If you enjoy my photography and would like to take similar pictures, consider joining one of my workshops! Workshops are a great way to improve your landscape photography skills, enjoy the camaraderie of being in a group of like minded people, or to simply be where the best photographic opportunities are without having to spend valuable time researching and scouting on the internet.  I currently offer group photography workshops in West Virginia that cover the Potomac Highlands (Dolly Sods, Canaan Valley, Seneca Rocks, Blackwater Falls State Park, Spruce Knob and surrounding areas) and the Greenbrier River Valley (Watoga State Park, Droop Mountain, Cranberry Glades, WV Highland Scenic Highway and other nearby areas).  I also co-lead a workshop with fellow West Virginia landscape photographer Randall Sanger in the Outer Banks, NC.

These workshops are beneficial for all skill levels from beginner to advanced; however, you will enjoy the group experience much more with a basic knowledge of how to operate your camera in manual mode.  Myself and my co-instructors have an intimate knowledge of each region we visit.  We also bring along many combined years of experience, so you can be sure that you are getting the very best an area has to offer based on dynamic weather conditions and seasons, while covering a variety of photography techniques and subject matter.  Group workshops are much more than a venue for learning about photography but are also a great way to meet similar people over a shared passion.  Nobody understands losing sleep and suffering the elements while chasing the best light like other photographers!  

Wanting to build confidence with your digital camera and learn to use manual mode?  This course will take place entirely within a classroom where we will cover the very basic fundamentals of photography over the course of three evenings to give you a solid foundation in which to grow.  In addition to camera settings, you will learn all of the elements of exposure so that you can learn to intuitively know how to adjust your camera for each situation to get the most of it and produce the best images, rather than memorizing settings or falling back on automatic modes.  We will explore other topics as well; how to compose better photos, planning, filters, shooting in RAW and photo editing in Adobe Lightroom.  Each session we will discuss a different aspect of exposure with some helpful camera settings and concepts.  There will be “homework” assignments between class days.  Each class will begin with a photo critique session and Q&A to reinforce concepts.  While this class will be primarily focused around using only natural light and landscapes (my area of expertise), the foundation you acquire can be translated to any type of photography you like.

Required materials: A camera capable of “manual” mode such as a dSLR or Mirrorless camera.  Optional: A laptop with Adobe Lightroom software.

Tuition cost: $125 due in full to reserve a spot. Class size is limited to 8 people ages 16+, and will only take place with a minimum of 4 people.  Refunds can be issued up to July 1st minus a 20% administration fee.  Otherwise, the fee can be used toward a future private or group class or workshop.  See payment options at the bottom section. Email me or use the contact form below to get in touch with me about signing up!

This workshop will cover the WV Potomac Highlands and could include Dolly Sods, Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley, Seneca Rocks, Spruce Knob and surrounding locales; co-lead by my friend David S. Johnston, a photographer with years of experience and intimate knowledge of the area.

What to expect: Mountains, valleys, waterfalls, massive rocky outcrops, and dark skies. The region encompassing the Potomac Highlands makes up some of the most beautiful, rugged and diverse scenery in the state. The timing of this workshop was chosen to avoid the crowds normally found through Spring, mid-Summer and Fall while allowing us to take advantage of the typical late August milder weather and greater chances of clear skies. The late summer Milky Way rises just after sunset at this time and the shorter days means better opportunity of fitting in sunrises and sunsets. Most of our shooting locations will be within a short distance of a parking area, however, there will be some hiking required over uneven terrain. Expect sunrises, sunsets, waterfalls (depending on rainfall) and of course, Milky Way photography.  We are trying to include areas that other workshops don't visit and at a different time of the year!

Tuition rate is $525 per person. The workshop begins Thursday late afternoon and concludes Sunday morning after sunrise. If you prefer Friday-Sunday, you may sign up at a rate of $425 and convene with the group on Friday afternoon. I will print and mail each participant a 12x18" print on fine art paper of their favorite photo of the trip as a bonus! Tuition does not include lodging, meals or transportation. However, we will have a group discount rate on lodging available if you wish to take advantage and carpooling is encouraged! This workshop is currently full, but to be added to the waiting list in case something opens up, please send me an email or use the contact form on the website.

