Catherine Karnow on the San Francisco Photo Workshop

National Geographic photographer Catherine Karnow leads many of our weekend photography workshops in San Francisco. Here’s what she has to say about photographing the city, and why she loves leading these workshops.

San Francisco is so easy on the eyes. It’s such a pleasure to shoot here because it’s so unbelievably beautiful—the neighborhoods, the views, one of the greatest farmers’ markets in the world. I’m very sentimental about the city. It’s my own backyard, and I’ve photographed it for many assignments. I know the treasures it has tucked away and I love to share them with my students.

The transformative moments often happen when workshop participants photograph people. In Chinatown, there are three guys who work in a flower shop and speak limited English. When I bring the class in, they look a bit startled. But they have wonderful faces and there’s beautiful chaos in the shop. It’s intimidating at first, as if we’re in a foreign country. But we start to talk about the flowers, take some pictures, and soon the men go back to talking and we get to work. They learn to put these men at ease and they often come away with beautiful portraits.

During a weekend workshop, what happens overnight is a phenomenal breakthrough: students learn how to see. Photography is not about cameras, or gear, or technology; it’s about opening your eyes to see. It’s incredibly exciting to guide people as they open up their vision. For workshop participants, it’s a unique chance to learn how a professional photographer approaches a subject, how I see. This is not something that can be learned in a textbook. For a student to sit with a photographer and look deeply into the details of his or her own work is a very special opportunity.

I’m so madly passionate about photography—I have been shooting professionally for 25 years and everything I know is from my own experience. When you go off on assignment shooting dozens and dozens of articles on your own, you have all kinds of revelations and epiphanies. With these photo workshops, I finally have a way to share what I’ve learned on location all over the world. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share your knowledge with people who are thrilled to learn.

Learn more about the San Francisco Photo Workshop.

Catherine Karnow