A learning experience with Neil Atkinson
In 2015 shortly after returning from living and working in Australia, I realised that the hobby side of my photography had gone a bit stale. I hadn't been getting out and taking photos for myself and nor had I been meeting up with like minded people. To get my photography mojo back I decided to do a workshop in my local area. A quick search on the internet brought up a few photographers who offered this service. Neil Atkinson stood out by a country mile as the go to photographer for this service, he has so many accreditations and with over 45 years of Professional Photography experience, his high level VIP clients are numerous and he has also presented television programmes about photography. With all that in mind it was an easy choice to pick Neil over the others. After over 5 years and many workshops I am sure I made the right choice and I consider him now as Photographer, Mentor and Friend.
NEWCASTLE NIGHT LIGHTS WORKSHOP 2015
My first workshop with Neil was the Newcastle City Night Lights back in 2015. We met on a bitterly cold evening in February on the roof of Manors car park in Newcastle. There was around 8 other like minded photographers. After a brief introduction it was obvious that there was a broad range of experience from complete beginner to advanced, all after different aspects of the workshop. The beginners out for the first time looking for the different settings they would use to different effect as well as the best composition. the more experienced photographer was looking for different subjects, as well as it being an excuse to get out but not forgetting being able to draw on Neils vast experience. Neil is a very patient teacher and has time for everybody and confidently knows his way around all the cameras this skill allowed him to show the students how to confidently use their cameras. What I love about Neil's workshops is the relaxed friendly atmosphere, meeting new people of all abilities and there are never any know it alls, just good guys.
Several photographs taken during the Newcastle Night Lights tour of the City Centre.
POWERFUL PORTRAITS STUDIO WORKSHOP 2015
After such a great workshop in Newcastle City Centre at night I was keen to try a few more and got myself booked on a model shoot with Neil in a small studio using a constant light source. There was a good group there of around 8 photographers, we had the usual group introductions so we all knew what each other was about and what we wanted to get out of the workshop. The plan was to use a single model with several different costume changes, the group would just continually rotate and each get the opportunity of the prime shooting position, which worked really well. We had a few hours photographing, Nas, our stunning model for the day who did an absolutely wonderful job. I was extremely happy with the images that I came away with, in particular the low key images, the lighting set up gave us some amazing shadows. Once we had finished with the photography, Neil proceeded to give us an insight to basic editing in Photoshop which was an added bonus.
CASTLE KEEP WORKSHOP 2016
Moving on to my third workshop with Neil, almost a year later from the last Powerful Portraits session. I opted for the Castle Keep, this was very special as it would be done at night when the Castle would closed to visitors, therefore the chance to capture some photos with no people in them. The Castle is located right next to Newcastles High Level Bridge so very easy to get to, on approach in the dark the large imposing entry door looked quite eerie situated in the shadows. Met up with Neil as usual he had the coffees, teas and juice all set up, not forgetting an array of biscuits. The usual introductions took place over a coffee before we got started. We started up on the roof which offered amazing views across the Tyne, so you could see all the bridges, the Sage and the Baltic, unfortunately it was a bit misty and the photographs I took of the bridges although ok weren't up to publishing standard. As the group finished up on the roof we split up and explored this wonderful castle, getting all of the photos we wanted and as the Castle was closed we didn't have the worry of other visitors walking in front of your camera while taking a shot.
This was an amazing workshop as not only was it a fantastic subject to capture, but we also got a history lesson and learned all about the Castle background as well as having Neil on hand to help with any technical issues and composition and setting suggestions. Very enjoyable evening in great company another 5 out of 5 for Neil Atkinson.
REAL RAPTORS 2016
The Real Raptors workshop was probably one of my favourite sessions up to now. I had little to no experience capturing birds in flight, my only experience to date was a Birds of Prey show, were I managed to capture around 100 blurred photos. With that in mind I was sceptical about capturing any clear images, Neil had assured us we would get plenty of wonderful and clear images. We met up at the Rising Sun Country park at DLS Falconry run by the amazing Derek Curtis. With over 40 years falconry experience, what Derek doesn't know about his birds is not worth knowing. He keeps around 30 birds at his sanctuary in the Rising Sun Country Park. We started up with the usual introductions over a coffee before setting out on a beautiful sunny day to meet the the many varieties of Birds of Prey. This centre is open to the public and well worth a visit, a lovely walk through the Country Park and then popping into the Falconry centre is great for anybody, particularly families. You can get up close and personal with the birds and under the direction of Derek and his amazing staff stroke and hold the birds as well as providing all the information you would ever need about these fabulous creatures. Entry to the centre is always free, great value in anybodies book.
