My First Landscape Photography Workshop
It is 04:30 on a breezy Saturday morning in March. I am sat in my car in the National Trust car park at Blea Tarn. It is pitch black. The sun is not due to rise for another hour and a half.
Today is my first ever landscape photography workshop. I have organised a morning of photography with fellow YouTube photographer and close friend James Burns. And we are to be joined by 4 subscribers to our YouTube channels.
I wanted to be here early, to be the first to arrive. I think it sets a good impression. But perhaps I needn’t be here quite so early. I try to grab forty winks but I am too excited to sleep.
Eventually I see some headlights on the road and a car pulls into the car park. It is Ian Spicer.
I have already met Ian 7 days before at the Photography Show in Birmingham and then again yesterday. We had a very pleasant lunch with Jeff Ogden in Kendal, chatting about photography and YouTube.
Jeff is the next to arrive followed shortly by Cat Ding. The four of us stand chatting while we wait for Brian Smith. Soon it is 05:30 and it is time to set off for our first location. Brian has still not arrived. We later find out that his Sat Nav took him to a different Blea Tarn.
We start at the Tarn itself spreading out along the edge of the water. It is very boggy in places and I find it difficult to move between each of the other photographers.
They are getting ready for sunrise, lined up facing the view of the Langdale Pikes and Side Pike. For me the most obvious shot is a long exposure using the rocks as foreground interested. I am relieved that everyone else seems to agree. Get that shot in the bag and then look for something else.
Sunrise comes but we don’t get any light on the scene that is in front of us. In fact the brightest thing we see all morning is the orange jacket of my co-host when he arrives.
James is on good form and the banter between the two of us is soon flowing. The others seem to enjoy the friendship that James and I have. We have both been on a similar journey for the best part of two years. Today is another big step for us both and we are taking it together.
James and I share the same motivation for running workshops. A self confessed ‘loan ranger’ James has found spending time with other photographers to be an unexpected pleasure. Both of us have very supportive followings on YouTube. Today is about giving something back.
After a while James leads Ian and Jeff around to the eastern side of the tarn. Cat and I head in the opposite direction. Although this is the first time that Cat and I have met I have followed her on Instagram for some time. I already know that she is a good photographer. But I am also aware that she lacks confidence in her ability.
Confidence is critical for a photographer. Without it it is almost impossible to push the boundaries of our own creativity.
Any photographer will know exactly what I mean when I say we are all on an emotional roller-coaster. I know that regardless of the conditions 90% of the time I will come away with at least one shot that I am happy with. But the other 10% when I walk away with nothing can have a devastating impact on my own confidence.
As we set up our shots she needs no help from me. The wind dies down for a few moments and I manage to grab a shot of the reflections of Side Pike.
I decide that the best approach with Cat is to leave her to her own devices. From what I have seen on the back of her camera she already has two very good shots. The last thing she needs now is me sticking my oar in.
Cat and I head north and wait for the others at the foot of Side Pike. While we are waiting we are approached by another photographer. I recognize him instantly as Phil Buckle, a local professional landscape photographer. Phil and I have met before so my ego takes a hammering when he doesn’t recognize me.
We chat with Phil while we wait for the others to catch up. When they eventually arrive they have been joined by Brian. Unfortunately Brian has a bad back and can’t join us as we climb Side Pike. Almost as quickly as he has joined us we have to say goodbye.
The ascent of Side Pike is one of my favourites in the Lake District. Technically it is not a fell in it’s own right but the short climb is quite technical in places.
We stop by a lone tree that Phil had told us about earlier. The others set about getting a shot but the scene is not for me. It is too complicated with too many elements competing for attention. I know my limitations as a photographer and this composition is beyond me.
After a while I leave the group in James’s capable hands and climb to a vantage point that is much more to my liking. The light is too harsh now to get a good shot but I grab one anyway as a record.
Originally we had planned to end the workshop there. However, James suggests that we head up to Lingmoor Fell and everyone in the group agrees with him.
We drop down the side of Side Pike, squeeze through a gap in the rocks known as ‘Fat Man’s Agony’ and start to climb Lingmoor Fell.
