Extending my Cornish B&B One-to-One workshops I am looking toward new coastlines.
For any business to succeed it needs to keep evolving and refining its offering to attract new custom while re-engaging with existing clients. Since I started my Cornish Seascape Workshops in 2013, I have really enjoyed showing many kindred spirits around the coasts of this fantastic county. I have met some great characters and dedicated people of all ages and experience, who have a real passion for seascape photography alongside an adventurous spirit. During our travels and time spent in the studio, we had plenty of time to chat about my favourite locations and where I'd like to see my workshop business expanding to. Many mentioned the various galleries of my website and said if I ever were to consider running a workshop tour of Scotland or farther afield, they would be happy to book a place. So this got me thinking about a new venture and I am now putting together plans to offer Workshop Tours to my existing clients who have taken one of my workshops.
The reason for this is that they will all know the 'Manual' approach needed to capture great seascapes, they will be able to arrive at a new location and get to grips with it immediately and they will be adept enough with Photoshop to be able to undertake post-production with minimal oversight from me. This is really important as on standard group tours there is a diverse array of personalities, experience and the attention and tuition and advice is not necessarily 'evenly distributed'. My idea is to take clients away that I know and show them an absolute bespoke tour that extends the 'full-on photographic experience' as one of my clients described their Cornish seascape workshop. So I am planning a Scottish Highland Seascape Tour that will take in the Isles of Mull, Skye and Harris alongside a run up the North West Highlands to the fabulous Sandwood bay.
Looking beyond this I want to look towards new locations and decided upon taking a look at Iceland.
So last week I spent a fantastic time with my daughter Meghan (who specifically asked to come on a photographic holiday into the Arctic Circle) and my great friend Allen, who has accompanied me for years on my adventures through the Scottish Highlands, Norway and Maldives. Allen will be a mainstay of the new Tours business as I will need a colleague to share driving, arrange drop-offs and pick-ups and help with the general organisation that goes on behind the photography. Anyway, we landed in Reykjavik amongst a snow storm that kept visibility down to 300 yards, so we had no idea of what to expect. We checked in to a really good hotel on the harbour front and went for supper. As we walked back to the hotel we saw a host of Japanese tourists lining the coast footpath and pointing point & shoot cameras mounted on tripods into the night sky. Taking a look at my 'Aurora Now' app I saw the predicted appearance of the Northern Lights had risen from a half star to 4 stars and sure enough, a few minutes later we were watching these strange greenish lights swirling across the sky. I didn't go rushing back to the room to grab my gear for the display was hardly 'blinding'. In fact it was a little disappointing as after years of waiting, this was the first time I'd seen them. Anyway, we stayed and watched the display until it gradually faded away some two hours later.
We went back to the hotel saying how much we hoped to see something more impressive in the coming days, so you can imagine my amazement when next morning at breakfast I saw some of the Japanese guys passing around their cameras and proudly displaying images of searing colours and vibrancy! It appears I have discovered what few people mention, that the Northern Lights look far better through a camera than they do to the naked eye. Something that was confirmed to me a couple of nights later when we were up in the mountains with no light pollution and I photographed them for myself. OK I could see them swirling around more vividly but the colour and vibrancy that manifested in my camera screen were utterly different. In my seascape photography, I try to capture the emotion and atmospherics of a scene. To me, the realisation that the northern lights we see in imagery are in fact totally different to those we actually witness first hand was disappointing. I'm sure I'll get over this and will pay more attention another time but for now it is Iceland's other facets that inspire me to come back.
Anyway, moving on after this somewhat deflating first impression, the next morning we woke to a bright clear sky and the clearest atmospherics I think I've ever witnessed. You could see for miles and I could hardly believe my eyes. The scenery from our lofted hotel room looked incredible. I called Meghan and Al and we headed down for breakfast before setting off to the car hire office.
