Creative people. We're never satisfied #AmIRight? In a worst case scenario, turning your fun filled passion into a career can often have devastating consequences on both your mental well being and creativity. Because of this, it's important that we continue to learn, grow, step outside out comfort zones, and get back to our happy creative roots once in a while. Now I'm not saying that I'm unhappy with my career, far from it! I'm just getting started and I'm excited about the journey ahead, but it's always nice to learn something new and grow your inner circle of friends too. That's why I signed up for the "Creative Photography Workshop" with Jenny Giles. Jenny is another professional photographer in my home town but she's about a million miles removed from my own pursuits in the genre. Whilst I've been steadily forging ahead into the Canine and Wedding photography business, Jenny's talents lie in creating beautiful images of babies and small children. We've become closer in the past few months as we're both travelling our own paths to self discovery and #firstworld enlightenment.
I've learnt that she is a total bad-ass, with passion out the wazoo, and is crushing me in the positivity game (although I am trying to catch up).
I'm sorry to disappoint you all but I have to tell you now; I don't have any behind the scenes photos of our day. BUT, there's a video on the way soon which I'll be sure to link to at the bottom of this post. For now, I'll give you an overview of the 2 days and share my rather lovely photos with you (If I do say so myself).
We met at Jennys studio at 9:30am with our gear. There were 4 attendees (including myself) along with Jenny, Jemma, and a truly talented bloke by the name of David Morgan Jones who captured the BTS video for the day (Go check him out, he's awesome!). After an introduction and a round of Greggs bacon butties, the minibus arrives. We packed the thing with gear, props and clothing for the rest of the day, leaving no room for additional passengers (gotta make a note of that). We were soon on our way to location 1. Blaen Bran Community Woodland - Cwmbran
Jenny had arranged for us to meet some children and their parents (there were a lot throughout the day so stay tuned) for this first shoot, so it was off the bus with the relevant props and a short hike into the woods where met our models. I brought a couple of un-necessary pieces of gear (because you never know....but you should know...right) which stayed piled up amongst the rest of the gear, while we pretty much unanimously decided on our own setups of; Camera and 70-200mm lens combo. This was a highly popular choice throughout the day, and for very good reason because this combo KILLS it. Setup one comprised of Jenny's brother (who had travelled from Cheltenham for the day) and a young boy (sorry, I don't remember most of the names so we're giving them characters!), both near a stream that trickles through the forest. We were given a little campfire stand, a bindle, a kettle, and a flame lamp as props. I wafted around taking some pictures and not really making use of the first 10 minutes, until the realisation kicked in that I was supposed to be CREATIVE with this scene! This is where I asked Jenny what the hell I should do. Her creative talents extend much further than mine and she's just got this eye for fantasy. So with some tips, and words of encouragement, I got creative! I've been a lover of using flash as a creative tool, ever since I started out in photography. So of course I did what no-one else was doing and busted out a flash gun (Canon 430ex ii), and using my trustee wireless triggers (Yongnuo YN622C ii) and a lovely orange gel. I hid the flash just out of sight behind a rock. This illuminated our fake fire and continued onward, casting a nice burning glow onto the models. A few shots later and I had something I could work with. The vision in my head was that of a couple of runaways making camp for the night.
Remember the scene from "Dennis The Menace" when Switchblade Sam (Christopher Lloyd) burns his ass and jumps into the river? I had that playing through my mind the whole time....Anyway, here's the shots; straight outta camera and my final "creative" edit.
Remaining close to this original scene we soon turned our attention to the next model, this time a young girl who we'll call "Curly Sue". Props were changed for something "fairy sized" (you see where this is headed), and we began shooting...with cameras. Whilst the model remained in a perimeter of about 20 feet, this gave us several different options of background and lighting. She could be staring into a deep empty wood one minute, and side lit at the tree line the next. Asking her to do something was beyond me at this point (I document, not direct) so I asked Jenny if she would be kind enough to give Sue a little direction.
She nailed it, and was joined shortly by Switchblade Sam. We changed up the props again, this time opting for a "Radio Flyer Big Red ATW" and some rather vintage binoculars. The resulting images (edited) are below.
It was then time to focus (geddit) on just the kids. First we had "Dennis" sitting on the roots of a tree, fiddling with those vintage binoculars again (they may have been broken). The whole scene was large and open so I decided to try out the Brenizer Method. You won't get to see it though as unfortunately I failed....really hard! I totally missed part of the middle of the scene, so unless you like your photos with big holes in them, we'll stick to the one below. We also bundled Dennis and Sue into a makeshift library between two trees and made them read fairy tale books like what kids did in the olden days...
BACK TO THE BUS! Ogmore Castle - Ogmore...
