Friday, 20 September 2019 16:34

    Landscape Photography: Doing A Weekend Workshop

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    Infrared Tree Shot

    One of the many, many ways to learn about photography is doing a weekend workshop. Photography workshops are an interesting alternative to self study and are almost always aimed at an intermediate level. Partly because it's hard to get beginners to fork over money for skills they're not even sure they want yet, and even harder to get "know it all" expert photographers to admit they don't know everything. Pros are often time poor, and have their own projects too, so it's not overly surprising that some find spending time with the newbies a bit harder to justify. (Hey, no judgements here).

    An incredibly artistic, skilled, and wonderfully humble friend works for an art gallery in rural NSW. He invited Wren and this wayward Ham to a weekend workshop on landscape photography that his gallery was hosting. Being in the middle of nowhere, it's surprisingly hard to get the numbers to run a workshop like this, and I needed a weekend away, so off we went. Wren and I were two of just seven attendees. My friend made a third. He's an amazingly experienced photographer, having photographed many challenging, highly reflective works of pottery made by members of his family (including himself), and many of his pictures are featured in artistic magazines, gallery "coffee table" books, and so on.

    Back to me though, because I'm the only topic I'm really qualified to talk about. :-)

    Signing up for the workshop was interesting, and surprisingly haphazard. However, I was asked to answer the usual questions about things like:

    • How experienced are you with the technical aspects of photography?
    • What is your primary camera?
    • Have you done landscape photography before?
    • What do you hope to get out of this workshop?

    The first three questions, when I answered them on behalf of myself and Wren, re-reading my response made me pause.

    Wren and I have been shooting pics for years, in numerous countries, and varied subjects. Even though we have shot together for so long and have learned from each other, we still have very different styles of shooting. Wren is more "in the moment" and intuitive in her "on location" work, but hugely technical with her post processing. Whereas I am more technical in shooting (certainly not post processing) and often use preconceived ideas, planning, and strategic execution. I then use some exotic... perhaps even eccentric software and techniques to do my post processing. We can shoot the same thing and come with wildly divergent shots. Nonetheless when you have to articulate how good someone is (you or others) it's often surprising how far we've both come.

    My last answer, seemed to resonate a bit with Bill Green, the guy running the workshop. When I arrived, he asked me if he could use my final answer in the class itself. Of course, days had passed since I submitted it, and I was wracking my brains trying to recall what (if any) profundity had been instilled into a bureaucratic process like filling out a form. If you're interested, here's my response:


    I think life has gotten in the way of our recreational photography. We're both looking for inspiration and 
    it's always interesting to see how others approach their photography. Everyone has something to teach us,
    and we understand that. I also find that beginners have interesting ways of asking questions, which helps
    to refine my own understanding, and allows me to teach others more effectively down the track.

    This will happen to many photographers, whether they're hobbyists, or seasoned professionals, and an open mind will always be invaluable.


    Landscape workshops often have a class component, and a "go out and shoot" component. Whether the class is actually in a classroom or outdoors is entirely up to the person running the show... and the outdoor component is often subject to the vagaries of weather, transport, locations to shoot, and of course, the people in the class. The class will cover basics of equipment, exposure and composition. This usually involves example shots projected (often poorly) onto a screen.

    I think it's good to see kindred spirits on the "photographic journey", whether they're just starting out, beaten up with hard-won experience, and/or beaten down with old age. It's funny, some beginners run with far newer and better gear than I own. Most of mine is showing signs of age. I've upgraded my Canon DSLR rig a few times in the last decade or so, but I seem reluctant to part with any of it, so I re-purpose my old cameras to backup bodies, or in one case, converted it to infrared.

    Now, think about this, if you're going out to the same location, to take photos of the landscape, the odds are people are going to shoot the same thing, perhaps with differing exposures, and perhaps with slightly, or not-so-slightly differing angles. At the end of the day, I think it's important to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Whether that's a choice to shoot a tree on the other side of a steep hill, come back, realise that you left your entire camera bag back up the hill, and have to run back and get it... like.. <cue bashful muttering here> I did.

    Or just forgo the visible spectrum and shoot with a camera few people are likely to have. In my case, it's a circa 2008 model Canon 40D permanently modified to shoot only in the colour-tinged areas infrared. Of course, that camera was calibrated to a focal length.. <again cue bashful muttering> that I've completely forgotten what I told the conversion team to calibrate the focus system to.... yes, I know.

    So my solution? Magnified live view + Tripod + Timer Release +  Manual focus = Focused images! (See I showed my working and got the right answer). Note that I said focused, not necessarily sharp. Infrared is a much wider range of the spectrum than the visible part, and as such, there's going to be an inherent level of "softness" to the image. Great for smoothing skin in portraits.. just a shame about the pasty complexions. 

    Back to the workshop...

    After doing a full day, then a sunset shoot, then back to my friends place for dinner, then I had to get up in the dark to do a sunrise shoot, most of an hour's drive away, then do that shoot, then back to the classroom, I started to look at my images, only to find...

    That my memory card had failed. <Aaaaaargh>

    <cue my relief that I'm an I.T. guy>

    So I spent most of Sunday afternoon, using data recovery software as the class talked about composition techniques to get my hard-earned infrared pics back. So here are some of them:


    I call the pic above, "Photographers, chasing the light". I guess that means I was shooting from the shadows. That "slightly pink, but we'll call that white" hill was covered in grass (not snow). See how sunlit grass appears white, while shadows are almost pitch black? That's infrared for you! That tree to the left of this shot is the same one as above.

     You know that tree on the other side of a steep hill I was talking about, this is the one!


    Anyway, I wasn't the only one who earned some hard-won experience. One of the women dropped their lens, and broke their lens hood and filter. But it was just the filter and lens hood. eBay will be her next best friend.

    Then Wren and I had to drive the multiple hours back to Canberra... that was a long, long day for me.


    So there you have it, weekend photography workshop isn't always for the "faint of heart" but you get some real opportunities to refresh your knowledge, get some motivation to get out there and take pics, and of course, maybe teach some newbies a thing or two about what is possible, and hopefully give them some inspiration.

    Bill came up to us "advanced" shooters at the end on Sunday afternoon and said that he felt sorry that he couldn't help us as much as he would like. However, I don't really feel that I had the time to shoot the location and do the "hey how would you shoot this scene?". He had others to sort out and I'm relatively self sufficient.

    Anyway, I hope this doesn't scare you from doing workshops. Some come in the form of a few hours, a single day, others go for weeks as part of major hikes or tours. It's really a matter of how intensely you want to do something. Personally, I think learning is best done at a relaxed pace. It gives you a chance to absorb the info and tinker around.

    Go out there and take some pics with whatever camera you have!



    Read 767 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 August 2021 22:31

    Wayward Ham

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