Workshop review – Coastal Long Exposures with Aspect2i

As I was due to be in Rye for a wedding on a Saturday in March, this 1 day (Sunday) workshop seemed like the perfect opportunity to make the most of the trip and get some advice on long exposures using my new Hitech 10 stop filter.

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The group makes a start with Jon’s instructions

 

Initially the workshop was sold out so I joined a waiting list but Aspect 2i were soon in touch to let me know another date was available, and since I couldn’t make that date, to offer to accommodate me as an extra on the workshop – providing I took my own car which I though was very nice of them.  Unfortunately Michael Pilkington who was due to run the course was unavailable for a period and for some reason I didn’t receive the usual emails about payment, joining instructions etc and so I had to get in touch a week before to find out if it was still going ahead.  It was at this point I was told that Jon Gibbs would be running the workshop instead but yes it was going ahead and here were the instructions.  While I’d normally have a moan about having to chase for information I think in this case Michael’s unavailability was the issue, along with the fact I was an extra and therefore probably got missed off some things, so I wouldn’t like to comment generally on the communication of the company.

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On the day I was met at the rendezvous by Jon who was full of energy and excitement for the day ahead – a great start!  We were eventually 4 learners on the workshop which is a nice small number and there was a good variety of levels of familiarity with the area and with long exposures.  We headed out on an easy but pretty long (about 45 minutes) walk out to the groins down the coast where we set up for the first shots.  I’ll get the whinging out of the way immediately – we spent most of the day at this location and there were no toilets apart from those a 45 minute walk back at the car park, and that’s a long time to hold your bladder!

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Jon started the session with a demonstration of the set up for long exposures, including how to calculate the ND grad needed to balance the sky and suggested apertures and shutter speeds using a handy 10 stop chart he provided (I’m hanging on to this!).  We then had some time to have a go ourselves, with Jon on hand to help us navigate our various individual camera menus and help us get everything set up.  Jon’s got a great teaching manner, plenty of humour and a plain-speaking way of explaining things that meant I’d picked up the basics in no time – thanks Jon!  I’d fulfilled my aims for the session in the first hour and half which is great going and meant I had the rest of the day to finesse it and get feedback and advice from Jon on composition.

After lunch we began moving back along the beach, looking out for other composition options as we went. Jon and my fellow workshoppers were really flexible throughout the day so we took time to stop for some detail shots, some abstracts and even some equine images as we worked our way along. Jon didn’t have his own camera with him so he was 100% available to us throughout.  There are pros and cons of the tutor not having a camera, sometimes I find it useful to see what images the tutor is making as we go along because I’m interested in the compositional techniques but likewise it could be a distraction.

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The one thing I must say about this workshop was how much we laughed and what a fun day it was.  This was largely down the having a great group of people.  All passionate about photography and with lots of share, it was a superb group and Jon was very patient with us throughout.

Like I said, I learnt a lot at the very outset and the time to practice means I think this will stick with me.  I’m not sure I’ll go back to this particular location in a hurry though.  It was nice and quiet which was good, but the remoteness is an issue and I’m not sure there are enough compositional options to warrant another day.  If I do return to the area I think I’ll explore some other sections of the coastline, using the techniques from this workshop.  If I was making recommendations here I would definitely recommend Jon as a tutor – he does his own workshops as well as those through Aspect 2i and if I’m ever on the Norfolk coast then I’ll be seeking him out for a 1:1 as well as keeping an eye on what he’s up to with Aspect 2i.  A long exposure workshop is a great way to nail the basics of this popular branch of photography so I’d recommend looking for one if you’re interested in getting started, although I don’t know if Aspect 2i are planning to re-run this particular one.  If they do I think they must consider a different location or at least a quicker way of getting between the photography and the facilities.

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Follow up wise, Jon was quickly in touch and did ask us to share images with him. I got some good feedback on the day and afterwards which was really nice and I’m keeping in touch with Jon on social media so that’s great. I’ve not had any follow up from Aspect 2i so again, I can’t really comment on the company.