And this was where our Icelandic adventure started. We picked up our 4 X 4, maps, emergency mobile phone, GPS gadget and headed off on a tour that I had been put together with a specialist advisor based in Iceland, who took my instructions and aspirations and prepared a route that would see us taking in the big attractions, the geysers, fumaroles, glaciers, waterfalls etc. yet would also take us off the beaten track to discover locations for ourselves. This turned out to be ideal as Iceland is currently experiencing a tourism boom the likes of which has never been seen.
I have to say, in recent months whenever I've heard travel experts talking on the TV or Radio, when asked for their recommendation for the best current destination, the response has always been "Iceland". Simon Calder even went on to say "It's as cheap as chips!"... Well not quite but it was nowhere near as spiteful as our experience in Norway where £8 a pint was the norm and you needed a mortgage for a bottle of wine! So the amount of tourists was quite a surprise and when we set off into the national park whenever we pulled off the road, within seconds a car would pull over, then another and another and I'd be joined by eager camera toting Americans, Japanese and Chinese who had no idea of what I was shooting or how their footprints or shadows were ruining my shots. I spoke to the manager of a farm we stayed on and he said he was fully booked for the next four weeks. The same time last year he had just eight visitors booked for the same period.
So second lesson learned in Iceland was to get out early or stay out late if shooting the main locations. For the tour parties don't stay too long.
I have to say that I really try to impress upon my workshop clients just how important the proper clothing is when shooting a seascape location because it makes all the difference. You must be relaxed and comfortable when shooting. In a seascape situation this is even more important as if you are chilled and uncomfortable you are not going to be paying attention to what's going on around you. Being so close to the sea, this can be more than missing a shot, it can be life threatening! Now I know there's special clothing made especially for photographers that purports to have 'Outdoor' credentials but I've yet to find such apparel that is matched to freezing cold seascape locations and I buy accordingly. For Cornwall's worst weather I use bespoke yachting gear with proper waterproof and thermal capabilities rather than those claimed by the likes of Paramo. So when it came to Iceland, I went for a Rab Polar Jacket (with a thick, treated waterproofed Down filling), over a thick fleece, over Rab waterproof salopettes, over a base fleece, over a Marino Wool vest and long johns with thermal socks, thermal gloves (with finger and thumb flaps that allow free handling of the camera but are quick to cover up the digits thereafter). All this alongside a headband that keeps the head warm at all times that can be bolstered by the anorak's hood when it gets really cold. I did bear in mind the severe limitations an anorak hood places on 360? visibility and only used it when well away from the tideline when on a beach.
All this preparation came in incredibly useful as, my word it was cold! At one stage I was shooting in -14? temperatures with icy blasts dropping the wind chill factor way down further. In these conditions you can't stay out too long but I was able to shoot for far longer than the coach parties. So it was a case of preparation, patience, timing and map reading. Interestingly, I noticed a couple of UK based photography tours were out there and 'following the crowds'. They appeared as we left on three separate occasions. I made a mental note not to do this on my tours!
As each day passed we had trouble pinning down our favourite location as each one surpassed another in a different way.
What can you say about shooting on ice that creaks, groans and moves under you as you shoot the impossibly blue ice of a huge glacier? Or watching a pale yellow sky turn into a searing orange cast to a blood red smear in a matter of seconds as the sun sets over a vast lava field. Or sitting in complete silence as you frame the curves of an ice blue river cutting through purest white snow under an azure sky. Or witnessing the dance of the Northern Lights from a lofted mountain valley surrounded by snow covered mountains. Or watching the most fearsomely powerful waves rising and crashing onto black volcanic sand. I have seen impressively huge waves in Cornish storms but nothing compared to the chilling, murderous beasts that savaged that beach that afternoon. The tideline was a boiling cauldron with wave upon wave breaking in a thunderous foaming cacophony that shook the very ground under foot some hundred yards away. Truly spectacular.
As for the imagery, follow this link by clicking here
to be taken to my dedicated photography website and go to the Iceland gallery in my Portfolio section to see the images I took on this unbelievable trip.
Oh yes, and if you'd like to get involved in a holiday tour then get in touch to find out about the first step, and taking one of my seascape workshop courses.