The 2014 Bald Head Island Photography workshop was a great success. We had a wonderful group of nine photographers who sustained their enthusiasm through a grueling schedule and the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes from working with natural light over several days.
I was very impressed by the progress everyone made over the course of the weekend. Most participants began the workshop only able to use their camera in automatic mode, and during the workshop they were able, for the first time, to create some great images using manual exposure control. I also really appreciated the way the more advanced members of the group were so willing to share their knowledge and help those just getting started.
The workshop began with a social and orientation on Friday evening just after sunset. I advised the participants that if they arrived on the island early it would be a great opportunity to photograph the nearby lighthouse in the late evening light while I was setting up our classroom.
The next morning we all met in the dark before the first light of dawn to prepare for our morning field session in the salt marsh. I knew this was going to be a tough session since almost everyone was about to start shooting for the first time in manual mode. Learning to do this the first time is challenging enough without having to learn how to do it in the dark. But manual exposure skills are necessary for making good images in the rapidly changing, complex light of dawn. We gathered under a porch light so we could see our cameras, and I divided the group into Canon and Nikon users. Then, each group went about making all the necessary settings to their cameras for shooting low pre-dawn light. Fortunately, there were people in both the Canon and Nikon groups that knew how to make these adjustments and could help me get everyone ready to go. Once we were all set, I turned them loose into the marsh.
There were a few wildlife photographers in the group. Wildlife photography is a difficult subject to learn if you are also just learning the technical side of operating your camera. You have to not only learn how to operate the camera, but you have to learn to operate it fast enough to keep up with your subjects.
After the mid-day indoor image review session, we all met on the beach for a one mile hike north into the Bald Head Island Natural Area. The hike is well worth the effort to reach a place far from houses and roads, where you can find a great example of a wild maritime grassland habitat. I advised everyone not to be distracted by the sun as it approached the horizon, there are already plenty of photographs of that. Instead, I asked them to pay attention to what that low angle sunlight was doing to the foreground and make that the focus of their compositions. This was not an easy assignment; the maritime grassland has a subtle beauty.
After a late night photographing the Milky Way, there was not enough sleep before we had to get up for the sunrise shoot on the beach at Cape Fear for our last field session. This time I wanted to put their manual exposure skills to the test. In the darkness just before dawn we reviewed setting a camera up for manual low light photography, then I gave everyone the assignment of photographing the crashing surf as the sky brightened from twilight to sunrise. I asked everyone to try many different shutter speeds until they found one that renders the waves in a pleasing way. There is no right answer, everyone has their own preference, but this assignment demonstrates one of the creative advantages of manual exposure. You can choose the shutter speed you like best and get that result every time. With a camera on automatic you have no say in the matter.
This workshop was made even better by the generous support of the Bald Head Island Association who provided a room and AV equipment for our indoor image review sessions. I am very grateful to them and the participants who agreed to share a few of their photos for this blog post. I have little time for my own photography while teaching so it is great to have a record of what we did, and to be able to share it with those who were not able to join us. Thanks again to everyone that participated and helped make this weekend a success.