This is a workshop sponsored by the Watoga Foundation taking place between West Virginia's newest and only officially designated dark sky parks: Watoga and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park! The workshop will take place August 25-27th.  Previously, this was a one night only workshop and weather has not always cooperated with us.  This gives us two opportunities for clear skies.  It also gives us the chance to have a photo critique and editing session during the day on Saturday, something that I have not been able to do before because of time constraints.

Fees and Cancellation Policy: The workshop will be limited to 6-8 people and the tuition rate will be $250 per person with half due as a deposit to reserve your spot.  As always, if you have taken a workshop with me before, you will get a 10% discount off the total.  You can cancel for a full refund up to August 1st, or have your fee used toward a future workshop.  The fee does not include lodging, transportation or food.

Workshop Overview: We will have a classroom session beginning at 2pm until around 4pm on Friday August 25th at the Hillsboro Public Library, followed by photography in the field at night as clear skies allow.  Saturday we return to the library for a photo editing session from 12-2pm.  Laptops with Lightroom and/or Photoshop installed are highly recommended but not necessary, so that you can follow along with me as we go through the editing process.  Any photo editing software will do but I will be using Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop.  We will wrap up Saturday night with a final photography session. In field photography will begin as it gets dark and end around midnight each night. Very little walking is involved and everything is near a parking lot, although long periods of standing are needed.

Equipment: Keep in mind this is not a course on deep space photography; we will not be using telescopes, or tracking mounts, although you are more than welcome to bring and use this equipment if you know how!  This is a landscape photography course that will include wide angle shots of the Earth and Milky Way, as you see in the examples here, with the potential to do star trails.  You will need a dSLR or mirrorless digital camera capable of shooting in manual mode with a fast, wide angle lens.  I recommend focal lengths between 11-20mm with apertures capable of shooting down to at least f/2.8.  A sturdy tripod, headlamp with red light option, and wired or wireless remote/intervalometer are recommended but not necessary.

Lodging and Area Info: In terms of lodging, you are free to stay anywhere you like in the area.  I recommend reserving a cabin or campground spot at the park for convenience.  The end of August is still somewhat busy for them, so those options may fill up fast; better to book soon as possible!  Barnett Cabins and Greenbrier River Cabins are also nearby.  Marlinton Motor Inn in Marlinton.  Also, several options on Airbnb.  There is no cell service in the area, but the visitors center and campground bathrooms have free wifi.  The nearest town with cell service, restaurants, gas and stores is Marlinton - although there are a few conveniences in nearby Hillsboro and a general store/restaurant right outside of Watoga called Jack Horner's Corner.

This workshop is currently full but use the contact form if you would like to be added to the waiting list in case a spot opens up, or send me an email.

  • Telephoto shot of the full moon rises between the gunsight at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia

  • Wide angle view of the full moon rising above Seneca Rocks in West Virginia.

  • Photo of the full moon rising through the gunsight notch in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia by Jesse Thornton.

  • The setting sun light touches the face of Seneca Rocks as the moon rises through the notch, wide angle photo taken in West Virginia by David S. Johnston.

    Photo credit: David Johnston

  • The full moon rises through the gunsight notch silhouetted against a blue sky at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia with twilight pink clouds.

    Photo credit: David Johnston

  • A black and white photograph taking a wide angle view of West Virginia's Seneca Rocks in black and white, by photographer David S. Johnston.

    Photo credit: David Johnston

Fellow West Virginia photographer, David S. Johnston and I have decided to team up for a moonrise shoot at West Virginia's iconic Seneca Rocks! If you’ve followed our work, you’ve seen us over the last few years talk about photographing the moon within the famous gunsight notch that appears near the middle of the large quartzite rock fin formations. You may have heard about the photo shoot we did with The Steel City Slackers walking a narrow piece of webbing across the notch in profile with the moon. You can see and read about that event in Highland Outdoors. Before I met Dave and linked up with him on this project, I attempted this shot many times over a span of 4-5 years using rough planning and learning from each experience. The closest I came was a shot of moon on a different part of the rocks, and that was only out of sheer luck and being in an approximate location that also allowed me a wide enough space to move around before I finally “found” the moon, and by that time, it was far past the notch I had hoped to photograph. Apps like Photopills are not nearly accurate enough to predict the exact time and location of the moonrise. If you have to move at all in the midst of the moon rising in order to find it within the notch, you’ve likely already missed the opportunity. And the positioning changes throughout the year, so if you’ve nailed it down one night, it’s still going to be slightly different the next night.

