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People of Oaxaca: Portrait Photography Workshop

Arrive Friday, January 30 and leave Friday, February 6, 2015. Options to arrive earlier and stay longer! You and any camera you have are welcome!

Creating a great photographic portrait means how to connect with your subject, source natural light, and apply aesthetic judgment. Whether you are taking amateur photographs of family, friends, or interesting people you meet on your travels, or you are more adept at using a professional-type camera, we can teach you how to capture stunning images. Making great visual art also depends more on the intersection of heart, mind and eye than it does on using the “best” camera. 

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You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot to iPhone to professional DSLR.  Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience.

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, photo by Matt Nager

Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, photo by Matt Nager

We are based in the indigenous Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, where we introduce you to people whose faces show an 8,000 year old pre-Hispanic culture. This is an opportunity to get up close and personal with people you may otherwise not meet on your own!  We are on location here with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful portraits.  Our daily schedule takes you into people’s homes and workshops, and on day trips to local markets, and Oaxaca City.

Here are four photos by Matt Nager that give you an example of who you will meet, like Porfirio Santiago and his wife Gloria, 87-year-old weaver Secundino, and a man dyeing wool who we met along the way.

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Portrait photography doesn’t need to be complicated and can create lasting memories for both the photographer and the person being photographed. This workshop will teach you the approaches needed to simplify the portrait process and make it fun!

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for amateurs, as well as intermediate and advanced photographers who are new to portrait photography. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We will practice both impromptu, street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions.

The Workshop:

  • Use natural light and respond to different lighting situations
  • Include portraits in your travel photography
  • Direct your subject through varying body positions
  • Identify your own photographic style
  • Find and execute portraits “on the fly”
  • Practice street photography
  • Use skills you learn through daily assignments
  • Learn more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt
  • Contribute to a gift for subject families and the community museum — included in your workshop fee

Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images.  There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  What do you say and do to sustain authentic connection with your subject?  How do you prepare yourself to stay open, interested, and flexible? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera?


At the end of our week together, we will select our best portraits and hold a group show and reception, inviting local guests. This is an extraordinary gift and cultural exchange. We will send you a complete itinerary and daily schedule after you register.

A word about equipment and experience:  We will send a list of “what to bring” after you register! All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced.  The techniques learned in this workshop can be applied to any camera and format. You will want to bring a USB cord to download your photos to your computer for editing images and sharing them. Optional: If you use a DSLR, you may want to bring a tripod, extra memory cards, an extra battery, battery charger, a portrait lens,  Photo editing software such as Lightroom is very helpful. We use Dropbox to share and show photos, and we will send you an invitation to join for free after you register. It’s easy!

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Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Matt has over 12 years of photography experience. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News. In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (unhappy country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal. His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

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Workshop Includes:

  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 2 group lunches
  • 6 group dinners
  • group transportation when part of itinerary
  • guided visits to local markets, artisan workshops
  • 18+ hours of instruction
  • one-hour private coaching and feedback session

Alejandrina Rios and Tito Mendoza Ruiz by Norma Hawthorne

Preliminary Itinerary:

Day One, Friday, January 30: Travel to Oaxaca and check-in to our B&B (D)

Day Two, Saturday, January 31: Learning Session, village walkabout orientation, street photography assignment, portrait session with local family (B, D)

Day Three, Sunday, February 1: Learning Session, Tlacolula Market excursion, photography on the fly (B, L, D)

Day Four, Monday, February 2: Learning Session, photo review/feedback, portrait session with local family (B, D)

Day Five, Tuesday, February 3:  Learning Session, photo review/feedback, Oaxaca City photo excursion  (B)

Day Six, Wednesday, February 4: Learning Session, photo review/feedback, archeological backdrops, Yagul and Mitla field trip (B, L, D)

Day Seven, Thursday, February 5: Learning Session, photo review/feedback, prepare for final best of week portfolio (B, D)

Day Eight, Friday, February 6: Depart

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Lodging/Accommodations and Cost

We are based in the Zapotec rug weaving and textile village of Teotitlan del Valle. To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at a local, women owned and operated bed and breakfast posada that is part of a family compound.  We offer you delicious homemade meals made with locally grown, organic ingredients.

Registration Options:

  1. Base Cost: $1,195 per person double occupancy with shared bath (sleeps two)
  2. Single Supplement: $1,495 single room with private bath (sleeps one)
  3. Take a Zapotec Oaxaca Cooking Class on February 6, $70, learn to make Oaxaca mole
  4. Come early or stay later in either Oaxaca ($125 night) or Teotitlan del Valle ($45 night) per person

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

The trip does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and transportation to and from Teotitlan del Valle.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any add-ons costs) is November 15, 2014. We request payment with PayPal only.  Tell us you are ready to register and we will send you an invoice to secure your registration.  After November 15,  refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before November 15, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a notarized waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

To get your questions answered and to register, contact: normahawthorne@mac.com

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to modify the itinerary as necessary.