Eleanor's Workshop Experience

From energetic adventurers ready to don a wet-suit, stash their gear in a wet-bag and paddle off on the sea kayak, to retirees wanting to use a DSLR for the first time amongst relaxed surroundings, I get a real cross-section of clients on my workshops.

Back in mid September I had a last-minute request come in on my email from a lady based down in Sussex who wanted to come down at the end of the month. Luckily she was flexible on exact timings and we managed to fit in a 3 day workshop around my existing bookings. From our following emails and subsequent telephone conversations, I found out Eleanor was a retired Head Mistress who loved her Canon 7D and was no stranger to photography workshops. With a penchant for wild flowers and landscapes, she usually headed for the Lake District or Scottish Highlands, so this time she wanted a change of scenery and fancied seeing a bit of Cornwall. While she was not worried by walks and high cliffs, she did not like the idea of slippery rocks, other than that I was given free rein to make suggestions as to photographic locations. Early starts did not phase her one iota and she was very keen to get to grips with some Photoshop post-production. As for food, "good, old fashioned home-cooking" was the order of the day. So I made up her photographic itinerary and daily menu and readied the house for her arrival.

As soon as Eleanor walked through the door I knew we were going to click. It's always the case in truth, for when you share a joint interest there's common ground and I've always got on well with all my workshop clients. So we had a cup of tea and a chat, then got her settled into her room. A short while later we were in the studio and running through her gear, then going through my 'Catching Waves' presentation. Based upon a client's current experience, Eleanor was doing the 'enthusiast' level course. This sees Manual camera and lens settings tie-in with using a tripod, flash and selection of filters in a wide selection of challenging locations. The idea being to build a portfolio of work that spans a range of locations and approaches. An important part of my wide-angle 'vista' approach is the attention to detail on composition and I could see from her vigorous nods that Eleanor was really getting her head around what I was saying.

I always finish my presentations with, "Your workshop course is all about capturing a good shots 'in camera' and then refining them in Photoshop... So let's go out and get a good shot!" Thereupon, we head off down the lane to Crantock Bay. Now in the same way different people like different images, so people react differently to the locations I take them to. Bearing in mind it was the middle of a sunny afternoon and there was hardly any detail in the clear blue sky, Eleanor was immediately engaged with what unfolded in front of her. As we walked the beach to the shoreline, she took in all I mentioned regarding the patterns in the sand, converging lines and lead-in information. She really paid attention and was spot-on with her manual focussing, even if it meant I had to wade out into the sea so she had a focal point to hone-in on.

From that point on we had a great time. I kept trying to push her boundaries and she responded by capturing some really good shots. Whether it was in front of pounding breakers that dwarfed her, or walking across the spreading sands of Bedruthan Steps in a pair of chest waders, Eleanor really put her all into her locational work. Soon her methodical approach that was ideal for normal landscapes or shooting flowers, was becoming freer and more pro-active in responding to the ever-changing condition of the sea and sky. This was rewarded with some excellent images. And with extending her existing Photoshop skills, her Raw manipulation results soon saw her exclaiming "I never believed I would ever take photographs like these. Thank you so much!" And this was just the second day.

For me, there is no better accolade, I love it when a client sees everything coming together in their seascape photography. On her final evening, I took Eleanor just down the coast to Holywell Bay to shoot the golden hour. I knew the setting sun's position would be ideally framed between shoreline cliffs and the twin peaks of Gull Rocks. Add to this the heady atmospherics that would see the sunlight being nicely defused into an impossibly scarlet glow and I knew we were going to be in for a treat. And so it turned out. We arrived, set up, composed the shot and we laughed in awed wonderment as the sunset got better and better. From nowhere a bank of cloud crossed the sky at the perfect time to create textures and absorb light. It was one of those shoots that go down in the memory. The results of that evening were captured solely by Eleanor as I didn't take my gear down on this occasion. It's a bit of a slap walking from the car park and I thought it would be best if I carried Eleanor's gear for her. Anyway, needless to say, when we got back home we downloaded her images onto my system and simply marvelled at the results.

While I drove Eleanor around a lot on her first morning, trying to match the difficult bright, sunny, calm conditions with finding a location that would challenge her, she readily suggested heading back to the studio and working on post-production. This was really helpful because sometimes the weather can be too good! Strange to say but overcast and stormy conditions can be ideal for seascape photography, just so long as there's some definition in the clouds and plenty of lens cloths to hand. As it was, her days saw unbroken blue skies and 22 degrees of solid sunshine. So we adapted around this. She got some good shots down on Bedruthan Steps the following day where the high cliffs absorb a lot of light but the studio was where she really enjoyed herself. Eleanor, really got to grips with the processing stages and by the third day we were using all the tools available within the realms of what I consider to be acceptable image refinement. This excludes merging imagery (outside stitching panoramas), dropping in objects or adding skies and anything to do with HDR compositing. Call me old-fashioned but photography-by-numbers doesn't float my boat.

When it came to her final morning, we got together in the studio and spent the best part of an hour trying to choose the single image Eleanor would have printed out to take home. I was happy to see her Cornish Seascape portfolio was really wide-ranging and that her shortlist included twelve photographs. Not bad for a 3 day workshop.

Here's Eleanor's review of her Cornish Seascape Workshop...

Hi Chris

I had a pretty good journey home yesterday considering it was a Friday! The A30 around Bodmin had serious delays through the roadworks which set me back 30 mins or so, but otherwise it was OK.
I've downloaded all my images and copied the Tiff files onto my computer and backed them up so it's fine for you to take them off your system now.

I really enjoyed the workshop and I'll be recommending you to our camera club. Thank you so much for all your guidance and encouragement. I learnt such a lot, came out of my comfort zone and made images that I never thought possible...

The meals were lovely and the kindness and welcome that both you and Sam showed me made the week all the more enjoyable.

All the very best to you both