After Judy Regan’s death in 2014, Bruce Regan, of St. Cloud, grieved deeply for his wife of 57 years. So much so that he stayed at home and didn’t do much else.

Bruce at the Grand Canyon, one of the locations for a photo workshop. Contributed photo

“Until one day my therapist said I should get out of the house and develop an outside interest. I decided to pursue photography,” the 82-year-old retiree said.

Perhaps no surprise. Bruce had been involved in photo-taking since he was 17, along with being sent to Germany by the U.S. Army in 1955. “They had a wonderful setup on base, with a darkroom, professional photographer, and all those great German optics. We really had good stuff there, so I continued my photography while I was there, and that’s where I bought my first serious camera.”

Despite that training and interest, Bruce said he was a snapshot person. “I was the guy who took pictures at the birthday party or Christmas. I always had a camera shooting something, though not seriously. So photography was a good fit, and I started looking for a photo workshop to fine tune and hone my skills.”

During the past four years those workshops have included the Great Smoky Mountains, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and others, as well as photo-jaunts of his own. He has traveled extensively through South Dakota, North Dakota and Tennessee.

Research Workshops, Go, Learn

Bruce finds possible workshops in the back of photo magazines and from friends.

“One suggested a Road Scholar workshop in the Pocono Mountains and also a Road Scholar workshop on the islands of Lake Erie. Another person suggested the islands off the East Coast with wild ponies. When people have good experiences in a particular place, they’ll tell you about them, so you have an idea of what you’ll find when you get there.”

Once he chooses one, like the Smoky Mountains, he researches heavily.

Tree in the mist in the mountains. Photo by Bruce Regan

“All the instructors have websites showing what kind of work they are doing, and e-mail, so you can ask if the workshop has the right mix for you. Since the groups are often small, they’re not worried about filling the group, so you’ll get candid answers. One fellow said his workshop included a lot of classroom work with Photoshop and Lightroom, so I didn’t attend, benefiting both of us as it would have been a mismatch.”

Go with a goal: What do you want to learn? Camera skills? Composition? Nature and Wildlife? What? That means choosing the right place with the right instructor to teach what you want to learn.

“At the Smokies I wanted to learn how to use a very serious Canon camera I had recently bought, and one of the instructors was an expert in Canon.” He said another classmate also had a Canon so they could discuss the cameras with each other. “She was a delight.”

As a bonus, he’s developed close photographic friendships across the country, and when he sent them a picture he’d taken of a fawn nursing, he heard back from all of them.

Class size is important, Bruce said, six is great, eight okay, 10 a stretch.

“The Smokies had 23 photographers and four instructors, so all I had to do was raise my hand and soon somebody was there. Or I’d be working and somebody would be at my side saying, ‘Show me what you’ve got,’ and talk about settings, composition, and what I was doing.”

Also important is whether the leader will be shooting. “In my opinion, they should not be. They are there to help you. You’ve paid to have them help you.”

Polar bear shake off. Photo by Bruce Regan

He was advised to take more time with individual shots. “I used to shoot hundreds of pictures, but this instructor said I should slow down and be more selective. It resulted in one of his most magnificent photos. “When I got that shot of a fawn suckling its mother, it took me half an hour, and I took 20 pictures instead of the 150 I would have previously.”

The normal day at a workshop, Bruce said, had the instructor checking the weather at 4 a.m., and if it’s misty and rainy, shooting waterfalls, but if it’s sunny and calm, reflections, and so on. So participants rose before daylight, bringing along their flashlights as they’d been told, and traveling with an instructor to a selected site, shooting until 10 a.m., and then eating breakfast.

Noon included working on photos, or classes on photo elements. By 3:30 the group was off to another location, where they started shooting at 4:30 until dark, when it was time for supper. Taking meals together allowed chatting, showing photos, and equipment. “Just generally a good time.”

“We usually shot rain or shine,” Bruce said. “In fact, one instructor said he preferred shooting in the rain, unless it was dangerous weather. You need a raincoat and something to cover up the camera. You’ll get a softness in the pictures at those times. I like fog, but I’m not so crazy about rain.”

Spending six to eight hours a day with your camera in your hand means you become very adept at using it.

“When I’m at home, I never have my camera in hand for six hours, but to make what I learned work, I have to keep working and practicing at home.”

Bruce Regan at Laurel Falls, after a difficult uphill hike. Contributed photo

While on the workshops, Bruce said a person has to take in mind what their physical condition is and what they can do. He found that out in the Great Smokies, when he saw a sign that said it was 1.3 miles to Laurel Falls. “I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I didn’t realize it was about a 45 degree angle straight up. A real struggle. Some people watched me because I was the older person there. At the top one took my camera and said I’d worked hard to get there, so you need to have proof that you made it.”

He now finds out more information about trails he’ll be on. “I have to be very candid with myself. I’m older and can’t do athletic trails, and I need something that fits me and my physical condition.”

The time of day hugely affects photos. “The golden hours for shooting are a half hour before and after dawn and sunset, though I still shoot a lot of pictures during the day. You can still get terrific pictures that way.”

Of all the trips he’s taken, he enjoyed the Smoky Mountain trip the most, and plans on returning.

Day Trips

When Bruce chooses a day trip, he opts for longer times rather than shorter. “In the Dakotas I was gone two weeks, and if I’m going to travel to the East Coast, I don’t want to just go for six days. I’m not one to rush into it. I’ll go there and shoot the wild ponies on the islands and spin off and go to Washington, D.C. I also have a standing invitation to tour West Point with a professor of math there, that sounds fantastic.”

He also does one or two-day treks. His favorite shooting is landscapes and wildlife. “I just love being out in the countryside and using some of these little books, like Backroads of Minnesota, or doing circle treks on the north shore of Lake Superior. They tell you how far it is and what condition is needed to go on some of the walks.”

While away from home, he prefers to stay with Airbnb. “I always stay at Airbnb, and I’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, just the opposite. “So far this year I’ve stayed in Airbnb 40 days, and last year for at least another 42 days. I love it. You get personal contact, and when people find out what you’re doing, immediately they start giving you advice where you can find good photographic spots.” He also Googles for good shooting spots in whatever area he’s at. “Make sure that it is actually a photo trip, so you don’t get sidelined.”

Camera Clubs

At one of his photo workshops across the country, Bruce Regan had an opportunity to hold a Harris hawk. Over the last few years, Regan has reignited his love for photography and has grown from a “snapshot” photographer to a trained wildlife and nature photographer. Contributed photo

Bruce has also joined three camera clubs, including the Central Minnesota Camera Club, which meets the first Monday night of the month at 6:30 at the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud.

In camera clubs Bruce said he’s looking to hone his skills by getting serious critiques. “I’ve gotten some good ones and have better pictures.”

The St. Paul Camera Club grades photos from five to 10. “I’ve had a few eights and nines, and even a couple of 10s, which are hard to come by. The judging is generally kindly, and they give you tips on how to improve.

A friend said to Bruce that if you go to a workshop, be ready to get different ideas from interesting people and be ready to try new things.

A Picture of the Future

One trip will be to the eastern shore of the U.S. to see the wild ponies. “With the islands able to support only so many horses, they have a roundup each spring, culling and selling them. Also the Lake Erie islands. Those are on my radar. Also at least one workshop every year, and at least one photo trip independently each year. Maybe Italy or the Florida Everglades.”

“I have lots of things to do on my bucket list,” the 82-year-old said.