A quick trip down the M4, stopping at Cardiff Gate services for some much needed sustenance and a toilet break-
Side note: I managed to spill half of a 120ml bottle of e-liquid outside the service station entrance, most of which went all over my hands, much to my annoyance. But ONWARD! -and we were on our way to Ogmore Castle! The car park itself was actually about a half mile away from the castle as the next location was just around the corner at Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes. This meant another hike which involved crossing a river using some pretty sketchy stepping stones. Normally this wouldn't phase me, but it's amazing how much fear your brain deals out when you're carrying about £6k of electronic equipment across a river, on your back...Couple that with the fact that I had my arms full of clothing props and you've got yourself a terrifying situation!
Thankfully we all made it across unscathed, ready to meet our next duo of kids who we'll call "Alex The Kid" and "Rapunzel". They immediately headed for those damn stepping stones, but with my equipment now safely stowed on solid ground I was totally willing to try some next level stuff! Off with my shoes and socks, I stepped out into the river. What the hell was that stench...could it be....nah, must be the field full or horses over the way....
Anyway, off I went, wading to just over knee height. The water touched the bottom of my shorts at this point and I didn't fancy having it wick up any further, so I stopped and donned my photographer pose. I took lots of shots, but only one stood out to me as it follows my usual documentary style.
See, "Alex" was having a little trouble navigating those stepping stones (boulders) and had to go all Quadraped on us for a minute, until his mum came to help him out. This resulted in my favourite shot. Shortly afterwards we headed back over the death boulders and sat "Rapunzel" down amongst some tall grass to get those really slick beauty shots. I tried lying down in the grass with my 16-35mm lens at this point and got something a little different again, but I think I still prefer the creamy bokeh from the 70-200mm. What do you think?
Fortunately we were able to remain safely on our current side of the river for our next guests, who arrived in the form of Jenny's beautiful parents!
If you're reading this, please understand that I have nothing but respect for you and all involved. But seeing as we're giving everyone else nicknames, it's only fair that we call you "Not Evil Cruella de Ville" and "Not Ginger Walker: Texas Ranger".
So these love birds rock up and show us all what true love really looks like. It was beautiful, seriously...I'm NOT kidding! The props really set the whole mood for this session. From the vintage bike, the picnic basket, the flowers and old fashioned radio, I love them all. Here's a small selection of the photos I took. Thanks Cruella, thanks Walker!
BACK TO THE BUS!
Merthyr Mawr Sand Dunes - No Matt, you can't see the sea from here...
Just a hop-skip-andajump from Ogmore is the remarkable Merthyr Mawr National Nature Reserve, home to many fascinating plants, insects and birds. But we weren't here for the wildlife, we had more kids to ̶s̶h̶o̶o̶t̶ photograph. Fortunately we didn't have to walk too far this time, so we grabbed a little Tipi from the bus and headed through a small section of woodland and onto the dunes. Don't ask me why, but I've never been here before and what greeted me was a mystifying revelation. Sand...in the middle of nowhere....in WALES! Some of our party we're trudging uphill, checking their surroundings and shouting back, "You can't see the sea!!". I did check later and it's true. Turns out that we were about 5 miles North of the coast, spooky stuff!
Jenny set about making camp with the Tipi and Jemma warned me to keep an eye out for sand snakes. SAND SNAKES!! What he hell! No one told me we could be Tremors food! Ok, watch out for snakes, got it...jeez!
We were soon joined by our next set of mini models, all girls this time, and all as cute as a button.
We had "Goldilocks", "Little Sister" and...lets just say "Sandy" for the hell of it! Jenny took control of this session with the confidence of seasoned
hibachi chef, or a mother who knows how to get kids to perform at their best! Either way, the results were magical and I actually contributed the idea of putting each girl onto the broken tree.
We actually headed into a small wooded area to our left after this, but I wasn't keen on my own photos so I've left them out. BACK TO THE BUS!
Dunraven Castle - Southerndown
Needless to say, time was getting on a bit by this point so we quickly headed over to Southerndown for our last session of the day. This one involved another short hike uphill, which would have been no big deal if we hadn't saved so many heavy props until last! So the ideas for the last session involved the theme of Witches, and a loose interpretation of the series "Outlander". I was psyched for this to be honest, I had big plans, smoke pellets, and my flashguns at the ready. We had been carrying one model with us all day so we met up with the other five when we arrived. We had four hideous (beautiful) witches who we'll call "Sassy", "Fiesty", "Quiet" and "Married", and our Outlander models who we'll call "Mulder" and "Scully". But as I said, we had to carry some pretty heavy props up the hill first. Teamwork makes the dream work they say! So a couple of numb hands and aching backs later, we arrived at our first location at the back of Dunraven Castle. I'll be honest, my creativity was waning at this point and I was struggling to....create. Upon inspection of my photographs, I decided to go down the "Genuine witches" route by making the photos look properly old fashioned. This basically involved making them a lower contrast black and white and adding film grain. This is so far from my usual approach and I'm no expert so please excuse the mess.