All in all I got a lot out of this day and the great company meant that despite some discomfort it was a lot of fun and certainly great value for money at just £120.  I’d like to thank Jon and my fellow workshoppers for a highly enjoyable and useful day!

Coastal Photography and Long Exposures – Great introduction and fabulous tutor!

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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Workshop review – Yorkshire Dales with Lizzie Shepherd and Oliver Wright

Back in October I went on a 1 day photography workshop in the Yorkshire Dales with Lizzie Shepherd and Oliver Wright, and I’m afraid I only just realised that I failed to write a review – apologies for the delay!

The major strength of this workshop was the sheer number and variety of locations we visited.  We covered everything from limestone pavement (see above) to waterfalls, via a salmon run and Bolton Abbey’s woodland.  If anything we ran rather late in order to cover all the locations and by the time we were ready to leave it was almost completely dark.

Lizzie and Ollie make a great team; they are landscape photographers but each with a different style and approach and neither is 100% fixated on the grand vistas, something which I really appreciated as due to a very foggy start and overcast skies those big scenery shots were never really on the cards.

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Bolton Abbey estate on a misty day in Autumn

The workshop was very relaxed, participants had a variety of experience levels, a variety of kits and a variety of photographic interests.  Inevitably there were lots of questions about gear choices and recommendations from the group and our leaders did a great job of answering from personal experience and with an appreciation of limited budgets.  They were also happy to loan lenses and other kit for us to try although I declined a loan of Ollie’s Canon 70-300L lens for fear of falling in love with such a pricey bit of glass!

 

Probably the main learning points for me were from Lizzie on creating abstracts with branches and leaves and in particular how to look for background colours and use cooler white balance for effect (see below) and from Ollie around finding interesting compositions in otherwise ‘chocolate box’ scenes. I found Lizzie in particular to be really great at sharing the images she was making and talking about why she chose that composition and how she’d process it later.  No question was too daft and with only 5 of us on the workshop with 2 tutors there was plenty of opportunity to ask questions and get tips on creating your own images.  Ollie is so positive and excited by photography that even I sometimes felt I’d managed a really worthy image and I certainly came away walking a little taller (photographically speaking – I think it’s a little late to get above 5ft 2 now!

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All participants were given the opportunity to get feedback on a couple of images after the workshop, and we were also sent a full location list afterwards which was really nice.  Ollie and Lizzie obviously care about improving their workshops as there was a pretty comprehensive feedback questionnaire – which I find reassuring!

Pace wise this was a pretty long and busy day and there was quite a lot of walking and a bit of scrambling down some dodgy paths to get to one location, so if you’re less sure on your feet or unable to walk comfortably for up to 30 minutes I would ensure that you let Lizzie and Ollie know in advance. I’m sure they would be able to accommodate you as they were very understanding if reservations were expressed about some activities. You’ll definitely want sturdy boots and waterproofs too, it will only be called off in extremely bad weather.  Also bring water, a flask of tea and plenty of snacks as it’s easy to get carried away and we didn’t stop for lunch until 2pm having started at 6.30am.

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Location wise, Lizzie advised me to base myself at Settle which was perfect as it has good road connections to all the possible start locations. I stayed at Littlebank Country House which I found on Booking.com for £70 per night. It’s a tad tricky to find but once you’re there it’s very nice and homey and the owners were wonderful, they even set me out an early breakfast for my early start!

All in all this was a superb workshop! The Yorkshire Dales is really stunning in the autumn and I’m really glad to have benefitted from Lizzie and Ollie’s local knowledge, next time I’m in the area I’ll have a really good idea of where to go for the best autumn colours.

 

Autumn in the Yorkshire Dales – Highly recommended for autumn colour and exploring

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 **

Top 3 Photography Magazines

The weather has been so foul recently that I’ve found myself huddling close to the radiator, photography magazine in one hand and cup of tea in the other. I know that the hardier landscape photographers of my acquaintance will be out there regardless, capturing the fleeting moment of dazzling light between the rain and the gale force winds, but I have frankly no inclination to join them.

