I’ve been out of touch for a month. Sorry about that. I seem to be busier now than when I had a full-time career. Recently, I had the pleasure of heading out with my photography club to its annual “retreat”. A chance to immerse myself in all things photographic for a full weekend. We chose a destination that we could drive to in an afternoon, but also one that would require disconnecting from all the demands back home. It was wonderful.
A photography retreat is so different from a workshop or an outing. It’s a trip away where the main purpose is being immersed in all aspects of photography for an extended period of time. That means shooting together, discussing photography over meals, reviewing and commenting on each other’s work and helping each other learn new techniques through demonstration and mentoring. It’s a feast for the mind and senses.
My comrades were from all walks of life: people still in the midst of their working careers, but also retirees like me. Parents and those who weren’t. Those who have photographed for profit and those who do it as a hobby. We had different photographic interests and different levels of experience. It made for some really interesting discussions.
Even though there was an itinerary, I had some of my own objectives in mind. We hear lots about planning any shoot. That also applies to events that are already pre-planned. Having some objectives in mind defines the amount of time you spend capturing any scene – even whether you stop at all. My objectives helped me find the points of interest in my scene quickly. They gave me ideas for how to capture them. They also told me when it was time to move on.
The area we were in has been well photographed and publicized. So I had a lot of material to draw on. My focus for this trip, pardon the pun, would be on landscapes and panoramas, with a touch of architecture on the side. I came back with a relatively small number of images for me – less than 300. But unlike other outings, most of these were keepers. I was quite proud of that.
That said, I did miss a few things, the best techniques for panoramas being one. While I got decent results, I didn’t fully consider manual settings, daylight white balance, manual focus, and having a dead level tripod with pano only (horizontal axis) motion capability. Lens choices were also less than optimum, and I should have experimented with both wide angle and standard lenses for the right scene compression in the right situation. So, if you are doing something that you don’t normally do a lot of, make sure your preparation includes a refresher on those techniques and maybe even a checklist of things you might like to try.
I also decided to play with a variety of lens filters on this trip, but again, should have done more prep. Polarizers make the shot in certain situations and not in others, and especially NOT in panoramas. Graduated and full neutral density (ND) filters manage brightness and motion, but the key is knowing when to use them. And the simple task of putting them on and taking them off proved to be more of a nusiance than I expected. Perhaps a new filter system in my future – magnetic or drop in?
One evening, after a day out shooting, we each selected a handful of shots and displayed them on a big screen for commentary. That was the most interesting part of the trip for me. I started to notice some patterns – I like patterns. More often than not, the newest photographers grabbed a wide scene – filled the frame with everything that was going on. The more experienced photographers were often more selective, sometimes capturing a single object in the frame, surrounded by a blurred background or even negative space. They worked the shot, taking several different views, simplifying where possible. If the essence of good photography is practice and more practice, I discovered that the essence of great photography is keeping it simple. The most impactful shot of the entire weekend was a few blades of grass, decorated with morning water droplets, on which sat a late season, irridescent housefly. It was stunning. And sadly, it wasn’t mine.
We offered reactions and suggestions, often agreeing on incremental improvements. But when it came to my photographs, the debate was more divided, with equal numbers advocating significant adjustments and no adjustments. My photograph above of the rocky shoreline and rock filled water received the most debate. I thought the conversation was very interesting. It meant that we each saw something different in my framing. That made me smile. The essence of art is debate.
The weekend ended too soon, and we travelled back home, both content and energized for the next time. I wholeheartedly recommend indulging in this type of escape when you have the chance. It doesn’t have to be labelled a “retreat”. Just grab a bunch of friends and go.