After a short climb we stop to admire the view of Side Pike. Despite the harshness of the light we all decide to get out the cameras and have a crack at it. I spend some time discussing the main points of interest in the scene with Ian helping him to understand how to frame his composition.
Before long we resume the climb stopping regularly to chat. There is evidence everywhere of the heather from which Lingmoor Fell gets its name (Lyng is an old Norse word meaning ‘heather covered’). James and I vow to return later in the year when it is flowering.
Once we reach the summit the only shot anyone is interested in is a group selfie. “Anyone got a tripod?” jokes Ian. I had been preparing that same joke myself all the way up Lingmoor Fell. The bugger beat me to it!
We don’t spend very long at the summit and are soon descending towards the car park at Blea Tarn. James leads us through an area of dead trees that offer huge potential but once again it is a little chaotic for my tastes.
I’d rather help Ian work his compositions as he tries shots of Side Pike and Pike o Blisco.
Ian is probably the least experienced of the group but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in enthusiasm. A keen angler Ian speaks with passion on a number of subjects. It’s clear to me that it is his love of the outdoors that drives his photography.
Ian is typical of many novice photographers. I think he finds it frustrating that he is unable to translate what he sees and feels into his images. This of course will come in time. Ian has a keen eye and certain affinity with the natural world, both great traits in a landscape photographer.
Ian is the only non-Canon shooter in the group and he has already been the butt of a few of our jokes. But he is clearly having problems with his Fuji. He admits that he doesn’t know his camera as well as he should. I explain that for both James and I operating our cameras is second nature allowing us to concentrate on the difficult task of taking a decent photo. A point that he accepts with admirable grace. I like Ian a lot.
Time is getting on and so Ian and I set off in search of Jeff. We find him working a composition of a lone tree. He admits that he is struggling a little and so I remind him of the old adage “if your photos are not good enough you are not close enough” and offer him my wide angle lens. He accepts.
I have spent a fair amount of time with Jeff over the last few days and we have become good friends. This is our third shoot together and the change in him is remarkable.
2 days ago he was a little nervous, easy distracted and gladly accepting of any guidance that I had to offer. On Lingmoor Fell he is confident, focused and happy to do his own thing, often taking himself away from the group to explore on his own.
A week or so after the workshop Jeff shares with me the images from his time in the Lake District. Amongst them is a shot of Maiden Moor from Catbells that he took a couple of days after the workshop. It is a cracker, well composed and beautifully edited. I feel very proud of him.
Once Jeff has finished we take the route straight down the fell back to were the cars are parked, collecting Cat on the way. We leave James to wander on Lingmoor Fell alone – a lone ranger once more.
I have been in touch with Cat, Jeff and Ian since the workshop.
Cat pinged me her favourite images via Facebook messenger. I am very impressed by them, particularly her shots of Blea Tarn. As I didn’t spend as much time with her as with the others have offered her a 1-2-1 session which I am pleased that she has accepted.
Ian sent both James and I a couple of his images. Given the problems that he had wrestling with his camera he has done well. I had cause to ring Ian a couple of days later after a half case of excellent French wine appeared on my doorstep. I wonderful gesture that is greatly appreciated.
Ian and I have scheduled some time in the diary for a 1-2-1 Skype session covering Lightroom.
Jeff sent me a link to a Flickr gallery containing the images from his time in the Lake District. We chatted on the phpne and went through them one by one. He has some good photos but the shot of Maiden Moor stood out for me. I am trying to persuade him to get it printed.
Both Jeff and Ian have sent James and I feedback about how we could improve the workshops. They have raised some excellent points and given the two of us a lot to think about. We greatly appreciate the time that they took to share their thoughts.
On reflection I have to feel that my first workshop was a success; I certainly enjoyed myself.
I got to spend time with three wonderful people that share my passion for photography. While they may have come away with a few nice images I feel that James and I have come away with three new friends.
Since the workshop James and I have agreed to run another in June. We have also started putting together a program of workshops for the autumn.
For me personally the impact of my first workshop has been profound. I took so much satisfaction in the achievements of Cat, Ian and Jeff that I cannot help but think that this is what I am supposed to be doing.
I have allowed myself to fantasise about making my living from helping others get the most out of this wonderful pastime. Now wouldn’t that be something!