Photography magazines come in many flavours, but here are my top choices just in case you’re wondering what might be good. Or perhaps you’re fed up with seeing the same re-hashed seasonal stories in your current magazine. Yes, this is a perrenial problem in photography magazines, there are only so many guides to shooting “in low light” “for autumn colour” “long exposures” and so on, that you can really be interested in!
1) Lenswork

I talked about the Lenswork podcast in my photography podcasts guide last year, and everything I said about it also applies to the print magazine.  It’s a small format, bi-monthly magazine produced in the US but easy and not too expensive to subscribe to in the UK.  Lenswork is primarily a showcasing magazine with portfolios of work from different photographers each month plus editorials.  The thing I like best about Lenswork is the sheer variety of work they show.  You’ll get brand new work from digital photographers alongside a collection of black and white film images from the 1960s.  The editor and I clearly share some taste in photography as there is rarely a portfolio I do not enjoy and given the mixture of landscape, abstracts and documentary style work that is saying something.

I’ve just renewed my Lenswork subscription because so far I’ve found no repetition in the editorial articles and they are always thoughtful and accessible.  For what is essentially a fine art publication the writing style is neither arty nor snooty and retains a conversational style throughout. I also bought the book “The Creative Life in Photography” by Lenswork editor Brooks Jensen and thoroughly recommend it!

2) Black + White Photography

Black + White photography walks a fine line between showcase and teaching magazine.  The whole aesthetic of the print publication is cool and high quality and they spend a good deal of time on both inspiration and perspiration. By that I mean that you’ll find plenty of portfolios from talented people (inspiration) alongside project ideas you can try yourself (perspiration).  The great thing about the projects is that they aren’t formulas for creating certain images, they are just ideas to get you thinking.

Another great feature of recent editions has been articles on printing, and not just how to get a nice print (which is in itself useful!) but also ideas for making things like booklets and other forms of presentation.  I really like this holistic approach to photography, its about more than just making the image, it’s about the whole process from visualisation to printed product.  I really think that reading this magazine has made me think more creatively about what I do with my images as well as how I make them.

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3) Aesthetica

While not strictly a photography magazine, Aesthetica is the latest edition to my print subscriptions and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve recently become interested in fashion photography and opted for this subscription because it carries plenty of art, fashion and pop culture material and will I think be a great source of inspiration for styling shoots (and possibly my wardrobe!). Aesthetica does feature a lot of photography, some is featured as photography but much is editorial accompaniment and even that is really beautiful.

There’s also a lot of great information about exhibitions all over the world, and since I’m not likely to get to many of them it’s great to read about the artists and see a snapshot of the content, all while drinking a coffee at home.

Since this is quite a new subscription for me it’s hard to say whether the content will start to repeat, but I’m hopeful that it’s focus on current and upcoming exhibitions and new work will mean that it won’t.  In any case I recommend picking up a couple of issues if you’re at all interested in art, fashion or pop culture in the broader sense.

Workshop Review – Macro with Chameleon Photography

Review of macro photography workshop with Chameleon Photography, Surrey

It’s taken me 3 weeks to get around to writing this review because I’m still processing all the lovely images from the day!

However, I want to share this now before all the details go out of my head – so here you go.

Barking gecko

Chameleon Photography is based near Frimley in Surrey and offers workshops at their studio (based at the owners house) as well as animal experiences for birthday parties, schools and groups.  I chose Chameleon partly because they are reasonably local to me but also because macro photography workshops are pretty few and far between and I was particularly interested in photographing insects and small animals rather than flowers.  Groups are limited to 3 photographers too and as I knew I’d have a lot of questions, it was reassuring to know that I wouldn’t be fighting for attention.