That’s where Dave comes in. He has spent months planning; finding azimuths, elevations and other exact numbers for words I don’t even understand in order to know exactly where and when to stand to see the moonrise reliably between the gunsight notch. Dave gets into more detail in this article he wrote for NANPA.

We are going to be hosting a group photography workshop for up to 8 people to get a shot of the moonrise in the gunsight notch. The cost per person will be $180 Because the weather is unpredictable and this workshop is TOTALLY dependent on having clear skies, you will have 24 hours before the meet up time to decide if you want to come out and risk the weather for the shoot, or if you would prefer to reschedule for a future date, or cancel all together for a full refund. Essentially, you only pay if you come out for the attempt!

If you sign up for the January dates, we will have those two days to attempt the shot at the cost of one day.

As a bonus, I will print and mail a 12x18” of your favorite photo from the trip on fine art watercolor paper!

The workshop rate does not include lodging, meals or transportation. Contact me via the form at the end of this page or email about signing up (choose one of the dates listed above that you're interested in).

  • Sunset over the Currituck Sound in Duck, North Carolina

  • Bodie Lighthouse at night with the Milky Way - Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks, North Carolina

  • Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse with lights under long exposure in Outer Banks, North Carolina

  • Jannette's Pier telephoto view from the beach at dawn in Nags Head, North Carolina

  • Long Exposure at dawn under the Outer Banks Fishing Pier with the waves moving out in North Carolina

  • Marshes Roanoke Lighthouse at Dawn in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

  • Oregon Inlet life saving station at night under the Milky Way on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks, North Carolina

  • Telephoto shot of the sun rising over the horizon at the end of Jennette's Pier in the morning, Outer Banks, North Carolina

I'm joining my good friend, and fellow talented West Virginia photographer Randall Sanger for this one.  The Outer Banks of North Carolina workshop features many opportunities to make incredible images. Some of the East Coast's most famous lighthouses, beautiful seascapes, stunning dunescapes, rugged fishing piers, and incredibly dark skies are perfect complements to sunrise, sunset and astrophotography.

We'll work on subjects such as long exposure, creative composition, filter use, panoramas and more. Workshop tuition is $575. You are responsible for lodging, meals and transportation. Send Randall an email to randy@randallsanger.com and additional information will be provided!

  • The Milky Way core can be seen rising above the reflective waters of the lake at Watoga State Park in West Virginia at night.

  • Up close macro photograph of yellow bellwort a native wildflower of West Virginia.

  • An old grave yard at the Old Droop Church in Pocahontas County West Virginia at night with the Milky Way core standing high above.

  • Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park with the lookout tower overlooking the Greenbrier Valley and distant mountains with the sun rising on the horizon, photograph taken in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

  • The Milky Way rises in the dark sky location of the West Virginia Highland Scenic Highway at night, long exposure photograph.

  • An overhanging tree creates an arch above the Williams River in West Virginia surrounded by lush greens, showing water in motion through long exposure photography.

  • Top down view of textured green leaves of the endemic West Virginia plant, corn lily or false hellebore in it's early stage of Spring growth and water droplets on the leaves.

  • The sun rises on a foggy and partly cloudy morning above the Williams River Valley from the West Virginia Highland Scenic Highway.

  • A close up photograph of Dutchman's Breeches, a wildflower native to West Virginia, photographed in the Cranberry Glades area in Pocahontas County, WV.

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This workshop will cover Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties in West Virginia.  Potential stops along the trip include Droop Mountain, Watoga State Park, The WV Highland Scenic Highway, Cranberry Glades and everything in between!  The early bird gets the worm is the theme for the weekend as we will focus on the very early morning, pre-dawn Milky Way (weather permitting), and shoot through sunrise, while taking advantage of the first wildflower blooms of the year during daylight hours.