A group of us split off after this and headed for the tower of the castle. A large white round room scattered with the odd touch of graffiti (just for lulz), and with barred windows. A few of the group placed our witches in the various windows of the tower and photographed them with the light coming in from behind them. It just wasn't working for me so I busted out the flash again. I placed it on the floor and bounced the light off one of the large white walls in the tower which gave me a softer front light. I killed most of the back-light and managed to get some shots I was happy enough with. I removed the crappy graffiti in Photoshop too!
Whilst all of this was going on with our smaller group, Jenny and Jemma had been busy setting up a Witchy Lair in the most amazing spot possible. We grabbed our gear and headed up to a small opening in the tree line, just up the trail from the castle. The lair was kitted out with candles, old books, a broom, cauldrons, a bell jar and a crystal ball of evil doing! Smoke pellets at the ready, it was time to LIGHT IT UP!
I put one of my flashguns, armed with a green gel, inside the large cauldron. Exposure sorted, I lit up a smoke pellet, placed it onto a fireproof dish and stood it inside the cauldron. We quickly realised that the smoke pellets were killing our witches so we had to scale it back a touch for the remainder of the session....oops, sorry witches! We decided to light the pellets, leave them to burn for around 15 seconds and then place them into the cauldron for the shots. This worked well and I soon decided to add another light into the mix for dramatic effect.
I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to use my lighting for their images, so I passed around my transmitter to whoever wanted it. Share and share alike I say! Despite the fun we were having, we soon realised that we were running out of sunlight pretty fast! Our witches stayed put, casting spells and....cleaning up the mess we'd left, while the togs hit the final location just up the trail to the clifftops. We were greeted by yet another beautiful sight as our last two fantastic models, Mulder and Scully, stood perched atop the tall grassy cliffs which gave way to the rocky beaches and open sea below. The first group to arrive were already finished so I had to move fast as we were preparing to leave. I started up higher, framing this tweed clad couple between the sea and the cliff edges below, all set into a perfect triangular shape. I moved lower, and few awkward photographer poses later (which involved lying on my back with the lens pointed between my knees) I had the shots in the bag! It's easy to see why they call this a Jurassic Coastline Location.
We were done! All that was left to do was carry the props and our equipment back down to the bus and head off for dinner. "The driver just called and got cut off! All I heard was 'We have a problem...' " - Jemma explained. BACK TO THE BUS! Everyone there just grabbed something and we high tailed it safely back to the bus, just in time to see a small recovery truck arrive (Awesome timing FTW!) No biggy, just a blown tire thankfully! A few of the group made their way to The Pelican In Her Piety pub ahead of us. It was just a short drive back to Ogmore and we needed someone to hold our food! Not long after, the wheel was replaced with a spare and we were off. We reached the pub just in time to sit down for the meal (and a well deserved pint) with the group. We didn't hang around for too long as it was about 10pm at this point and we all needed sleep after a manic day. The laughs came thick and fast on the return journey, and we talked about what an amazing day we'd had. After a 14 hour day I finally arrived home and made it to bed, ready for round two in the morning. DAY 2
Fortunately there's not much to tell about our second day as we spent it in Jennys studio. We bought our own PC's and Laptops in so that was could sit down and work through our photos for the day. Jenny had already prepared some examples of her editing style from the day before (I don't think she slept!) and walked us through her process for each image. The rest of the day was spent editing, making new friends and sharing tips and tricks in our editing workflows. Jenny was on hand to offer assistance and ideas throughout the day and gave us a really good insight into how her mind works when creating her images. We only had to go next door to a delightful cafe where we were served a buffet lunch along with some fantastic home made cakes. Fuel for another busy day! We finished at around 4:30, said our goodbyes, and everyone went their separate ways.
I'm someone who can feel quite attached to new people very quickly, and I'm going to miss not seeing some of them again. The whole experience was one that I'll never forget for a number of reasons. I spent my time learning new things, stepping away from my normal routine, and creating some beautiful images that I'm very proud of. I met wonderful people who helped to inspire me to look at things from another perspective and to create rather than just take pictures. Of course there is an element of creation in my normal work, but when you really STOP. To focus on what you're doing. Magical things can happen.
A huge thanks needs to be said to Jenny and Jemma for the insane amount of planning and hard work that they put into this workshop. You really do make a totally awesome pair! So here's to our next big adventure, wherever that may take us!
....The best part of all of this...
....Photography is my job, and I bloody love it!