Prior to the event Roy (the owner) contacted me by email to see what species I was particularly interested in and to check dietary requirements (sandwich lunch with homemade bread was provided – yum!) and when I arrived I was met by Geoff (the other owner) and my two companions for the workshop.  The studio is cosy but comfy with strobes and backgrounds all set up and various habitats and props available for the creatures. I was a bit nervous as flash is not normally my friend and one of the major questions I wanted to ask was about how on earth to start with flash, but I needn’t have worried as the set up was all explained really well and Roy helped me get the camera setting sorted to start with.

The first thing I have to mention is the sheer number and variety of animals available. There were over 20 different animals including geckos, chameleons and other lizards, snakes, frogs, mantis, spiders, mice and millipedes.  There were so many gorgeous animals it was like running around in a zoological sweetshop and we ran well over the allotted time despite having cut our lunch break to the minimum to gulp down a sarnie and a cuppa.  Roy and Geoff have developed a superb working relationship with Global Geckos who loan them animals for use at these workshops in addition to their personal collections.  The animals we had were in excellent condition and were generally very cooperative in posing for photos – just beautiful.  As is normal for me, at one point I got distracted by a gecko and forgot to use my camera but despite this I still got a fantastic array of images and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Harvest Mouse

Geoff and Roy are both great photographers who had tons of great tips to share and really took the time to answer my questions and show me how to use the techniques in other situations, including in the field. I spent most of the day shooting with Geoff’s Canon 100mm IS macro lens (if any one has one they’re not using please let me know – I need it!!!) and my standard 50mm came in handy too.  Geoff and Roy both regularly checked my images through the day and provided feedback on composition, exposure and how to get the shots I wanted.  This was all done highly constructively and I also learnt a lot from talking to my workshop companions and looking at their images and approach as well. Both were keen camera clubbers and it was intriguing to learn about how that influenced the shots they made as they worked at getting good scores at the next meeting – I’m not sure I could stand the pressure of that!

What also came across really well is the passion that Roy and Geoff have for their animals, so as well as plaguing them with photography questions I also learnt a lot about the animals and that was well worth the cost of the workshop even without the photography.  I’ve always loved animals of all kinds but particularly snakes and reptiles so for me this was a fantastic opportunity to get up close with them in the company of experts whose passion was contagious.

Bearded DragonSince the workshop Roy has been in touch with some gear recommendations and we’ve looked at some of the images from the day. Once I get through them all I think I’ll send over a selection for comments and I’m pretty sure I’ll get some good feedback.

All in all this is a superb workshop which I’d particularly recommend in the winter when the weather outside is not reliable. I think it’s most suited to animal lovers looking to improve their macro work or who just want to get close the animals and learn about them while getting some great images.  It is a studio set up with flashes so if you’re looking for macro ‘in the wild’ this is not for you, although I certainly think there are things you can learn which will apply in the wild as well and Roy and Geoff will help you with that.  1:1s are available if you prefer but I did enjoy the small group and if you’ve got a couple of friends you can go with it’s ideal.  The location is pretty easy to get to with satnav and there’s plenty of parking.  You don’t need masses of kit, no tripods just a macro lens and a standard prime or zoom is fine.  The price for the full day, 10am to 4pm (ish) is £140 including lunch.

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I had a fantastic day and definitely plan to go again!

Workshop Recommendation

Macro workshop at Chameleon Photography – Highly recommended for animal lovers wanting to get up close

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 ***

Workshp review – Pembrokeshire with Drew Buckley

Review of 1:1 photo workshop with Drew Buckley

Just a very quick post as I’ve got a massive pile of editing to do following a great workshop today (of which more later!)

Last summer I made a pilgrimage to my ancestral home of Pembrokeshire and was fortunate to arrange a 1:1 workshop with Drew Buckley. Despite the fact it was late August, the sun was glaring and the wildflowers had long since frazzled – Drew managed to guide me on a wonderful coastal walk that allowed some stunning views and taught me a whole lot about ND filters and polarisers.
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Here’s the review I wrote shortly after the experience

“I had a fantastic morning walking the Pembrokeshire coast path with Drew, exploring the various photographic opportunities the area has to offer.  Drew is great fun to hang out with and when you put that together with expert local knowledge and his ability to share his photography expertise, you’ve got a recipe for a great time.  I learnt a huge amount about composition, settings and the use of filters and came away with a few great shots too.  Drew happily answered all my silly questions and was nothing but encouraging despite my butter fingers. I’d definitely recommend a one to one session with Drew for anyone who wants to learn more about capturing high impact landscape shots, or for anyone just looking to carve out some top quality photo time during a family holiday to Pembrokeshire.”

