Workshop Review: Photography by the Seaside

Earlier this year we gave away a day-long photography workshop with Tony Pick to the winner of January’s WEX Gallery competition (see the winning shot here). I was fortunate enough to be invited along to meet Peter, the winner, and hopefully learn a thing or two as well. As Tony’s workshops are bespoke, Peter chose to cover a bit of everything across the day: portraiture, landscape photography and an overview of Adobe Lightroom. We're giving away another bespoke workshop with Tony Pick in this month's WEX Gallery competition, find out more at the end of this post!

The setting for the day’s photography was the very picturesque town of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast. After a much-needed coffee, bacon butty and quick chat about the plan for the day we started with the first task - a review of our cameras to ensure we were both familiar with a few essential settings we’d be using throughout the day, including how to change auto-focus points, adjusting exposure compensation and selecting metering modes.

Portraiture in the street

The first part of the day was spent focusing (no pun intended) on portrait photography around the streets of Aldeburgh using both natural light and off-camera flash. I’ll be honest, I was a little skeptical about where we would shoot these portraits and how much variation there would be from location to location – Aldeburgh is not a big place – but we didn’t struggle at all to find interesting places to stop and shoot and I was quite amazed at the range of shots we took. Doing this session in Aldeburgh was actually a great lesson in the range of photos that are possible, in both style and location, in even a relatively small village. There should never be any shortage of creative opportunities, especially in much bigger towns and cities.

One of the main techniques we used during this session was manipulating exposure compensation to create vastly different portrait styles and our first shoot-location was a short, fairly well-lit tunnel connecting the street to a small park at the rear behind a row of buildings…

Set-up 1:

We placed our first-time model (aka, me) in front of the well-lit main street. Using spot-metering on my face and exposure compensation at +2, we achieved this high-key style portrait by over-exposing the natural light available from the street whilst maintaining correct exposure of my face. I really liked the way the exposed brick of the tunnel gave these shots an urban style and using the same technique in other surroundings would provide endless other creative opportunities – imagine a wall with a striking painted mural, an ivy-covered fence or for an interesting travel shot, a sign written in a foreign language. It required no additional equipment and it’s something I’m looking forward to experimenting with again and again.

Set-up 2:

In the same tunnel location as the first set of images, we had the street behind the model again (Tony kindly offered to take over modeling duties), but this time we used off-camera flash to create a low-key lit portrait. We used the Quantum's Qflash T5d-R wireless system(which stood alone on the ground) and set our cameras to shutter priority and a speed of 1/250 sec. Despite the vast difference in lighting styles, I was equally pleased with these shots and both Peter and I were astounded by what can be achieved in broad daylight with a little off-camera lighting.

Set-up 3:

We then moved on to the next location, which was simply the wall of a shop entrance, and shot some more low-key portraits, this time only using the natural light provided on an overcast day. As in the first set-up, we used spot-metering on the model’s face (yep, me again) but in this situation our exposure compensation was set to -1 to under-expose the wall behind. I really enjoyed this impromptu session and as with the natural light portraits we shot earlier, it’s a technique I’m looking forward to trying again.

Seascapes & the Big Stopper

With several hours of street shooting under our belts, we packed up our gear and drove out to the Suffolk coast to one of Tony’s favourite locations to have a go with a particular LEE filter that I’m quite excited about, the Big Stopper. But before we start with the filters, we utilised some of the skills learnt during our portraiture session in the morning with a session on ‘portraits in landscape’ and how to capture people in a more picturesque setting than a local shop doorway.

We set up some shots around the breakwater leading down to the shore, while Peter and I had turns shooting and holding the off-camera flash at various angles. As you can see from the results we tried to capture as much of the moving tide as possible, whilst trying (unsuccessfully) to keep Tony’s feet dry. I do really like the effect that the lighting has in these shots – it really lifts the images and on an overcast day like this, they would otherwise look quite dull and flat.

In this shot, the Qflash was placed approximately 10 feet to the right of where I’m standing and Peter underexposed the ambient light by 1 stop using exposure compensation. Controlling the lighting in this way created a moody atmospheric look when converted to black and white (more about that later!) and I’m told by Tony that this works really well in colour with dramatic sunsets as well.

Then it was time to get the LEE grad filters out and get down to some serious landscape shots. We started off with a set of LEE ND Hard Resin Filters and I used the 3 stop/0.9 filter. Tony spent time with both Peter and I, showing us how the system works and the best way to line up the grad filters with the horizon.

As you can see in this image, we slowed down the shutter speed to 1/5 sec, which was enough to capture the movement of the ebbing wave and with the addition of the graduated 3 stop filter the sky isn’t blown out. Unfortunately it was an overcast day so there’s not a lot of definition in the clouds, but I still quite like the stormy sky effect the filter has produced.

And now finally, I get to shoot with the Big Stopper! I’ve heard a lot about this hot-in-demand filter and I’ve been really keen to learn more about it and have a go myself, so this was definitely an exciting part of the day for me - despite the fact both my fingers and toes were numb by this point.

Tony spent time with both Peter and I, helping us calculate our shutter speed and other exposure settings as it can be a bit tricky to start off with. Once we were set up and ready to go, we spent a while shooting with the Big Stopper. We tried different compositions, a range of exposure times and looked at our results along the way to see what we liked.

This shot is one of my favourites from this session. It was only a 5 second exposure and I like the way the streams of waters that catch on the pebbles in the sand are still visible. In the shots I took with a 30 second exposure, the water has a real misty, ethereal look to it but I like the way this image retains a little detail in the sea.

If you’d like to find out about using 10-stop Neutral Density filters, I’d suggest reading this step-by-step guide as a starting point.

A little Lightroom

Last but not least, we headed back to Tony’s office to get a short but sweet Lightroom tutorial. As we’d chosen to spend most of the day out shooting, our time in front of the Mac was only about an hour, but it was an hour well-spent. Both Peter and I weren’t familiar with Lightroom at all, so were both keen to learn more.

Tony picked out around 40 of the most interesting RAW file shots of the day and demonstrated step-by-step his professional post-processing workflow, including file organization, editing the images with the Photoshop tools available within Lightroom, converting the entire set to black and white and finally renaming and exporting the finished RAW files as high and low resolution jpegs ready for print and email as well as a PDF slideshow. As a beginner to photo editing who can do a very small amount in Photoshop, I found this final session incredibly useful and worthwhile.

Home time

I was absolutely exhausted but thoroughly happy at the end of the day. It was a full-on day of shooting but I found it was broken up well between breakfast, a lovely lunch and then down-time in the office at the end.  The variety in what we photographed throughout the day was really the highlight for me – being able to spend time on portraits, off-camera lighting, landscapes and post-processing was excellent and that was all down to our teacher for the day, Tony, who was knowledgeable, enthusiastic and most importantly patient at all times.

I’m a relative beginner with only a few years of photography experience under my belt, so I knew I was bound to learn a lot. Our competition winner however, has had many more years with a camera than me and as this day was his well-deserved prize – I’m happy to report Peter also learnt more than a thing or two and thoroughly enjoyed his day as well.

We're giving away another bespoke one-to-one workshop with Tony Pick in this month's WEX Gallery photography competition - find out more & enter here!

For more information on Tony Pick's workshops, you can visit his website here.