I am now in my second year as a member of Welshot, a unique photography academy that I sampled a few times before joining so I have experience of them dating back a few years. I joined because I wanted to broaden my photographic horizons beyond the landscapes and architecture I naturally lean to. I’ve now done studio work with models and still life setups, an overnight landscape shoot and today I photographed dancers in and around Llandudno in North Wales.
We met up with our team leaders – Eifion Williams and Jason Edwards – and our models for the day on Llandudno’s high street. Our numbers where such that we had to be split into two groups, and I was in the group led by Jason which had two dancers in ballet tutus for the morning, whilst the other team were to work with the street dance crew ‘Autonomy’.
It would be churlish to complain that we had blazing sunshine and blue skies but the harsh light did mean that we had to consider where we could work and what use – if any – could be made of the off-camera flash units that our team leaders had brought. Whilst the experiments to see if the flash units could be used led to them being put aside for the moment the process was an educational one where my limited understanding of flash unit power settings and deployment was improved. So much so that I have resolved to explore the possibility of creating a lightweight mobile studio for myself in the future when funds allow.
We decamped to the wasteland that sits beside the main railway station. Here we explored the juxtaposition of our models with a largely abandoned scene. The two models – Rachel Gittins and Leah Dovey-Evans – were professional and resolute in assisting us. Jason was constantly checking angles and making suggestions over poses and changes to shooting angles. Having so much light to work with is not typical and I found I had to pull my iso down to below the native 100 iso to get to use my lens’ ideal performance of f/8. I was attempting to get the models pin sharp and the background hovering just out of focus – some shots achieved that, others not!
We moved on to putting our models into the shopping streets of Llandudno and utilizing the urban landscapes as a foil to our ballerinas. As well as ongoing support from Jason we collaborated as a group on directing our models and discussing angles and approaches. A lot of my photography is solo work where there are not other kindred spirits to share the experience and I really enjoy this aspect of Welshot courses.
An area that I do not have much experience of is street photography but the interactions and looks that our models were receiving were interesting in themselves. A passer-by wanted her young daughter photographed with the ‘fairy princess’ and Rachel was happy to oblige, giving me another opportunity for a shot. I spotted a florists’ shop doorway and invited Rachel to pose there: for me the shot I got is my favourite from the morning’s shoot. I need to do more street work!
Lunch was an opportunity to sit with the photographers I had been working with and to swap stories and discuss our different kits and how these reflected our interests. Once fortified we set out to re-join the main group and set off to photograph the street dance crew Autonomy.
Jason led us over to the colonnades that are set into the cliff above Llandudno Pier. These are concrete walkways and steps that offer a suitable urban environment and slightly downtrodden backdrop to our street stars. Later I tried to reflect this rough-hewn and cast concrete in how I treated the photos I processed on my computer at home. The setting offered both a stage and an opportunity to utilise the aforementioned off-camera flash units in the shaded areas. Although I have used studio strobe lights this was my first experience of using flash units on lightweight stands out ‘in the field’. For this part of the day the flash units gave us the opportunity to capture fast moving action from the dance sequences that Autonomy specialise in and are widely recognised for – indeed we were to learn that they are in the World Championships the following week in Blackpool. They were superb both in dance mode and in posed shots where I tried to capture their streetwise ‘sassiness’ as well as their freshness.
In all this work Jason was our guide and workshop leader, suggesting angles, setting up lights and situations, moving us to utilise natural framing opportunities. After some time working this environment, he led us up the hill to the gardens above the pier in search of a final location. A pair of large wooden thrones proved a vehicle for the younger members of our street crew to occupy in their own inimitable style, and Jason set up the flash units to give us an outdoor studio under the canopy of the trees.
A great day! I organised a whip-round amongst the photographers to get ice-creams for our hard-working models that went down well, and then headed off. I’d filled two memory cards with around 700 images so I have many hours of work yet to do in processing these. Lessons from other Welshot technical workshops will be utilised!
Stephen Ellis Bell