03/12/13I pulled the car into airport arrivals and stepped out to look for my client with a certain amount of trepidation. It was a cold and blustery November evening and she had had a day from hell. Under the glare of a streetlight I spotted a lonely looking figure standing by a bag of camera gear and a holdall and guessed this must be her.
"Jen... Jennifer Beresford?" I asked.
I received a weary smile of relief and a nod.
This was day one of her much awaited Workshop holiday and Jen had been raring to go! We had been in regular contact since she booked her trip five months previously. She had seen the shots I had been posting on Facebook and was eager to get down here and get her camera working. Jen is an accomplished photographer who blends her work in business accounting with a thriving lifestyle and wedding photography practice. She wanted to extend her landscape skills, so when she saw my B&B Workshop Tours, she wasted no time in getting in touch. Yet upon reporting at the check-in at Manchester Airport she had been informed her 10.30 flight had been cancelled! No explanation, no apologies, just the news she was now going to be on a 16.30 departure to Exeter Airport, whereupon she would be transferred to Newquay by coach. This meant swapping an afternoon's shooting on Crantock Bay for a six hour wait in departures and two hour coach trip. Not the best way to kick-off a holiday workshop.
I had been finishing a meeting with a client after handing over their freshly printed brochure. We were standing chatting in the printer's car park when my phone went. It was Jen bearing the bad news. So instead of making my way to the airport pick-up as planned, I returned home and changed a few culinary plans around. A while later I slipped some tandoori lamb shanks into the oven for some slow cooking. My thinking being that after a stressful day travelling, a spicy, warming dish may just be the way to welcome my guest and let her relax into her holiday.
And so it proved. Jen was stoic in the face of her travel problems and she soon settled-in. She got on famously with my other half, Sam, and we were soon engrossed in after dinner conversation over a few glasses of wine. Yet there were plans to be made, and after checking updated weather reports we decided on playing the dawn shoot by ear. Instead of following my planned itinerary that started off way up the south coast, we'd go to where the conditions looked best, for the reports did not look entirely encouraging. While I excused myself to get the car loaded for the early set-off, Jen went to her room to get some much needed sleep.
4.00am and the alarm kicked-off. A quick look at the online weather and we climbed into the car and set off for Porthcurno. Rain squalls were supposed to be clearing gradually from the west throughout the morning, so it made sense to be at the closest point to the breaking cloud. I had to keep telling myself this as we passed through Penzance in a torrential downpour. I tried to remain positive and assured Jen that the weather can change in a matter of minutes down here. She smiled in appreciation of the gesture but looked at me with a slight hint of doubt behind her eyes. I crossed my fingers and sent a quick wish to Mother Nature to be kind to us
20 minutes later and we were walking down the winding track to Porthcurno Cove by the light of our headlamps. In the pre-dawn darkness I could make out the cloud was lifting a little and the driving rain had reduced to a persistent drizzle. We reached the ridge by the coastguard hut and descended the steep steps onto the beach. Heading for the shelter of some towering rocks we kept ourselves sheltered under my trusty old fishing umbrella as we set up our cameras. Jen and I had been in contact regarding what she needed to bring along. Bearing in mind her existing skills and experience, I had stipulated the need for a tripod, a wide angle lens and a Lee filter holder. The last being as a result of a previous one-to-one workshop I had given and the client's imagery was compromised by the lack of being able to balance retaining the sky's detail while gaining foreground textures.
This was our first shoot together. It was dark, drizzly and not ideal. My plans for an introductory shoot on Crantock had gone along with Jen's original flight but this would have let me see how Jen approached her gear and how she worked her camera. As it was, this was going to be a bit tougher under the current conditions. So I handed her an ND 6 soft grad filter and big absorbent lens cloth (a seascape photographer's best friend) and held the umbrella over her while she started shooting.
A few minutes later the sky started to clear and the light values started to climb. The full glory of Porthcurno appeared out of the gloom and Jen's face lit up at the spectacular vista in from of her. The umbrella was put aside and Jen was given a different tripod to use as hers was not getting a solid footing on the sand. This was one main factor in her getting an annoying amount of blur on the images her EOS D3. After the changeover, Jen was happy to roam across the beach and I got out my gear just as a most welcome window in the weather appeared to greet the sunrise. A big smile creased my face when Jen started whooping with joy at the scene playing out before her.
Porthcurno has to be my favourite Cornish sunrise location. Dramatic cliffs, golden sand and a steep shelving beach make a setting for great shots. And it did us proud that morning! We captured some nice shots and Jen was given a memorable first dawn shoot in Cornwall. Treking back up to the car we chatted about her experience and what she liked and disliked about the images she had taken. Her only negative was the way her images were not pin-sharp to the edges. I did not want to see Jen going away unhappy, so I suggested that she use some of my second set up. An EOS 5D Mk2, that importantly has a full frame sensor, and a 15-35mm lens that I swapped over from my EOS 1DS.
As I fired-up the camp stove and got the bacon sandwiches on the go, Jen got herself acquainted with the new set-up. After breakfast we headed off for Logan Rock, a rocky promontory just a mile or so away to the south. After a brisk walk across fields we came to the second location of the day. Once again, just as we set-up the clouds cleared and bright sunshine and blue sky appeared overhead. This gave Jen the opportunity to get some classic Cornish coastal imagery with great definition in the cliff rocks, crystal clear seas and scudding white clouds.
Jen was in her element and this became the way of the next three days (she had extended her Workshop to a 4 day stay). Each location we visited afforded us a small window in the grey skies to shoot through. Right down to the last evening when we were at Pentire Point East and from out of 10/10 cloud cover, the setting sun dropped to the horizon and under-lit the belly of the brooding low cloud to give Jen her 'Sunset'. Jen put 110% into every location. She opted for the coastal walk on the third day, that takes in a beautiful, remote cove beach and some stunning coastal features, yet requires a spirited seven mile walk to take it all in. Through it all she was looking for her next shot and really getting into the mindset that included getting wet feet and scrambling down cliffs to make sure she got them. On her first evening, Jen had stated she would be happy if she left with 9 finished shots. As it was, I guided her through working-up 12 on my Mac system and she left with a handful more to post-produce herself.
On the way back to the airport, Jen gave me some very kind and incredibly positive feedback on her Workshop experience.
"I don't use the 'A' word Chris, but it was awesome!"
I could not have asked for more.