Snap happy in Limousin

A workshop in the Limousin region gave Eve Middleton the chance to improve her photography skills while relishing the French countryside

Now check the histogram – that’s it – and flick through until you can see the varying distribution of data. Can you see how the light levels are caught within the framework here? That means you have captured an image that’s not overexposed, so you are not going to get patches of blinding white on-screen. Well done!”

As the gushing torrents of the waterfall tumbled over rocks and ferns just metres away from us, I wiped the spray from my face and nodded intently as Tim Mannakee, Limousin-based professional photographer and leader of the three-day workshop I was attending, explained the technology behind the time-lapse picture I had just taken.

A week before, I would have seriously questioned whether I might actually enjoy scrambling up the side of a muddy valley – complete with tripod hoisted over my left shoulder and full camera bag slung over the other – in pursuit of the perfect photograph. Yet here in front of the waterfall, with one foot firmly hooked under a tree root and the other taking the full effort of my reclining body weight as I stretched to attain the right focus and shutter speed, I couldn’t imagine why I might feel anything but accomplishment and pride.

Working on FRANCE Magazine, I had been used to assessing images for work purposes. Although formal training had always eluded me, I had absorbed a fair amount simply through working alongside an image¬savvy team. Throw in to the mix my photography¬mad family (both my mother and brother are happy to spend hours discussing the merits of obscure¬sounding polarising filters) and I had a reasonable idea of what makes a good picture. Yet taking one myself? That was something of a mystery.

So I found myself in the green and rolling Limousin region, where the landscape just begs to be photographed; doe¬eyed cows graze in lush pastures, under the gaze of historic villages lined with warm stone buildings set out on cobbled streets worn from centuries of admiring visitors. Orchard trees groan heavy with ripe fruit; apples, plums and walnuts are all local specialities, not to mention the delicious baked clafoutis dessert served up in the local brasseries.

Warm welcome

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Tim has years of experience as a photographer; raised in Hong Kong, he travelled widely and settled in France

with his equally adventurous wife Gilly around 20 years ago. Having bought a dilapidated barn, they set about converting the building and its surroundings into a welcoming environment for Tim’s photography business and other projects.

The workshop had three other participants: Richard, in his mid¬forties, from Edinburgh, and Connecticut native Greg, 65, and his Indonesian¬born partner Susie, in her late fifties, from London. They all belonged to camera clubs and arrived at our first briefing with an impressive amount of equipment, so it was clear that they had done this before.

As I clutched our office camera – a Nikon D40 – and a monopod hastily grabbed from my family’s array of photographic accessories, I felt like the new kid in class with all the wrong stationery.

I needn’t have worried; although my monopod was dispatched with a hint of derision (tripods doing a far better job, as I later learnt), it became clear that taking a good picture was more about knowing how to use your camera to full effect, whatever its standard.

“The investment is in the glass,” Tim explained, as we gamely clambered into

his van on the first morning for a 5.30am dawn shoot. “Look after your lenses, and even if you only have the one, or can stretch to two, you’ll get a much better¬ quality image.”

I drank in the advice and set up my borrowed tripod to shoot dawn over the village of Curemonte, Tim’s neighbouring commune, fortified by Gilly’s excellent French coffee. Gilly was responsible for the catering and she turned out some stunning French dishes with seemingly little effort, including a delicious gratin dauphinois and confit de canard that we lingered over long into the night as we discussed photography.

Fresh croissants

As the sun’s rays hit the side of the church tower in Curemonte that morning, the subtle shift in light had us all snapping away furiously in an attempt to capture the changing tones of the surrounding landscape. It was only the rumblings of my stomach that alerted me to the fact that hours had flown by, and soon we were heading back to Mannakee HQ for butter and jam slathered on to fresh croissants and baguettes, picked up by Gilly on her way back from the school run.

The group soon settled into a rhythm each day – an early¬morning dawn shoot, followed by breakfast, then a mid¬morning excursion, lunch, with a rest break and then an evening shoot and late¬night dinner – and we covered carefully scouted locations in and around the area. The villages of Collonges¬la¬Rouge and Turenne served as a canvas for a lesson in aperture and exposure, while a visit to the waterfalls near Autoire and the nearby village were an exercise in both time¬lapse photography and capturing the beauty of France.

And my photography skills? David Bailey won’t be losing any sleep, but thanks to Tim’s expert guidance and the group’s enthusiasm, I have a deeper technical understanding of photography. Coupled with a firm appreciation of what makes a good picture, there might be a (very junior) picture¬taking legend snapping at Bailey’s heels in the pages of FRANCE Magazine some time soon.

Tim Mannakee Photography Holidays

Fleuret 19500, Curemonte

Tel: (Fr) 5 55 84 06 47

www.fleuretphotoholidays.com

Prices start from £990 per person.

Tim Mannakee Photography Holidays

Fleuret 19500, Curemonte

Tel: (Fr) 5 55 84 06 47

www.fleuretphotoholidays.com

Prices start from £990 per person.

Eve’s top tips

I learnt a lot from my time with Tim – a few basic pointers include:

• Check, check and check again on playback after taking a picture. Live view (when you can see what you’re shooting on-screen rather than looking through your lens) is helpful, but don’t rely on it.

• Clean your lens obsessively. Dust is an inevitable fact of nature, but that doesn’t mean it has to ruin your picture.

• Play around with the settings on your camera – don’t be scared to make mistakes, it’s all part

of learning.

• Always prep your kit before setting out, especially if you are on a dawn shoot the following day. There is nothing more annoying than finding that you have forgotten

a vital piece of equipment.

• Dawn shoots are chilly, even in summer, and even in southern France. Dress in layers and you can peel off as the sun rises.

And finally…

• A monopod is NOT a tripod (the clue is in the name!) – there is

a vast difference between the two and it will greatly affect the quality of your image.

WORK & PLAY

Why not have a go yourself? Here’s our selection of other learning holidays in France

Ocean Capture

The Landes département has the best of Aquitaine’s natural beauty, with a coastline stretching along the Atlantic and a neighbour in Bordeaux’s rolling vineyards – making it a perfect destination for photography courses run by Ocean Capture. Other destinations in France are available – prices from €1,199.

Tel: (Fr) 6 71 00 37 69

www.oceancapture.com

Pyrennique

The French Pyrénées providea spectacular backdrop for photography workshops run by Pyrennique. A seven-day course in the Ariège département and

a five-day break in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département provide lessons on photography skills and post-production techniques. Prices from £980.

Tel: 01223 835 999

www.pyrennique.com

French Riding Holidays

With miles of open countryside, quiet bridlepaths and woodland gorges, France is perfect for exploring on horseback. French Riding Holidays (pictured above, left) is based in the Aveyron département and welcomes riders of all abilities, including novices. Price from £560 for an all-inclusive four-night break.

Tel: (Fr) 5 65 43 45 69

www.frenchridingholidays.co.uk

Go Learn To

Get in touch with your inner Monet on a three-night painting break in Lodève in the heart of Languedoc-Roussillon, with two full days of painting in tutor David McEwen’s studio, garden or surrounding landscape (pictured above, centre). The remaining time can be used to explore the charming Hérault département. Price from £296.

Tel: 0845 625 0445

www.golearnto.com

The Gascon Cookery School

Tie on your apron and don your chef’s hat to brush up on your French culinary techniques in the village of Gramont in the Tarn-et-Garonne département. The Gascon Cookery School (pictured above, right) has hands-on weekend courses from £480.

Tel: (Fr) 5 81 78 17 00

www.gasconcook.co.uk