High Sierra Workshops offers four levels of workshop courses to help our students select the academic curriculum and coursework that best suits their needs and targeted areas of photographic growth. Each workshop course description page lists the ‘Course Curriculum Topics’ and the ‘Prerequisites’ necessary to attend that course.

It is important that all students enrolled in a workshop course are at the same level so as to be able to move freely through the course’s academic curriculum. When a student enrolls and is below level, the instructor has to take time to work one-on-one with the student to get them up to speed and at the same level of the others. In the case of only a four-day workshop, and often times with only five students in the group, the other students are the ones that suffer as the focus is on getting the below-level student up to the workshop course level.

It is also important that all students must do a self-assessment of their photographic skills and experience in order to enroll in the proper course and avoid the above situations from happening.

But sometimes it can be confusing as to exactly where your own personal level of experience matches up with HSW’s course levels. This reference guide will assist you in matching up your capabilities against the expectations set forth by the instructors for each course level. Simply review all the curriculum prerequisites for each level to determine where in the coursework you can drop in.

(Important Note: When you see the phrase “working knowledge”, that does not mean you have heard about that topic and have tried it, but rather that you use this concept, method or application on a day-to-day basis!)


An important aspect of our curriculum is the level of experience that ALL students must have prior to attending any of our courses, especially the 100-level “Essentials” courses. Our 100-level courses are not beginner courses teaching our participants how to use their camera. Rather the instruction helps students move beyond the basics and into the essentials of photographic composition and landscape photography, including how to read a scene, understanding natural light, and separation of technical and visual assessments of a scene. (Full course curriculum topics can be found on each workshop course description page.)

All students MUST have an working knowledge of their camera, which includes:
✓    Location of all camera operations and adjustment controls, including image settings (RAW, Color Profile, JPEG quality, etc), exposure controls (shutter speed, f-stop and ISO) and tripod/camera set-up
✓    A working knowledge of how f-stop controls light and depth of field
✓    A working knowledge of how shutter speed controls light and motion blur
✓    A working knowledge of how ISO controls light and impacts digital noise

In addition, students much be able to:
✓    Show proficiency in the standard photographic principles of equivalent exposure adjustments, the exposure triangle and understanding how the meter works in the camera.
✓    Understand how optical focal length change (zoom lenses or changing lenses) impacts depth and perspective within the frame
✓    Show understanding in the standard photographic principles of composition, especially Rule of Thirds and balance within the frame

To assist all students who enroll in our 100-level courses (and recommended for all students who enroll in a 200-, 300- or 400-level Course), we have created a series of free educational videos on the above topics to help students prepare for their workshop. These short videos are broken down by specific topic and reflect the level of experience and conversation the workshop faculty will have with their students.

These free educational videos can be found on our website. In addition, all 100-Level students receive our course guidebook which provides referent for the academic concepts and methods introduced in the course.


Photo by Jane PittengerMost students move on to a 200-level course after attending a 100-level course. Quite often, students attend more than one of the 100-Level courses in the many locations offered in order to fully understand the concepts and methods introduced. As these are academic courses, the principles presented and put into application are not basic skills but require a dedicated focus and exercise to reach proficiency. In short, once the above skills become second-nature, then you are ready to move on to the 200-level courses.

In addition to all of the prerequisites for the 100-Level courses listed above, students enrolling in a 200-level workshop course must have full proficiency in the following topics (that are extensively covered in our 100-level workshops):
✓    Ability to read a scene to properly to determine what elements belong in the frame, justification for the placement of the elements, and visually assessing the composition, focal length, exposure
✓    Use of complete and thorough pre-visualization techniques that see the photographic process complete to final print … before the camera is out of the bag
✓    Application of the four visual components/principles regarding shape, line, texture and pattern
✓    An understanding and working knowledge of reading natural light and its role in proper exposure and visual impact.
✓    An understanding and working knowledge of the emphasis on light over the subject matter, and the proper assessment of the light in the scene
✓    Practice and use of balance composition principles in regards to weighted frames, the strategic use of dead space, key anchors within the frame, and use of focus to emphasis composition
✓    Understanding of the separation of the technical vs. visual assessment in moving from photographic capture to a fine art approach

If the 100-level workshop courses get your feet wet, the 200-level dunks you in the water. Students that have skipped the 100-level course and attended a 200-level course without the necessary experience and skill set all use the same analogy: “It’s like trying to drink from a fire hose.”

As all 200-level courses are intensive 3-day workshops, there is no time to get up to speed. Students hit the ground running, building off the concepts from our 100-level courses and pushing hard with new methods and approaches. If a student is ill-prepared or not at the working level of the workshop course, it is very much like drinking from a fire hose. A lot of information coming at you real fast, and no time to catch up.

