Weekend Photography Workshop
Nestled in a fertile valley along the banks of the picturesque Ghost River approximately 40 kilometers NW of Cochrane you will find a little piece of heaven on earth. There amongst the beauty of the natural landscape is a group of colonial style buildings that together make up The Crossing at Ghost River, a unique corporate and personal retreat centre. All the buildings including the 24 guest rooms in Remington and Deere Houses are filled with beautiful antiques, big comfy quilts all with picturesque views of the surroundings. The tranquil setting of The Crossing along with the friendly, accommodating staff made for a weekend that one will remember for a long time.
One weekend in the middle of October a group of nine people ascended to The Crossing for a Photography Workshop. Seven women, one token man all with one goal in mind—to learn about Photography. There was Andrew, a left-brain thinking engineer from Calgary who travels all over the world for work; Nicole, a school teacher, who teaches photography but knows very little about the subject (her words) and her twin sister Taryn who came along for the experience. Also attending were Laurie from Calgary and her friend Shannon, from Vancouver; Sharon, an already accomplished photographer and her friend Brenda from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, another photographer. And then there’s me—Cheryl. The leader of this rag tag group was Tracy Elliott, an award winning photographer and instructor from Mount Royal University. His goal for the weekend was to teach this collective group of “photographers” more about photography. Among the eight students there were those quite familiar with the camera, those who knew a little less and those who knew even less yet. But Tracy handled it all with ease.
After our first get-to-know-you meeting, we had our first lesson. LIGHT. As Tracy told us, photographers spend their entire lives studying and looking for the perfect light. They dream of it, they hunt ferociously for it, they analyze it and study it before any picture is ever taken. As photographers you have to look at hard vs. soft, direction of, calculate the right time of day, the quantity of light, the color and the contrast of light All this before you even take a picture. Whew!! And if the light isn’t right you may even have to abandon the said subject and come back another time. No wonder it takes so many shots and so much time to get that one perfect picture.
Our first dinner together was delicious; our conversations lively, getting to know one another and talk of what’s next on the agenda for the weekend. And for dessert—sticky toffee pudding! Nicole was upset over dessert though—no bananas flambé.
For our first photo shoot we headed out at dusk to wait for the sunset and then the stars to appear. Between Remington House and Pine Loft, overlooking the valley to the West we set up tripods and started taking pictures. This is where you find out what light can do. Tracy explained to us about long exposures and the different ISO settings we would need, and how to get the best stars pictures. There were some great pictures that night showcasing the glitter and twinkling of the stars and the starry milky way.
After a good night’s sleep in the big comfy beds the alarm clock went off at 5:30 a.m. I have to think for a minute—this is Saturday and I’m getting up at 5:30, Why? Oh yes, now I remember. You have to know I love photography to get up this early on a weekend. It’s still dark out. We gather up our equipment, walk up the hill, set up our tripod facing east and wait for the golden pinks and yellow glow of the sun to begin to appear. When the sun finally comes up the snow-capped mountains to the west of us have this glow from the sun shining down on them for some more beautiful shots.
Now, time for breakfast, and to warm-up. Turns out it was minus four degrees. No wonder we were all so cold—we had been out there for three hours, even though the time flew by. The Crossing Buffet Breakfast is a sight to behold—a lavish feast of eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes, fruit, yogurt, muffins, scones, and anything else in between.
Time for a nice warm shower to get ready for the remainder of the day we head off to the Pine Loft. This building is full of very old paintings and other artifacts from our native Indians acquired from the Glenbow Museum. Tracy now has the difficult job of teaching us all about post processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. This is difficult to explain—you take your picture in the camera in the raw state, but you have to change it to a JPEG format before it can be viewed or printed. Somewhat confusing–I personally don’t quite understand—I just go along with it. But you can also change basic elements of the pictures like White Balance, Exposure, Highlights, Shadows and so much more than we can learn in a couple of hours. This is where your pictures can go from good to masterpiece.
We decided earlier as a group to head over to the Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary for the afternoon. Just west of Cochrane, this non profit organization is dedicated to fostering a greater understanding of the importance of preserving wild wolves in the natural environment, as well as promoting responsible wolf dog ownership. They also provide rescue and sanctuary to neglected, abandoned or otherwise displaced wolf dogs. Most of the animals we saw were rescued wolf dogs with varying levels of wolf to dog. These stealth like creatures are beautiful; it’s all in the eyes, staring straight through you.
Another delicious dinner, and some more lively conversations about photography and various other subjects. But still no bananas flambé, Tonight we head down to the river for some more night photography. This night time photography is a little tricky but oh so much fun. I have to say I didn’t get anything good tonight except for one that shows a shooting star, that Tracy corrected to say was an airplane. In my mind, it’s still a shooting star.
Sunday we did get to sleep in until 6:45 a.m. and this time head down to the river for what we are hoping will be some more amazing sunrise photos. At some points the sun rise showed us her pink hues peaking over the cliffs but you had to be quick to capture it. I missed it, but did get some very good silky water shots of the Ghost River.
Our last breakfast and then we all gathered again in the Pine Loft where with Tracy’s help we worked on five of our best photos to show the rest of the group what we accomplished and for some gentle critiquing. There were some stunning photos of the wolf dogs, the river, the mountains and much more. I think Tracy accomplished what he set out to do in the Workshop.
Our final lunch together we enjoyed some more of the delights from the kitchen, this time by Chef Doug. After some deliberation we decided on our next destination for Tracy to hold another Photography Workshop—Iceland, a photographers dream. Not every meal time was all photography talk though. At one lunchtime we got on the topic of famous film stars. Finally it turned to Brad Pitt—where is he now, what’s he doing, and did you know he has bad breath and very distasteful cleanliness? We googled it and found out it’s true, it’s all true. How does Angelina put up with that. OMG!!
Time for good-byes. The weekend was a success. I think everyone had a great time and went away with some new-found knowledge. I have to end this by noting some of my observations from the weekend.
#1 Nicole and Taryn. I know that twins have a special bond between them and witnessing the two of you together proved to me that this is ultimately true. You seem to be great friends. You know what’s in each others heads and sometimes when spoken to, you even speak together at the same time. When you walk together you are so close to one another, sometimes even touching. I found it very endearing. I wish you all the best in whatever your endeavors.
#2 Andrew. I was surprised to see that a left-brain thinking engineer has such a creative right brain. Your eye for photography is amazing—you will create some masterpieces, I am sure. I am curious wether your camera dried out and if, or should I say when are you buying a new one, or if not a new camera, a new lens.
#3. Tracy Elliott. A man who obviously loves his work. You are such a great photographer and even more a great teacher. Don’t ever stop teaching us. You do it so well—you have patience beyond words, you explain in a way that is easy to understand. I am glad to call you a friend.
The Crossing at Ghost River – www.crossingexperiences.ca
Tracy Elliott – tephotography.ca