What to expect: The group size will be kept small due to many of the stops being far apart, distance-wise, and unable to support larger groups. This will be to your advantage as it will facilitate more intimate instruction and allow us to be more mobile.  No stop will be far from a parking lot.  In fact, a few will be accessible within the parking lot itself!  There will be more strenuous options available if the group decides to go that route.  The temperature can vary and still be extremely cold for this time of year dipping down into the 40's overnight, while reaching 70's and 80's during the day.  Milky Way photography begins around 2am this time of the year, so the days may start as early as that, ending in the afternoons.  Unfortunately, spring rains can put a damper on night photography and clear nights are never a guarantee but this can provide opportunity for dramatic sunrises and sunsets, and can be good conditions for shooting waterfalls as well spring flowers. Some basic knowledge of how to operate your camera is highly recommended and will make for a more enjoyable experience overall; you don't need to know what aperture or shutter speed means, necessarily, but knowing how to change those settings will be helpful. A dSLR or mirrorless camera with an interchangeable lens system and a wide angle + fast lens (8mm-30mm with an aperture as wide as f/1.2-f/4.5) is essential for Milky Way photography, as well as a steady tripod. No filters are needed but a circular polarizer is recommended in case we shoot water and a set of ND filters can be fun!  A macro lens can make wildflower photography much more interesting but alternatively, we can make good use of a longer lens in the range of 70-200mm for wildflowers.

Workshop rate is $375 per person and does not include lodging, transportation or meals. This workshop is currently full, but you can email me to be added to the waiting list if a spot opens up.

Private Workshops - Anytime

Group settings may not be very everyone.  For a more individualized experience on your time - please contact me about setting up a private workshop! Generally, I will suggest doing these in the New River Gorge National Park, Canaan Valley, or the Greenbrier River Valley areas of West Virginia for the best experiences. I currently do not do group workshops in the New River Gorge, but this is a good opportunity to join me with a small private group on your time. I can also travel anywhere and tailor an experience to you - whether you just want to be at the right places at the right time, tour an area or learn a particular aspect of landscape or terrestrial astro photography. I can even meet you for an afternoon over coffee if you want to learn the fundamentals of using your camera or photo editing. Prices vary based on location, time, travel needs, etc.

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"Thanks so much to Jesse Thornton and David Johnston for all the planning! These WV photographers are AMAZING! Not sure what was better for me... taking the photos or listening to them share their story, their knowledge and the PLANNING involved."

"Thank you for leading a wonderful workshop and sharing your knowledge, tips, and tricks! I feel more inspired and confident!"

"Thanks for all the patience and instruction. Great time, much learned!"

"The workshop with Jesse was wonderful. I learned many things that I will continue to put into practice. Although I had been in the area once before, every place we went was new to me. We stopped at several places off the beaten path. Jesse was very knowledgeable about the area, plants in bloom and where to get interesting images. I'm very happy that I decided to do the workshop."

"Beautiful, Gorgeous, Stunning - were words expressed during our first Dark Sky photography workshop hosted by the Watoga State Park Foundation and conducted by Jesse Thornton."


"I highly recommend Jesse if you want to go to a workshop. besides being a good guy he spends a lot of time preparing and is always available for questions and to help folks get set up for good shots. He makes sure everyone knows what to expect. the Seneca Rocks workshop I just attended was a prime example. we were shooting the moon in the notch at Seneca Rocks and he had everything meticulously planned so we could move and get set up as the moon rose in the notch."

"I'd like to give a big shout out to Randall Sanger and Jesse Thornton for a great workshop in the Outer Banks this past weekend. They are friendly and helpful and took us to some great places to shoot."

"A tour of a lifetime that took us to waterfalls, overlooks, ghost towns and bridges! Jesse was a great photography tour guide!"

" Never enjoyed something so much while being hungry, cold and having a full bladder. Thank you so much!

"It was a fantastic workshop and weekend. Dave and Jesse did an outstanding job guiding us, teaching us and challenging us (both physically and mentally!).  What a great group of people we had the pleasure of meeting! We will definitely join again!  Jesse, if your success is based on your talents, your caring and down-to-earth nature and your sharing your knowledge with others, then you have already succeeded! And Dave was an added bonus for all the same reasons! What a great person he is also. P.S. Today seems rather boring after the weekend! I'm ready to get back out in nature already! Thank you again for a perfect time!"