Have Camera, Will Travel: A Photo Workshop in San Miguel

Santa Fe Workshops, a renowned photography school based in New Mexico takes things on the road for three consecutive weeks to San Miguel, Mexico every fall. If you love travel, taking pictures and have a basic understanding of your SLR and Lightroom workflow then you’ll savor the chance to move beyond your fundamental skills. I enrolled in a five day workshop led by Jennifer Spelman, a documentary and editorial photographer, entitled “Photographing the People and Culture of San Miguel de Allende’’.  Not only did my photography improve, but I left with a greater understanding of the difference between ‘taking’ a photograph and ‘making’ a photograph. We learned, and practiced, what the great Jay Maisel said: “Get closer. Walk slower than your walking-stand and wait and something will happen.

The Schedule: Being in a workshop for five full days allows the time for mornings dedicated to class critiques and PowerPoint presentations on techniques, creativity and Adobe Lightroom skills. Afternoons are all about shooting at a different location each day. We shot around San Miguel, at an agave farm in the countryside, in the delightful town of Guanajuato and at the authentic Hacienda Las Trancas with live models. (Dinner at the Hacienda was a highlight) You truly live and breathe photography and have time to get to know your fellow classmates and their own unique styles and visions.

Why a Travel Workshop: On the first morning of class, we watched Jennifer’s  inspiring slideshow of her work. She then said something that encapsulates why you traveled all the way to San Miguel, rather than take a class at your local photo school. I paraphrase, but it went something like this: “For the next five days as much as possible leave everything from home behind and immerse yourself in your art—truly be an artist. Being away from it all in a vibrant and inviting place allows for the passionate discovery of what that means.

Why San Miguel: Well for one thing, this year, Travel + Leisure readers named it #3 on the list of the world’s best cities, right after Charleston and Chang Mai, and in 2014, Conde Nast Traveler readers voted San Miguel the #1 travel destination in the world. Plus there’s amazing light, vibrant colors, and countless fabulous restaurants and hotels.  The city is safe and friendly with year round consistently pleasant weather. For a detailed itinerary featuring the best things to do and see in San Miguel see our full guide here.

Stay: Santa Fe Workshops uses La Posada de la Aldea as their home base for the three weeks of consecutive workshops they offer. The location is perfect-- just blocks from San Miguel's historic central plaza and with three classrooms it doubles as an onsite school. The extensive grounds are the biggest plus with gardens, fountains, a small swimming pool, and secluded courtyards. The rooms themselves are basic and clean, though tired. Most disappointing was the food in the restaurant. Though lunch was included, I choose to eat my meals elsewhere.

Don’t Miss: Each Monday night during Santa Fe’s sessions, the three teachers from that week’s workshops give a PowerPoint presentation of their work, open to the public, in the beautiful Bellas Artes building in town. It was a fascinating look at three different photography styles and perspectives. As San Miguel is known as a haven for artists with a large expat community it was standing room only. Go early to get a good seat.  

Make Time: I highly suggest that you consider adding a day or two before (or after) your workshop. During the workshop you are busy from morning till night, and though there is some free time and two dinners on your own it is not enough time to fully explore San Miguel.

Up Next: For me, this workshop was just the beginning, lighting a fire to learn more and take my photography in new directions. I would do another Santa Fe Workshop in a second, and would love to try one of their programs at their school in the foothills of Santa Fe. (Home to legendary light and landscape) Other well respected programs with enticing workshops include the Maine Media Workshops and College based in Rockport, Maine and National Geographic Expeditions.

Don’t have time to get away? Check your local area for classes and intensive weekend workshops. In my hometown of NY, I can highly recommend The International Center of Photography (ICP). They offer photography education for every level, from courses and workshops to certificate and master's degree programs.