Workshop review – Lake District with Stewart Smith

In March of 2013 on a family climbing holiday in France a photographer friend of mine introduced me to Lightroom.  I mention this because for me this was something of a turning point, but not necessarily in the way you might think.  As I watched avidly while he tweaked that day’s photos, what occurred to me was that editing software such as this must make photography accessible to a huge number of people.  While it will never make a bad photograph awesome, it does make mediocre photographs somewhat less mediocre – and it went a long way to explaining the madly saturated colours I was seeing on sites such as 500px and Flickr!

This got me thinking about what I was really trying to do with my photography and led to the realisation that what really made the difference in a photograph was not the number of pixels, the saturation, the amount of noise or even the sharpness of the focus – but the composition.  I realised that if I wanted to stand out as a photographer, to make beautiful images, I needed to work on composition.  At the same time I found myself making more images of the landscape, of the flowers and trees and of the sky and yet these were not working out like I’d hoped.  Until then I had been mainly photographing rock climbers and I’d become pretty good at this, able to anticipate when a movement would be made that created a good shape or a sense of movement, or when to zoom in on the face to capture the exertion or concentration.  By comparison my landscapes appeared flat and boring, not at all doing justice to the scene I was seeing.

So, in August of 2013 I set out on a grey, damp morning with Stuart Smith ( a Lake District based landscape photographer, with the intention of learning the art of composing landscapes.  I identified Stuart from some basic online searching.  First off I tried the back pages of the magazines where various workshop companies plied their wares but I couldn’t find anything in the location I wanted at the time I needed. I chose to go with Stuart based on a few things, firstly on the portfolio of images on his website – they represented the kind of thing I wanted to aim at and I found them to be visually inspiring.  Secondly I found several articles Stuart had written for various magazines that were of a ‘how to’ nature and they were really well structured and not at all patronising – I felt this spoke to a genuine desire to help people learn and the ability to communicate.  Thirdly, in his replies to my initial enquiry Stuart was friendly and helpful and I felt we had a good (albeit electronic) rapport.

I also think that 1:1 workshops are superb value if you get a good one.  I imagine Stuart has raised his prices now (I hope so!) but I got half a day’s coaching for just £70 which is an absolute bargain.

I had a wonderful time walking around Buttermere with Stuart, he taught me about leading lines, looking for curves and shapes in the scene, balancing the sky, mid-ground and foreground in the composition by placing the camera at different heights and a whole host of other things about composition that I am still using across all areas of my photography (not just landscapes). I don’t think I’ll ever really be a landscape photographer, I’m not good enough at early starts, but Stuart’s imparted wisdom has stayed with me. It was all totally practical, usable and easy to put into practice.  The day we had was grey and dull which wasn’t great but with Stuart’s help I did come away with some images that although not stunning in themselves, felt like the start of something great!

Buttermere Lone Tree – taken on workshop

All in all this was a great first workshop and one I have since recommended to friends.  Below are some comments from my friend Jeremy Lucas who went on a 1:1 with Stuart this year based on my recommendation.

“I wanted to find out more about depth of field v diffraction and the use of higher f numbers. He [Stuart Smith] explained it all very clearly and constantly gave me tips on using graduated and polarising filters, composition at each site we went to and separation on the image to make it more interesting and balanced.”

Jeremy Lucas – workshop particpant 2015

Jeremy Lucas
Image by Jeremy Lucas


Top Workshop Tip No.1

If you are looking to fit some photography learning into a pre-planned trip such as a family holiday, it’s worth looking for a 1:1 session so that you can have it exactly when it works for you.

Top Workshop Tip No.2

Check out a photographers website, blog and social media feeds but also look for magazine articles before you book with them. Look for someone who not only has a great portfolio, but who’s style appeals to you and who has evidence of a genuine appetite for teaching.

Top Workshop Tip No.3

Chat to the photographer by email or on the phone before booking, see if you can establish a reasonable rapport – if you don’t click or they don’t engage, look for someone else.

Workshop Recommendation

Lake District 1:1 with Stuart Smith – highly recommended!

Aspect Star Rating (out of 5*)
Ease of booking ****
Pre-event communications ***
Personalisation and 1:1 attention *****
Information and Learning ****
Approachability *****
Location ****
Cost *****
Image review and feedback **
Post-event feedback and follow-up *

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