Two weeks ago, I spent a few days in Italy attending a 3-day workshop run by David Noton. This was held near Preci in the Umbria region of Italy – a gorgeous part of the world, full of mountains, valleys, wild flowers, rustic food and a rural population.
Perching over Preci — 4am starts were a big feature of this course
As we were scrambling up the hill at 5am to the first dawn shoot, I remarked that this was “bootcamp for landscape photographers”. The mornings only got earlier (in the jeeps at 0420) but it wasn’t just only a necessity but a thoroughly rewarding experience. In fact, it would be ridiculous to hold a landscape photography workshop and neglect one of the important times of the day. So be prepared: this is not your typical relaxing holiday and credit to the whole group as none of us missed the strictly enforced departure times. You get out what you put in.
Scrumptious Italian food
So a typical day starts early with a walk or drive to a dawn shoot location. After the sunrise, we might scout another location for a subsequent day or another post-sunrise shoot. Then it’s back at the hotel at about 0830-0900 for breakfast, followed by some classroom sessions. Lunch is a typical Italian buffet affair (with a glass of wine, of course!) followed by a much needed siesta. Then it’s out again for more shooting and then on to a sunset shoot. Back at the hotel around 2030-2100, for some drinks and gorgeous Italian food. You’ll hopefully get to bed around 2330 after grabbing a quick shower and emptying memory cards… and then it all starts again in 4.5 hours time. The field sessions are a mix of practical help and discussions setting up your shot and some group chats to talk about specific topics (light, filters, etc). These in-the-field discussions are then backed up by a classroom session with example photographs. As a template for a landscape photography workshop, I don’t think this can be beaten.
John and David
The group size was limited to 10 students with two instructors (David Noton and John Gooding) and I think that worked out just right: Enough students to form a good group but not too many that you’d get ignored. David and John compliment each other quite well both in their personalities and their photographic knowledge. Everyone is expected to know their equipment and a tripod (and walking boots) are essential requirements. However, if you’re shooting one of the popular brands (Canon/Nikon) there was plenty of peer-to-peer knowledge being shared around. In fact, one of the great joys was exchanging hints, tips, stories and iPhone app recommendations between the group. Each workshop will be different but I think we had a really good group: everyone was happy to have a good time, learn, talk about photography and help each other out. And no one decided to mock the only Sony user 🙂
The classroom sessions were kept brief and covered subjects like white balance, hyperfocal DoF, exposing to the right, exposure merging, filters, lightroom etc. These session were perhaps a little light on details (although with lots of examples) but I think that was fine. We were having perfect warm weather and no one came to Italy to be cooped up in a darked room. Even though I knew some parts in theory (e.g. hyperfocal distance) being on the workshop was helpful kick up the arse to actually use it. Other areas, like exposure merging, were completely new to me and is now something I’m playing with. For me, the real pull of this workshop was the area and the pre-scouted locations. Sure, I could have taken a holiday to Italy on my own for less money but I’d have no local knowledge or other photographers to learn from and motivate me.
Dawn at Forca Canapine — probably my favourite shot from the trip
Over the 3 days, the nature of the shoots changed slightly. At the start we were concentrated close together, shooting roughly the same scene, and having group discussions. On the second morning after the dawn shoot, we were brought up to a hilltop location at Forca Canapine and told to scout out a shot for the dawn shoot on the 3rd day. Likewise in the evening, we were encouraged to spread out and explore the options along the edge of a field of “purple jobbies” (all flowers are be categorised as blue/purple/white/yellow jobbies or poppies). And the final evening shoot was for a free-for-all in the local area although most of us chose the Preci viewpoint because of the light.
Santini the shepherd
To break up the slow pace of landscape photography, make better use of the midday hours and, frankly, avoid the classroom, David had organised two shoots with local people on the 2nd and 3rd day. First up was Santini, a local shepherd who was brings his flock of sheep and dogs down from the mountains in the late afternoon. Only on this occasion there was a press pack of 10 photographers lined across road taking photos of him. He obviously loves the attention and had dressed up a little for the occasion. As he walked down the road the sheep followed behind with the dogs keeping a keen eye on the intruding photographers. Santini would get within about 5m of us and pause for a few seconds and, as the pressure of sheep built-up behind him, we’d be given the order to fall-back. A quick sprint 50m down the road and the line reformed and process repeated for the next 10mins. The combination of changing lighting/scenes, moving subjects, urgency and physical exertion made for a very entertaining afternoon. I even got some nice shots including those I’d pre-visualised earlier. It’s not often that we get to operate as part of a pack of photographers like this whilst trying to get our preconceived shots in the bag. The shots I took of a shepherd on my spare day after the course have a greater authenticity to them, but the “running of the photographers” with Santini was still a heck of a lot of fun! Here’s a video montage I shot with the NEX mounted on a Gorillapod:
Luigi the baker in Visso and his 'Ape' van
The third afternoon, it was the turn of Luigi the local baker in Visso. This was a more sedate affair (and more clichéd) but nicely filled in the afternoon and gave us an opportunity to roam and photograph a small rural Italian town (oh, and there was delicious wild berry & meringue tart and Prosecco). I found this shoot a little difficult as I didn’t want to go telephoto and instead shot it all with the ultra-wide (11-16mm). This meant I had to seek out different angles and get close but without getting in everyone else’s way. In the end, I think I got some nice shots of the classic Ape van and a great panned shot. Better than being indoors, that’s for sure.
Would I recommend this course? Definitely. For me, the greatest benefit was a combination of the location, the dedicated time and having the experienced photographers around to guide, educate and motivate me. Has it improved my landscape photography? Unquestionably. Have I come away with images I really love and am proud of? Yes, YES! Would I do it again next week? If only I could!
I’ll be publishing a few more images here over the next week or so.