featured editorial recommendations of his workshop program at Mountain Light.

After ten years with Mountain Light, Justin was recruited to take over the position of Executive Director of ILCP, a non-profit association of the best photographers worldwide working in the field of environmental and cultural conservation. At ILCP, Justin oversaw an explosion of productivity in expeditions, publishing, multimedia production, and the achievement of successful conservation outcomes. He contributed photographic coverage to ILCP's Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVE) program, including Flathead Valley (Canada, 2009), Yucatán (Mexico, 2009), and Chesapeake (USA, 2010), as well as a solo project for The Nature Conservancy, documenting the Dragon Run wetland on Virginia's Middle Peninsula. One of Justin's photographs from the Flathead River project appeared as a section opener in the Vancouver Sun newspaper – the first time the threatened watershed received significant coverage in that nationally important media outlet.  The photograph was later selected by the United States Senate for display in the U.S. Capitol Building, as Canada and the USA reached an agreement to protect the Flathead.

Justin left his position at ILCP in late 2010 to establish Visionary Wild, building on his successful leadership of the Mountain Light workshop program and applying expertise gained at ILCP to provide superlative workshops and expeditions for passionate photographers seeking to advance to the next level of creativity, quality, purpose, and meaning in their work. His own work continues to evolve in new directions, driven by the ongoing search for extraordinary qualities in our world's dynamic landscapes.

Justin lives in Washington, DC, with his brilliant wife, Lena, and their children Philippe and Alexandra.

Justin Black's limited editions portfolio

Justin's Outdoor Photographer Profile

Bringing focus and meaning to your photography

The Top 40 Nature Photos Project

Justin's Conservation Photography Projects


Justin’s Camera Bag

After using an array of 4x5, medium format, and 35mm film cameras in the first two decades of his career, Justin fully embraced digital cameras in 2010. His current gear includes Nikon DSLRs and Fujifilm mirrorless systems.


Fujifilm Medium Format Mirrorless:

GFX 50S camera

23mm f/4 GF Fujinon

32-64 f/4 GF Fujinon

120mm f/4 GF Fujinon


Nikon DSLR:

Nikon D810 cameras (x2)

24mm f/3.5 PC-E tilt-shift Nikkor

45mm f/2.8 PC-E tilt-shift Nikkor

85mm f/2.8 PC-E tilt-shift Nikkor

24mm f/1.4 Sigma Art

35mm f/1.4 Sigma Art

50mm f/1.4 Sigma Art

85mm f/1.8 G AF-S ED Nikkor

200mm f/4 AF-D Micro-Nikkor

500mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor

18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G AF-S ED Nikkor

24-70mm f/2.8 G AF-S ED Nikkor

70-200mm f/4.0 G AF-S ED VR Nikkor

200-400mm f/4.0 G AF-S ED VR Nikkor

Nikon TC-14EII teleconverter

Nikon TC-20EIII teleconverter

Nikon SB-900 flash

Nikon SB-700 flash

Assorted Nikon TTL flash cables


Fujifilm APS-C Mirrorless:

X-Pro2 Cameras (x2)

14mm f/2.8 XF Fujinon

23mm f/2 XF Fujinon

35mm f/1.4 XF Fujinon

50mm f/2 XF Fujinon

18-55mm f/2.8-4 XF Fujinon

55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 XF Fujinon


Filters and Light Modifiers

Nikon Circular Polarizer II

Singh-Ray Vari-ND

Tiffen WW IRND neutral density filters

Photoflex reflectors and diffusers

Lumiquest soft boxes

Rogue Flashbender

Rosco gels



Really Right Stuff TVC-24L with leveling base and Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead or Arca-Swiss D4 geared head

Gitzo 1028 with RRS BH-25 ballhead


Photo Packs

MindShift Backlight 36L

MindShift Backlight 26L

Mindshift FirstLight 30L

MindShift Rotation 180 Pro

Mindshift Rotation 180 Horizon

Mindshift Rotation 180 Panorama

ThinkTank Airport Addicted V2.0

ThinkTank Urban Disguise 50 V2.0



  • Explore the clear blue waters and caves of Yucatán's cenotes with the leading local expert as our guide.
  • Pre-Columbian Mayan architecture, art, and culture at Uxmal
  • Colony of 30,000 pink flamingoes, the largest gathering of the species on Earth, plus more than 300 bird species
  • Coastal landscapes on a quiet white sand beach and among the mangroves at Celestún Biosphere Reserve
  • Small group of six, with a two-to-one participant-to-instructor ratio
  • Inclusive of superb lodging full of history, charm, and excellent catering
  • Our first basecamp is Hacienda Itzincab-Cámara, an elegant and private 19th-century estate with modern amenities and a Mayan pyramid, literally just off the back porch.
  • Our second basecamp is Eco Paraiso, a modern ecotourism resort on Yucatán's west coast, near the flamingo colony at Celestún.

