Whether it’s Japanese coach parties or Wainwright wannabes, the Lake District must be among the most photographed landscapes in Britain. But what’s the secret of capturing the best view? To find out, I enrolled on Lakeland Photographic Holidays, run by John Gravett from his large family house near Keswick.
I entered with some trepidation, not least because my camera skills haven’t progressed much beyond the automatic button – but I needn’t have worried. One of the first sessions was a short but useful camera workshop where John went through all the controls and functions of my camera, many of which have (rather embarrassingly) remained something of a mystery to me. By the end of the session, I had a better idea of what my camera could do, but the real test was to put it into practice outdoors.
CAPTURING THE VIEW
Our group clambered aboard John’s trusty Land Rover for the short journey to Crummock Water where, having borrowed a tripod, I began experimenting with different lenses and manipulating shutter speeds and depth of field. John was on hand to help with settings and explain how to use the camera to its fullest, but he was keen to point out that good photography is about much more than having the biggest lens or the latest gear.
“It’s just as important what you see through the viewfinder as what equipment you use,” said John. “We cater for all levels of experience – some people even turn up with just a simple compact camera, which is fine, because it’s about opening your mind and your eyes.” It soon became apparent that what’s left out is just as important as what’s kept in a successful picture.
That evening after dinner, relaxing with a glass of beer from the nearby Hesket Newmarket Brewery, we viewed a selection of each other’s images taken during the day and discussed what worked and what didn’t. In terms of composition, John urged us to “look around the edges” of our photos and make sure that there were “lead lines” (such as a wall or path) that took your eye into the picture and not out of it. He drew our attention to the interplay of clouds and the effect of light on the fellside and open water; he even showed us how to improve deficient images using image editing software.
Mindful that the effects of last winter’s flooding around Keswick were still visible, I wondered what John’s budding photographers did when it rained. “There is no such thing as bad weather,” replied John ebulliently, “only different types of lighting. You can take interesting photos in any weather – even rain.” When this happens, instead of the more popular shores of Derwent Water or Martindale, he heads for Rydal Hall or Threlkeld Quarry.
The residential courses have been running for 12 years and offer the full package, including accommodation and meals. It’s a comfortable and relaxed setting, with groups of no more than 10. Uniquely, they also welcome accompanied children over 12 years old.
Nearly everyone on my course had come before and they clearly all had an eye for good food as well as the perfect view. The business is co-run by John’s wife, Gail, who prepares all the freshly cooked meals using mostly local products. Her homemade puddings have become so legendary that many of the recipes have been posted on their website. One guest had even been dieting in readiness for Gail’s sticky toffee pudding.
Apart from putting on a little weight, I came away from the course with a better understanding of how to use my camera, and the realisation that good landscape photography is about choosing the aspects of a view you find attractive, rather than trying to get it all in the shot. And in the Lakes that’s a difficult choice.
Lakeland photographic Holidays
A Landscape Photography Workshop costs £640 for seven days, including tuition, accommodation, food and excursions. There is also a four-day course as well as other workshops in nature, black and white photography, Photoshop image manipulation, landscape photography with active walking and the less strenuous landscape photography with limited walking.