If you're familiar with my photography, then you'll have noticed that it's pretty much exclusively East Anglia. That is, gentle (flat) landscapes, vast seascapes, windmills , swaying roadbeds and meandering rivers. Those are the landscapes I know and love and the areas that I have been running my workshops for the last four years.
So, when I was recently asked if I could stand in at short notice and lead a Lee Filters landscape workshop for Tatra Photography in the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia, I could feel a large mountain shaped problem casting a shadow over my excitement at being offered such a great opportunity. I knew I could run a photography workshop but I've never been to Slovakia (a country distinctly lacking in coastline) and well, my area of expertise isn't photographing mountains so would my skills transfer to a different, unknown environment?
I was never going to turn this opportunity down but I thought it best to point out what I saw as a lack of relevant experience. It turned out I was worrying over nothing. First of all, The locations had already been thoroughly researched and planned by the team in Slovakia and tried and tested on previous workshops, my job would be to help the participants with their photography so they could make the most of these locations. Nevertheless, Tatra Photography flew me out early so I could get to know the area before the first workshop started. I also had a guide. Not just any guide, but a local Slovakian guide, who speaks perfect English, knows the area like the back of his hand, does all the driving, makes sure I know what time sunrise is, supplies everyone with tea to make those brutally early sunrises a little easier and exists on apparently no sleep and is also a keen photographer himself... My saviour in other words.
Secondly, the locations we would be shooting were stunning. Obviously, arriving in Poland 24 hours before the first workshop was to start, I didn't yet know that and I have to admit, I was still a little nervous. Fear of the unknown more than anything, but after a 2.5 hour drive into Slovakia and a quick stop to freshen up we launched into a crash course on the locations for the workshop. Shooting until around 9.30pm and being up again at 3.00am for sunrise we managed to cram about six or seven locations into a few hours!
Having seen the locations and had a chance to get a few shots at most of them, I was now confident (and more than a little relieved) that I could do a good job running the workshop. It seems that photographing mountainous landscapes isn't so different to photographing flat ones, it's the emotional response to the place and how you capture it which is the most important thing wherever you are.
With the fear of the unknown fading, a real sense of excitement took it's place. The landscape was inspiring. Calm mountain lakes, crashing waterfalls, layer after layer of craggy peaks, misty valleys and hilltop castles. I was particularly enjoying the chance to shoot from higher positions (if not the walk up to them), living somewhere that is flat we don't have many of those. I had been feeling that my photography was becoming a little stale and I've been increasingly frustrated with my work but the change of scenery seems to have blown away the cobwebs. Quite literally at times because even in summer the change of weather and conditions around the hills and mountains can be rapid. We had everything from blue skies and sweltering heat to torrential rain and thunder storms then back to calm, misty mornings. It was a little difficult knowing what to wear but it did at least make for dramatic conditions for photography!
My job running the workshops was also made a lot easier by the people - they were a great bunch on both workshops. Their enthusiasm (except perhaps for the daily 3.25am starts) made the experience so much fun and hopefully I've made some friends along the way.
So, am I to be casting East Anglia aside in favour of travelling the world? Well, no, not entirely anyway! I love travelling and this, which surprisingly was one of my first trips dedicated to photography, has whetted my appetite for more but I also love this part of the world and it's great to be back feeling tired but photographically refreshed.