We opened up with a bit of an easy warm up, Derek posing the birds on top of stones, boxes and posts, this allowed some real good photos with massive depth of detail being attained on the birds feathers, also a great opportunity to get some good portraits of the birds with plenty of eye to lens contact. Moving on Derek posed a variety of birds in various locations placing the birds as close as they would be in their natural environment, although the birds of prey are all captive this gave a little bit of realism to the photographs. Throughout the session Neil would always be on hand to check the students photos and suggest camera settings and various composition's, this was always a great starting point and allowed students to get started and tweak their settings thereafter. We had plenty of time with each subject and could take as many photos as we want, nobody was ever rushed. There was Eurasian Eagle Owls, Barn Owls, Buzzards and Kestrels to name a few. The day culminated with Derek and one of his amazing staff flying the birds which was an absolute joy to watch. We could virtually stand where we wanted so the opportunity to capture head on photographs of the birds flying towards you were plentiful. So with my camera set on Servo and a fast shutter speed I was hoping for plenty of pin sharp images. I did get plenty of sharp images but still need plenty of practice with this as although the images were crisp I was cropping wings off, while I was concentrating on the flight path of the bird I was forgetting about the composition. Bottom line is I was happy with the photographs I took on the day. Think I ended up with just over 1000 images that day, about 70% of these ended up in the bin and I only retained the best of the best.
All in all this was an amazing day and I can't thank Neil and Derek enough for such an amazing day. Would be great to get back up there again, for more practice and that is my excuse, in reality it is to see the birds again and witness the amazing work Derek and his staff do to look after these amazing creatures.
MAROONED ON ST MARY'S ISLAND 2017
This was a workshop that I had been looking forward to for a long time for purely personal reasons. When my Grandfather retired at around 72 years old he taught himself to paint, he had no artistic skills before this and I thought he did quite well at how quickly he picked it up. St Mary's Lighthouse was his favourite subject and continued relentlessly to perfect his painting of our local landmark. One of the photos I took was of the lighthouse how he saw it through his eye, I took that photo and blended his painting in to give a half painting and half photo which I think came out quite good.
The idea of the Marooned workshop was that we would arrive while the tide was out and remain on the Island when the tide came in. The beauty of this was that there would only be the photography students left on as all the visitors to the Island would not want to be marooned like us so would leave before the tide came back in.
This workshop didn't disappoint as we had the Island to ourselves exploring from bottom to the very top, even seeing the now redundant light and rotation mechanism. As well as exploring inside the lighthouse we also got to see the seals as well as the various rock formations, one rock in particular had been eroded and was like a mini Mount Rushmore with faces carved out by years of erosion, Neil showed us this and even though I have been back many times I can't for the life of me, find it again. As usual, throughout the session, Neil was always on hand with his helpful suggestions, showing and suggesting shots that you have walked past and missed, helping the beginners and students with new cameras with their equipment and showing them the settings and how it operates, it doesn't seem to matter which camera somebody hands to Neil, he knows it inside out intimately. All in all this was a great day and a few hours later as the tide went out we captured our last few photos.
A final photo that I took at the lighthouse early in the morning on the day of the workshop. Stunning sunrise at St Mary's Lighthouse. Being local I never get sick of this beautiful landmark.
The Marooned session was one of my last workshops with Neil, although there was another that we did down at Whitby during the Goth Weekend but I feel that as this was such a great day it is worthy of its very own Blog. If you are a photographer of any ability you would always get something from Neil's workshops. Neil is also a qualified and accredited teacher of Photoshop and covers courses from Beginner to Advanced these courses are crammed with great information and exercises, at the end you are provided with all the session material and course notes to practice and perfect in the comfort of your own home. What I find with Photoshop is that once you have mastered skills, you need to be using it regular to keep those skills sharp.
Unfortunately Neil stopped doing the group workshops last year, however he still does his fantastic 1 : 1 sessions were you will get his full undivided attention, covering any subject or workshop. I do hope you enjoyed this blog and if you want to contact Neil Atkinson have a look at his website. Same with Derek Curtis check out the DLS Falconry Website and give him a visit, you won't be disappointed.
Neil Atkinson Photography. www.neilatkinson.com
DLS Falconry. Birds of Prey Centre. www.dlsfalconry.co.uk
Thank you for taking the time to read my Blog, I hope you enjoyed it. If you want any further information please drop me a line. firstname.lastname@example.org
John Brodie. www.johnbrodiephotography.com