Castello Ceconi

Why 4 is the magic number

New things are always exciting and I was really looking forward to the all new ‘Complete Photographer’ course. When the four delegates arrived on the first day, I had a good feeling. By the last day, they had proved to be a great bunch who really gelled and were eager to learn. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer team of people and four was the perfect number for the style of the course. It allowed me to deliver a programme of personal, intensive training with a level of support and feedback that complemented the course content. The progress that delegates made has convinced me to restrict my next series of Complete Photographer workshops to four.

Day 0 Back to Basics

This was a free optional day, relaxed and informal but a good way to ease into the course. It was all about introductions and getting to know a little bit about skill sets and expectations. Over a hearty and well appreciated lunch, accommodation came up in discussion; there are plenty of B & Bs and nearby small country hotels to choose from and delegates had found rooms, with breakfast, at prices between £30 and £50 a night. In the afternoon, I took everyone through a ‘Back to Basics’ refresher on the camera and its controls, methods of focusing, sensors and lenses. They left with their first assignment, to be completed that evening – nothing onerous but a task designed to make people really think about composition.

Day 1 Learning to Light

‘Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.’ George Eastman Old George wasn’t wrong. That’s why I began with a classroom based session on the subject and everyone returned, enthusiastic to learn about the value and importance of light. Yes, it’s obvious but knowing how to light a scene or a subject is not innate because we are used to letting our eyes do the work. Type, source, direction and intensity are the variables that make this a pretty complex subject. My aim was to get the delegates thinking about light, how it shapes everything around us and how they can make it work for them in the shots they take. We rounded off the day with a practical exercise: dropping slices of fruit and vegetables into water and freezing the action with speedlights. The assignment for the evening was designed to put some of the day’s learning into practice. It was good to see them buzzing with ideas as they left to complete the task. I set them something that required pair work. They chatted amongst themselves, agreed on a location and drove off in convoy. Great.

Day 2 Making the most of Location

Our changeable British weather put the kibosh on a sunrise shoot over the Lincolnshire Wolds. So, instead of a day shooting in the varied locations the area has to offer (rolling hills, woodland, rivers, beaches and country lanes) we went for the contingency plan. In the morning, we took our model to an early 13th century deconsecrated church. Here, I demonstrated how to seek out available light and how it can be supplemented with speedlights to provide either the key or fill light. In the afternoon,beneath a threatening sky, we drove a couple of miles to a pretty ford with wooden footbridges.

Delegates got their shots before the heavens opened and we rounded off the day with a very convivial meal at The Admiral Rodney, Horncastle.

Day 3 Studio and the Night Shooter

Saturday was studio day. I knew it would have to be pretty good as two of the delegates were avid football fans and they were making the supreme sacrifice to be here. Yes, they were missing the England v Russia game. We uses two models and a professional make-up artist – my wife, Helen.

This added another dimension to the shoot because it allowed delegates to learn and ask questions about what make-up can achieve when applied in a way which is appropriate for a specified genre. Helen explained the rudiments of correcting and emphasising facial features, outlining the benefits of using a trained professional.

In the morning, delegates learnt the principles of studio lighting, how to control it and how to use it to shape a subject’s face. After lunch, the second model was introduced for a session on beauty headshots and Helen talked through what she had done to achieve the look. Finally, our first model was brought back into the studio, now styled and made-up for a 1940s’ shoot. I talked through the approach and set up the lighting for Hollywood portraiture; each delegate was then given time to shoot. The aim of this part of the workshop was to emulate the distinctive photographic style of George Hurrell and C.S. Bull, recreating the glamour and mystique of the Hollywood stars but using
contemporary kit.

We took a couple of hours’ break before setting out to shoot in Lincoln after dark. Although it was far from the balmy, warm June night I would have liked, the quest for available light was made more interesting by the rain which gave us interesting colours and reflections. Available light sources are as varied and abundant as the characters on the streets of this historic cathedral city at night with its underpasses, street lamps, shop fronts, vehicle lights and cash machines. The River Witham runs through the city centre in Lincoln, adding drama and a reflective element to some of the shots captured that evening.

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Day 4 Workflow and Post Processing

The penultimate day of the six-day course was about Lightroom and Photoshop and the very distinct roles they play in the organisation and processing of images. The previous day’s assignment had been to choose one image from each set shot so far, in order to discuss possible approaches to processing. This meant that the delegates’ learning, whilst necessarily very broad, also had an immediate context; this stimulated discussion in the Q and A session at the end of the day.

Some had used Lightroom up to a point but I really wanted to unlock the mysteries of the software and demonstrate what a powerful tool it is when used correctly. We then moved on to Photoshop and I worked through an edit on one of the beauty headshots. My job was to demonstrate the functionality of Lightroom and Photoshop and show how they can complement each other to make workflow and post processing easier. Of course, becoming fully proficient in the use of any multi-faceted computer program takes time. That would have been an impossible goal for anyone. The idea was that the delegates would take away from the course their notes, my slides and a link to the video of the edit, using the resources as a foundation upon which to build.

Day 5 The Boudoir Experience

The boudoir shoot was optional but everyone had chosen to stay on the extra day. Using one model and a studio with a bedroom set, I showed the group how to achieve the kind of sensual image which characterises this photographic genre. Part of the training was to help delegates with the soft skills required because knowing how to communicate and put someone at their ease is as important as technical accuracy in this situation. I explained and demonstrated the use of natural light combined with on-camera flash and we worked through the poses with attention to those which flatter the contours of the face and body. With a range of shots in-camera, everyone was ready for lunch before a final classroom session. This consisted of a demonstration to show two different methods of retouching skin and colour grading.

To the power of 4

I have had great feedback from the course; the small group of 4 allowed for a level of individual attention which really works on this kind of course. Delegates have kept in touch and there has been plenty of chatting online - not least about the delicious lunches and refreshments. It turns out that there are many more reasons why size matters: smaller group, more cake!

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