As part of my never-ending quest to improve my skills in writing this column (usually with accompanying photographs), Pat and I recently completed a two-day Arizona Highways photography workshop.

The magazine, known for its fabulous pictures, hosts more than 40 workshops a year, for beginners to pros, in some of the most beautiful and historic places in the Southwest.

We participated in a workshop on how to get the most out of a point-and-shoot camera. The workshop was held at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and taught by premier photographer Jeff Kida, whose main job these days is photo editor of Arizona Highways.

Pat had to persuade me to attend the workshop, because I had never taken a photo of a garden or anything in one.

We began on a Friday evening in the offices of Arizona Highways. There were seven participants, two knowledgeable volunteer "trip leaders" and our teacher.

Kida ran us through the basics of point-and-shoot cameras, with the added challenge that each of us had a different camera with quite a variation in technology and capability.

Then he discussed why we might want to avoid the "auto" setting; how to control parameters such as light, exposure time and depth of field; and the importance of tripods for stability and self-timers for flexibility in composing photos. We talked about how to achieve better image quality and finished up talking about software programs that can improve photos on a computer.

Saturday morning we met at the Desert Botanical Garden, an impressive 145-acre site with more than 50,000 desert plants, to begin our day of taking and analyzing photos. We used a conference room in one of the educational buildings as our base camp and set out to take photos.

Over the course of the morning, we visited the Herb Garden, Cactus and Succulent Galleries and the Butterfly Pavilion. With the help of Kida and his two assistants, we each took more than 100 photos, mostly close-ups of flowers, cacti or butterflies.

A little spice was added to the day when it turned out that it was "Bring Your Dog Day" at the garden. We were surprised at the number of dogs attending and impressed with the numerous doggy water stations, all manned by volunteers.

After a box-lunch break back at our conference room, we downloaded our photos to the laptop computers we were asked to bring, and we each selected three photos to share and discuss. The workshop assistants collected the photos and Kida projected them on a large screen.

The next two hours were truly fascinating. One by one we looked at the photos. Kida critiqued them, in a very positive style, then proceeded to operate on each image - using a Photoshop-like program - to crop them, change the color and lighting and edit them in other ways until we all agreed that we had an improved photo.

What a fun experience! Pat and I learned a lot more about the capabilities of our point-and-shoot cameras and some important principles for better photos.

If you're interested in attending an Arizona Highways photo workshop, go to for the schedule of 2013 programs.

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