Accommodations & Travel

Hacienda Itzincab-Cámara: nights of January 24-27 (Single-occupancy guest room)

Eco Paraiso: nights of January 28-29 (double-occupancy bungalow)

Our basecamp for the first four nights is the historic and recently restored Hacienda Itzincab-Cámara, about a half-hour drive from Merida. Built on an ancient Mayan site, the hacienda still boasts an imposing ancient pyramid at its heart. Its 14 bedrooms, distributed around the property in the main house and original hacienda buildings, are air conditioned and have private baths. Common areas include the living room, dining room, and study; patios and terraces; and gardens, featuring three swimming pools. This is an extremely hospitable estate with gorgeous architecture and well-appointed facilities, beautiful guest rooms, and staff including a valet assigned to our group. The kitchen at Itzincab serves gorgeous breakfasts and excellent, authentic Yucatecan cuisine, including local specialties sopa de lima, poc-chuc, and cochinita pibil, accompanied by fresh tropical fruits, salads, rice and black beans.

For our final two nights, we will transfer in our group vans to Eco Paraiso on the northwest coast of Yucatán near Celestún. EcoParaiso features spacious and attractively furnished double-occupancy bungalows with private veranda and sea view, as well as excellent dining.

airplane iconcar iconboat iconfoot iconweather icon
Fly into Merida, Yucatan, Mexico (MID). We will meet in Merida to load into our group's two vans for the drive to Hacienda Itzincab–Cámara. Ground transportation throughout the expedition is provided. We will make excursions by boat on the lagoon at Celestún Biosphere Reserve. Excurions into cenotes involve negotiating uneven, rough, and terraced terrain. While not technical in nature (in other words, no ropes needed) be prepared for relatively short but cautious descents into dark, undeveloped caves by headlamp. Hikes will be relatively short and easy. Weather in the Yucatan is subtropical and humid, with January temperatures ranging from 84ºF to 64ºF. A mix of sun, cloud, and occasional showers is typical at this time of year.


The emphasis of this expedition is on fieldwork, and we will maximize our time spent photographing. Exploring the subterranean world of cenotes, we are freed from the limitations of the daily cycles of natural light, so we will spend mid-day hours photographing in cenotes during the first part of the trip. Working as a team, we will illuminate the interiors for one another, using hand-held artificial lighting, including underwater in the cenote pools. Cenote swims will be commonplace and are highly recommended though optional, so you may want to bring a scuba mask and snorkel (casual swims only – we won't be doing any scuba diving). Our time at Celestún will feature coastal landscape and wildlife photography in the early morning and afternoon/evening hours and will include excursions by boat to photograph the lagoon and flamingo colony. Image edit and critiques will be carried out in the evenings.

A note on travel in the Yucatan:

Yucatán is distinct in many ways from the rest of Mexico. For those who have heard horror stories in the media about crime and violence south of the U.S. border, this is not at all the case here (nor is it the case in many other parts of Mexico for that matter). The Yucatecan capital of Merida is a charming and very safe city full of friendly people who are happy to help visitors, and the Maya people who inhabit the countryside are among the most hospitable and gracious folk you'll ever meet.

Anecdotally, while I was attending the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida in November 2009, I accidentally left my wallet in a taxi. A pair of state police nearby noticed as I frantically searched my pockets and shoulder bag to no avail, and asked what had happened. The police immediately initiated a city-wide search for our cabbie. Back at our hotel, a crowd of police, cab drivers, and hotel staff on radios and cell phones were trying to track the guy down. About fifteen minutes later, he returned to the hotel. A passenger had found my wallet in the back seat and notified the driver. He was only too happy to return it, cash intact, and he wouldn't accept a reward. – Justin Black