I don't normally blog about the workshops I go on, but here's an exception. For the last few years, once or twice a year, I have taken myself off on workshops run by leading photographers both to learn some new skills, and to get out of my comfort zone to shake things up a bit. The aim is not to get "the shot" (although it is nice if one or two "good shots" come out of it), but to learn something.
A few weeks ago, I spent a day at Hammerwood Park, a stately pile near East Grinstead in Sussex, with Tim Pile (website, Flickr, Instagram) and Lulu Lockhart, plus five other like-minded photographers. This was a one-day workshop run in conjunction with the Royal Photographic Society for their members: it was my first experience of fine art nude photography.
I first came across Tim Pile's work when, by chance, we both submitted our ARPS panels to the RPS simultaneously. On the assessment day, his panel was superb: it came up for comment before mine, prompting the thought that if this is what it takes to get an ARPS, I'm sunk. Fortunately, I wasn't, and we both were awarded our ARPS. Since then, Tim has gone from strength to strength, gaining his MPAGB and FIPF. So, when I came across the announcement of his workshop with Lulu Lockhart, I jumped at the opportunity.
We started the day with a review of some of Tim's past work and his working methods. He had a pile of his prints for us to look through. And then it was off around the building and its gardens for the rest of the day.
We divided into groups of two, so that no-one was blocked from a good angle for photographs. Lulu is an extremely professional model, rapidly going through a series of poses for each pair of photographers. No-one needs to tell her what to do, although as with the best models, she is great to collaborate with. She is also tough as anything: she had no problem posing while sitting on a spiky old tree branch with no padding (there's no way I'd do that!)
By the end of the day, we were all pretty exhausted, but I'd have happily just kept going. All in all, a terrific experience. I’ve chosen a few pictures from the day for this post, and I’m really happy with them. One thing to be aware of with a workshop like this is that few of the pictures you are likely to get are really original, in the sense that Tim and Lulu have used the venue before, and some represent specific repeats of their greatest hits.
So, what did I learn from all this? It was my first time photographing a nude model. Way outside my comfort zone. But now the ice is broken, I think it would be fascinating to try it again. Perhaps more generally, I was amazed at the way Lulu's skin lit up in North light. The classical Dutch painters, for instance, used the soft light coming in through a North-facing window to light many of their subjects. Despite having used that for portraits myself many times, I'd never been quite as aware of its power to light up pale skin as with Lulu. You can see in some of the pictures here just how well-lit she is, even in a room that seems otherwise rather gloomy. Definitely worth remembering for the future.
The other thing about this style of photography: as Helmut Newton apparently put it "Photography is 90% moving the furniture" and putting it back, afterwards :-).
Thanks, Tim and Lulu, for an excellent day.
A quick note about cameras. If you are thinking of going on one of Tim's workshops, do be aware that the interior of the building can be quite dark, and only natural light is used during the day. I was in a minority of one with my full frame Nikon gear: the majority of the others used mirrorless (Fuji or Olympus). I took my basic kit of D810, 24-120mm f/4, 50mm f/1.4 and 70-200mm f/2.8. One participant used a monopod, but I was very happy going hand-held all day (for the most part, I think a tripod would be impractical in the interiors). I used auto-ISO, setting the shutter speed and aperture manually, and then letting the ISO go wherever it wanted. On the D810, I’ve no problem shooting up to ISO 3200; the highest the meter actually went was ISO1250, so no problem. I used all three lenses at different points in the day, but the 50mm f/1.4 was particularly useful for interior pictures, so if you have one (or an equivalent), I’d recommend taking it.
* Terry Pratchett, "Thud".
He [Sgt Fred Colon] knew in his heart that spinning upside down around a pole wearing a costume you could floss with definitely was not Art, and being painted lying on a bed wearing nothing but a smile and a small bunch of grapes was good solid Art, but putting your finger on why this was the case was a bit tricky.
“No urns,” he said at last.
“What urns?” said Nobby.
“Nude women are only Art if there’s an urn in it,” said Fred Colon. This sounded a bit weak even to him, so he added: “Or a plinth. Best is both, o’course. It’s a secret sign, see, that they put in to say that it’s Art and okay to look at.”
“What about a potted plant?”
“That’s okay if it’s in an urn.”