Following on from the more ‘exotic’ location of our last guest interview, featuring the Deserts of the South West USA tour, we thought we’d carry on the theme this time with an interview with first time Light & Lander Anna Duke, on our recent Yosemite National Park tour. This took place at the end of May – a great time to visit the park when the falls are flowing and everything is coming to life! All images copyright Anna Duke.
Was this your first tour or workshop with Light & Land?
Yes it was - the trip away to Yosemite was my first courageous leap into an official photographic tour! I’d been planning my travels over the preceding decade or so, to enable opportunities to see the world and indulge myself in taking photographs. On a couple of larger tours I’ve done there was a photographic tutor available to assist participants, but I’d never really travelled with the sole intention of improving my photography.
How did you first hear about Light & Land?
During many of my adventures abroad, I’ve met wonderful, interesting people - and a great proportion of these shared an interest in photography. Whilst swapping stories over sundowners and campfires, and adding new destinations to my bucket list of places to see, talk naturally includes with whom and how destinations were visited. Several of my now lifelong friends have taken numerous tours with Light & Land and always seemed to have benefited greatly from the tours.
That’s great to hear! So why did you choose the Yosemite trip specifically for your first tour?
I’ve visited several other US National Parks and always been in awe of the magnitude of sheer physical space within the US, which allows the parks to deliver varied ecosystems and environs in ‘one’ attraction. The strapline on the Light & Land trip web page, suggesting a tour in the footsteps of Ansel Adams, was too good an opportunity to pass up. Like most amateur photographers, works by Ansel Adams have provided delicious ‘eye candy’ - increasing my desire to the experience the world of landscape photography.
What level would you say you were as a photographer?
I’m a self-confessed ‘numpty’ in landscape photography! My photographic interests originally developed from attempting to capture clear and reflective images of wildlife. As time passed by, I found more and more my images were changing, and rather becoming a landscape with wildlife in it.
Until 2013, when I met Joe Cornish on a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula, my photography equipment had consisted of an age-old bridge camera and crossed fingers. But with gentle encouragement, Joe convinced me to start taking the camera off automatic, to think about the images I was trying to create and how to use the camera to best do this. He had me hooked, and the result was that last year I progressed to my first DSLR.
Over the last 18 months my appetite for creating photographic images has grown. I’ve invested in a decent tripod, I’ve got a new camera bag, I’ve ‘inherited’ some lenses and most recently of all discovered the need for filters! My camera is rarely set to anything other than manual these days. In comparison to the person Joe first started along the landscape trail, I guess a more realistic assessment would be intermediate.
What were you hoping to achieve from a L&L tour in terms of progressing your photography skills?
The bottom line was I needed a period of time for sustained practice at seeing, setting up and capturing a picture with my camera. In recent months I had been so overwhelmed with the leap in the technicality of image making, that I more often than not I forgot to focus the blooming camera! With photography as a hobby, to work in around a full time shift working job, it was easy to forget new lessons - or indeed which button or wheel did what on the camera. My aim was that the tour would provide ample time to get to grips with how to fly the damned thing. Perhaps more importantly, the small group size of eight - combined with both David Ward and Joe Cornish to assist us - would (I hoped) be an invaluable opportunity to gain insight, and further both my technical and artistic knowledge.
What were your thoughts on the places you visited and were you happy with the time spent at each place?
Yosemite provided an almost infinite option of locations, as the same locations at different times of day or weather would completely transform a view from one day to the next. Every stop gave us a broad variety of photographic genres, and as individuals we were free to explore an area. With vistas, details and nature abounding it was impossible not to find something that caught your attention and imagination. Not once on the tour did I feel bored or at a loss for something to do. Time spent in each location varied from a quick recce to several hours to lose oneself in wonder at the landscape. It was impressive how Joe and David were able to gauge the potential of an area and suggest an appropriate duration for the stop.
So were you pleased with the level of technical knowledge, enthusiasm and encouragement of tutors?
With a combined total of around 70 years of professional photographic experience, David and Joe’s knowledge cannot be underestimated. With pleasingly different teaching styles, they were keen to engage with us – to further our photographic techniques and help to participants expand their artistic horizons. Be it a gentle confidence-boost as required, or explanation of technical aspect, both were able to more than fulfil the role of tutor and tour leader. Even travel between destinations was filled with general knowledge, facts about the region, image dissection and interpretation. All interspaced with music and in particular much laughter!
How was their knowledge of the area and the best places to go?
Both Joe and David have travelled to and photographed Yosemite in a variety of weather and seasons. So we particularly benefited from their ability to be in the right place at the right time for weather and light conditions. Perhaps more importantly, we were rarely overwhelmed by other visitors to the park and were easily positioned to be able to capture images away from the crowds, enabling us to take away photographs demonstrating the untouched drama of Yosemite’s landscape.
Were you happy with the level of one to one engagement with tutors, and the opportunity for feedback on your images?
Both David and Joe were on hand and available for assistance at every location. Time with either one of them was not rushed or cursory in nature. Their help ranged from practical help with siting your tripod, to detailed discussion and run-through of features on the camera. One afternoon midway through the tour was dedicated to reviewing participants’ images of choice and individually tailored lessons guiding us through image processing. More often than not though, informal image feedback was constantly being given at ‘back of camera’ to help us refine and better our pictures.
So did you feel that the tuition was appropriate to your level?
Help from both Joe and David was pertinent to my previous knowledge and skills at all times. It was never condescending or overly complicated. Guided by informal discussion to our photographic backgrounds, they were seamlessly able to move between clients - always better informing and pleasingly stretching our creative process.
How was the leaders' ability to accommodate specific requests of the group, and to be flexible to take lighting and weather conditions into account?
By the very nature of outdoor photography, it would have been impossible to have run this tour without both leaders having an adaptable ethos! Over our evening meals a predicted plan for the next day would be discussed, and then refined over breakfast with the latest weather reports. Meteorology not being an exact science, most days our anticipated routes would change and mould themselves to the presented conditions. The vehicles we travelled in were large and comfortable with plenty of room, for not only our camera gear but variations in clothing and footwear if necessary. Everyone was able to join in the discussion around the next day’s plans, but it was very clear from David and Joe’s knowledge that plans A to Z were instantly available.
One last question - if a friend or colleague asked you whether they should consider a Light & Land tour, what would you say to them?
The tour was not only a hugely enjoyable experience in the company of incredibly talented photographers, but allowed me to really find my ‘photography mojo’. Without the constant battering of everyday life, or the weight of organising a trip as an individual, this tour (and others) allows the participant to totally immerse themselves in photography. I can think of no other better way to further your knowledge and skills, to access locations, and to be guided by supremely experienced talented experts - and all whilst having a jolly good time. If any of my friends asked if they should take a Light & land tour I’d say “Go for it!”
Post By Charlie Waite