Skills we teach

We want you to leave our Retreats with photographic skills you didn't have when you arrived, skills that you can use on photographic projects once you're home. We're very open about how everything is done - sharing brings its own dividends as techniques are experimented with and new uses found. 


"I found Niall was particularly generous as a photographic  tutor, not only taking us to great locations but showing us how he achieved certain shots and effects  to interpret the landscapes. In other words,  giving away all his trade secrets!"

/ Janet L /


Colour Transects


There are two main ideas behind Colour Transects images.  Firstly, they let you draw the viewer’s attention to the diversity of colours present in a scene - often much greater than they imagine. Secondly, Colour Transects hold the viewer’s attention for  longer than a “normal” photograph as they speculate where the colours have been sampled from. The approach puts colour to the fore rather than treating it as an incidental element. The inclusion of the latitude the picture was taken tests of the idea that colours are more subtle as we head further north (or south in the southern hemisphere).


There are many ways  of creating the square colour swatches which represent the colours in the image . We show you how to do it in Photoshop and encourage you, with the basic technique under your belt,  to explore how else the technique could be applied.

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Chocolate bar collages


Offer a hungry man a single square of chocolate from a big bar and he’s not going to be satisfied. You keep giving him small chunks but what he really needs is a big mouthful. It’s the same with the photographs of details many of  us like making: they rarely impress by themselves. But presented en-masse, they are visually much more satisfying. 


The elements of these panels are shot in much the same way as if they were stand- alone images. You’ll need  maximum depth of field so don’t shoot obliquely; use diffused light to render maximum detail; avoid references to scale,  such as the horizon or edges, if you are after an abstract look. Indesign makes for the easiest layout but you can achieve the same look with Photoshop and Lightroom. Seek out subjects that tend to be overlooked but that are naturally varied.




The absence of context characterises “Objectography”: the subject (or inanimate object) is presented in isolation, the sole focus of the image. Its form becomes the composition. Subjects are photographed against a pure white, backlit background which shows their translucent qualities and adds depth that is lacking in regular cut-outs. These images acknowledge and celebrate individuality. This is the technique that underpins the world-wide Meet Your Neighbours Project.


The illuminated white background is positioned near opaque or dark subjects, at more of a distance from pale or translucent ones. The background is exposed as pure white with front fill provided by a second diffused flash. Since the background of these photographs is already pure white, they can be laid out seamlessly on the page without having to be cut out. Out of focus edges are therefore rendered naturally. Results from low-tech equipment are comparable to those from high end gear.


Word pictures


Photographs can be read as  well as simply looked at: “interpreted”, if you prefer. Unfortunately, relatively few people are schooled nowadays in reading pictures and so, often, miss the point as they concentrate on their appearance.  By making words an integral part of the image, there is a better chance we will get our message across.


I’ll talk about two different approaches: one involves creating print material containing the message which I we shoot on location (these are often spoof signs). The other uses typography in the creation of the final piece and is more in the realms of graphic art. Either way, your job will be most easily accomplished with Adobe Indesign or another desk- top publishing application, although Photoshop will allow you to do many of the same things.


Advanced composition


Composition is more than simply organising elements in space. "Significant placement” is concerned with how the meaning and influence of elements changes as they occupy different parts or proportions of the frame. Often the photographer can more clearly communicate his or her ideas about the subject by upsetting aesthetic conventions and expectations. 


Begin by analysing the different elements of a scene you want to compose into a photograph. This should include consideration of a hierarchy - separating important from ancillary  elements; the relationship between colours and their significance; perspective and dominance. You can then choose what should go where in the picture according to the story you want to tell.


Optimal exposure


A well-exposed photo is like a sentence with good syntax and word choice.  The viewer is able to make sense of an over or under-exposed image but the experience is much less enjoyable and it hinders their appreciation of the subject. Good exposure is a basic courtesy to the viewer.


Getting a good exposure isn’t very difficult but many inexperienced photographers struggle with knowing the best combination of settings in any given circumstances to get an optimal one.  Understanding the histogram lets you know if you’ve captured as much data as you can but knowing how far you can push the ISO, what the action-stopping speeds for different pixel-counts are and which is the best aperture for the look you are trying to achieve, are all vital skills too.  And you will master exposure, through a combination of practice, review and repetition.


Post-production to create mood


Sometimes, a photograph shows what someone has seen without suggesting what they actually thought. When an objective representation is needed, that’s fine, but the pictures aren’t personal. If you’ve something more you want to tell the viewer, follow Ansel  Adam’s advice: regard the negative (or RAW image today) as a musical score for you to interpret into your own performance- the final print.


We will concentrate on interpretation at the post-production stage. “Effects” are chosen to create associations in the viewer’s mind and to guide them towards what you were thinking and feeling when you took the photo. Plug-in software packages 

with highly editable presets, such as Alien Skin Exposure, let  you create nuanced images from within Lightroom. As well as the image itself, don’t under-estimate the influence a border can have on a picture: match one with the photo’s mood or story.


Theatrical lighting with flash


Blending natural with artificial light allows you to refine the look and atmosphere of your portraits in a way that is not possible with daylight alone.  With the possibility of separating the light on the foerground from that on the background, you can choose your own balance between the two and the control precisely the character of the light on the subject.


We use a variety of softboxes, flags and reflectors to modify the light from portable studio flash and explore the different character of each, in terms of the quality and focus of their light.  We then show you where to position the light modifiers and how to determine the optimal balance and exposure. Some of the skills you learn are transferable to food photography when you want the predictability and repeatability of flash.


Landscape deconstruction


Deconstruction presents the landscape in an entirely fresh way. The many elements that comprise it are shown in explicit close up, rather than diminished by a wide angle lens, providing the viewer with a detailed account not of topography or form but of the fabric of the place. These elements are brought together in a large composite image, arranged according to their position in the landscape


The elements of the composite are more akin to  visual notes than conventional photographs. Ask yourself what a non-photographer moving  through this space might notice and comment upon. Those are your subjects. Break the location down into a number of zones - perhaps the sky, tree trunks, rocks, water, the ground at your feet: which- ever parts of the scene are most detail-rich. The piece gets its impact from the massed effect so no individual image should “take the lead”.

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"..I can't pass the chance to express my gratitude to you for creating Meet Your Neighbours and writing your book on the technique. The project has opened up the natural world to me in ways that have truly improved my life. I feel this always, even without a camera in hand."

/ Lily K /