I mention this now because Drew has some superb offers on for Christmas including a half day workshop voucher for just £75 so it’s a great time to treat yourself or another to this great experience.

 

Workshop Recommendation

Pembrokeshire 1:1 with Drew Buckley – 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 **

For more details on workshops with Drew visit www.drewbuckleyphotography.com or follow him on Twitter @drewbphoto

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 (http://www.stewartsmithphotography.co.uk/) 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!

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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 *

The importance of learning

As you get better at photography, it’s tempting to think you don’t need to go on courses or workshops any more.  You’ve mastered your camera controls, you’re happy with your work – so what is there left to learn?

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I try and go on at least one, preferably more, workshops or courses on photography each year. I tend to choose locations that are interesting, then look at who’s doing what there and really try and pick someone whose work is not like mine at all to go and learn from.  This does several things;

  • If I’ve booked a day course, it allows me to carve out a whole day just for photography.  I can’t be side-tracked into random household tasks or persuaded to go visit someone or help with something – I’m expected at the course and that’s that!
  • Regardless of the weather I’ll still be going – so I’ve ended up out in conditions I never would have chosen and as a result I’ve learnt a lot about how to find great images regardless of fog, grey skies, damp or even ridiculously bright sunshine.
  • There’s always something to learn from someone else – you might not agree with how they do things, but I figure it’s better to be informed about the alternatives to your own way of working. Sometimes your way won’t work and it’s helpful to have other options up your sleeve.
  • Local photographers know their home turf in a way that no amount of Google Earth research can replicate. If you’re visiting a new area, get someone to guide you for a day and you’ll be set with places to visit for the future.
  • The photographers I’ve met on workshops, pros and amateurs alike are usually top people who are fun to be with.  Ok so you get the odd ‘character’ but that could happen anywhere! Photography is normally quite a solitary pursuit – at least for me and I like it that way – but sometimes it’s good to get out there and enjoy the fact there are a bunch of other people who love this game as much as I do.

I have this theory though, which is that as it gets harder to make money as a professional photographer (great article on Myths of Becoming a Pro from improvephotography.com) more photographers are turning to running workshops as an income stream. This leads to great choice for consumers like me, but being an awesome photographer is not the same thing as being a good teacher or a good workshop leader. Being able to communicate about photography, being able to share knowledge and inspire creativity are not skills that always accompany a highly developed photographic talent.

So if you’re looking for a course or workshop be sure to ask around for recommendations. Don’t rely on testimonials on the photographer’s website, they will only post the good stuff there (although if there are not testimonials at all that might be a bad sign!). Similarly reviews online can be misleading as we are a nation of complainers and usually you’ll find many more reviews that are negative than that are positive and that may not be a fair assessment. For example I’ve seen reviews that complain about the weather (hardly the workshop’s fault!), that the course was too technical (should really have checked this before signing up!) etc etc.

Ask people you trust for their recommendations and always be sure to contact the photographer beforehand to check that the content, level, pace and locations are what you want. If they send you a pre-course questionnaire fill it out honestly and provide as much information as you can about what you’re looking to learn, improve or photograph and be honest about your abilities (both photographically and physically) otherwise you’ll be hampering the photographer from the start. If you have questions during the workshop then ask them. If you’re not comfortable asking questions in a group situation then it may be worth considering booking a 1:1 session rather than a group workshop – I’ve done both and found them equally rewarding!

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Over the new few weeks I’ll be blogging about the courses and workshops I’ve done over the last couple of years with a few recommendations. Stay tuned!