If there is any hesitation in not being at the requisite level, we strongly recommend attending a 100-level course first.


YOSA_Tab_01bOur 300-level course “Advanced Photography: The Zen of Thinking” is an incredibly challenging and intensive 3-day course in the mind work that goes into photography, focusing on breaking prejudices and mindsets that hinder the photographer. The full course description can be read online, further detailing the visual concepts and mental challenges that students are presented with during the course.

As this course emphasizes a lack of technical instruction (we don’t care about what camera you bring, how many megapixels it has, and how many lenses you bring, as it is completely irrelevant to the instruction) with a focus on how we see photography as an expansion of creative thought, it is utterly imperative that ALL students meet the prerequisites for this course.

Just like the small group 200-level workshops, this course has a maximum of five students and there is no available time to teach the concepts and methods in the 100- and 200-level courses. Just as we said with the 200-level course, once the concepts and skill sets presented in the 100- and 200-level courses become second nature, ability to respond intuitively without thought, then you are ready for the 300-level course.

In addition to meeting the prerequisites for the 100- and 200-level courses above, all enrolled students must be at a level in their photographic career that positions them with the ability to:
✓    Modify exposure values through methods and controls beyond the camera’s meter and settings, including creative filter controls and light modifiers
✓    Master the control of natural light and light values, with a complete and thorough knowledge of the difference and integration of luminance and reflectance through illuminance
✓    Comprehensive working knowledge of tonal value determinations intertwined with exposure values
✓    Working knowledge in spatial differences and perspectives and overcoming challenges presented in the scene
✓    Use of spot metering for exposure control and value determinations for proper exposure management

Just as important to meeting the prerequisites for the 300-level course is a willingness to learn, a passion to challenge yourself, and a desire to improve your photography as an art form. All egos must be checked at the door! This course strips away all the prejudiced concepts of what makes a good photograph through ‘brain-brewing’ methods to open expansive creativity.

How intensive and challenging is the course? Most students say it takes them about six months to fully understand the concepts presented. As such, everyone must be thoroughly proficient at the 100- and 200-level before taking this course. It is STRONGLY recommend to not take this course without having taken a HSW course first to help you in your self-assessment of your skill set and to also understand the HSW teaching method, which is not your normal photography workshop!


ElCap_IROur 400-level courses are not a natural progression from the 300-level course, despite the numerical jump. Our 400-level courses focus on specialized techniques and methods, such as B&W Zone System, Infrared Photography, and Night Photography. All of these courses are built off the foundation curriculum in the 100- and 200-level courses.

As such, all students enrolling in a 400-level course must be fully proficient at all the skill sets demonstrated in the 100- and 200-level courses, and meet the same prerequisites as listed above for the 300-level course.

You do not have to take the 300-level course before attending any of the 400-level courses. As these are specialized technique courses, their curriculum runs separate from the 300-level course. However, as mentioned previously, the foundation for these 400-level courses is built upon the 100- and 200-level courses and proficiency in those methods and processes are critical for your success in a 400-level course.

However, each class has additional prerequisites that are listed on each workshop course description page. Some of the requirements include specific software necessary to complete the coursework.

As with our 200- and 300-level courses, all our 400-level courses are limited to five students to ensure the small group instruction. As such, there is no ability to bring a student “up to speed” on methods or processes from previous level courses that the student did not attend.

In short, as with the 300-level course, only when the techniques and methods in the 200-level course become second nature and intuitive, are you ready to enroll in one of the 400-level courses.



Still not sure where you should place? Are you feeling that you are beyond basic but the 200-level course seems intimidating? It is not  common that a student enrolls in a 200-level or higher course without attending a 100-level course first. Even more rare is when a student is truly prepared for the academic rigor of an advanced course without going through the building blocks nature of the HSW curriculum.

Attending multiple 100-level courses is quite common, and the locations are selected with that option in mind. While the 100-level curriculum is the same in all our 100-level workshop locations, the landscape the practice the methods and approaches is vastly different. Yosemite in Winter is much different than Death Valley, yet the principles remain the same. That is where the attendance of multiple 100-level courses is extremely advantageous as you hone your craft under varying conditions. We encourage this and designed our curriculum to support this approach.

Still not sure? Send us an email and share with us which course you wish to attend, where you think you are photographically, and what concerns you might have. We want to make sure that every student gets the most out of each workshop course they attend, and proper placement in the course is of utmost importance. We’re here to help you do that!