At the beginning of Summer I attended an inspiring workshop in Dartmoor National Park which was led by photographer Jo Bradford (Twitter). Jo’s exhibition ‘A Love Letter To Dartmoor‘ was on display at the Princetown Visitor Centre and is a collection of photos taken of Dartmoor, one a day for a year with a mobile phone camera. Jo is a mum as well as a photographer and she found it difficult to carry all her usual camera equipment when out walking with her children. However she kept finding interesting and beautiful scenes when out exploring and so she began using her mobile phone camera to capture those moments. Every day she would post her photos on Instagram and people all around the world followed her account and loved her pictures.
I prepared for the day by making sure I had lots of space on my memory card and had downloaded the Snapseed app. I also made sure I was wearing Dartmoor appropriate clothing and so I wore a waterproof jacket and walking boots. I had to leave early to drive out to the workshop and when I arrived I was led to a room where I met some other young people, Jo, and Lucy Piper (Instagram, Twitter) who was helping Jo to lead the workshop. While we were waiting for a few others to get there we chatted about ideal places to hide out during a zombie apocalypse and Jo said that she lives far away from town so will be safe from the hoards, but kindly said we could all join her..
When the rest of the group arrived we all introduced ourselves and I gave my name and age and said that I’m an artist living in Plymouth and that I haven’t done a lot of photography before. There were a few people my age and a couple who were older, and one person was home educated (like me). Jo introduced herself and her work, and Lucy introduced herself and said that she is a drummer as well as a photographer.
Jo then explained that we would be walking to different locations nearby on Dartmoor and taking photos along the way, and that a minibus would also take us somewhere a bit further away later. Afterwards we would come back to Princetown, look through our pictures, choose two of our favourites each, then edit them using the Snapseed app on our phones and print them. She also explained that the images we take with our phones are a widescreen format and that as we would be printing at 6×4 and 10×8 she asked us to change the image size settings on our phones. She also said not to use the zoom as it reduces picture quality and instead to try and get close to our subjects. It was raining outside so before we began we had a look around her exhibition which was set out so that the photos were displayed by month. There was a piece of text for each month which talked about obstacles that Jo had experienced and the progress of her Instagram account.
We set off to the first destination which was to a large rock formation. We found clusters of mushrooms and some of them were growing out of cowpats. Jo said she calls these ‘poo shrooms’ and we took pictures of them. Jo showed us how to activate a grid on our mobile screens and identified four ‘golden points’ and she said to try to always place an interesting subject in one of them. She explained that it was more attractive to position your subject there than directly in the middle of the frame. I tested this out and found that she was right. She also said that when taking a picture of a pathway or a road, “like cats like catnip, humans like swirly things and spirals”, so to try and frame the path as going from one lower corner to the centre of the screen instead of directly up from the bottom middle. She also asked us to add our favourite pictures to a Favourites Folder throughout the day to make it easier to pick some out later.
We walked through long grass and I almost tripped multiple times because I couldn’t see the ground underneath me. It was really foggy and although we couldn’t take landscape pictures we did get some misty atmospheric close-ups of flowers and trees overhanging a road next to a little wooden gate. By the time we got to our final location in the minibus, the weather was clearing up and we took some mysterious photos of low clouds over an old house, and of landscapes with touches of sun slipping through. I took some pictures of a group of cows which remained still like they were happy posing for my camera.
We returned to Princetown Visitor Centre and we all sat round a table and looked through our pictures. I whittled down my Favourites Folder until I was happy with the best two. It was quite easy to find the ones I liked the most because they inspired good feelings in me. I chose one close-up of a flower growing by a barbed wire fence, and one photo of a landscape with a muddy road running through it. Jo guided us step-by-step through Snapseed teaching us how to brighten certain areas and how to make areas more detailed. She told us to keep the brightness setting between -40 and 40 or it would start to look unrealistic. She said that we should try not to change our images too much and to keep it to less than seven alterations each so they would still be true to the subject. I highlighted the colour on the petals of the flower and darkened the opposite side of the frame. In the landscape shot I lightened a road and made the clouds darker which acted to make the land seem brighter.
Finally it was time to print, but my Samsung phone had trouble communicating with the Apple computer which was controlling the printer. In the end I had to transfer my pictures to a Windows computer in another room, then use that to send them to someone else’s iPhone, then use that to send them to the Macbook.. It took a while to get it all sorted out, and then the printer started cropping parts of my 6×4 pictures! Jo suggested trying to make bigger prints and it worked fine, but we didn’t figure out what the problem was. Fotospeed gave us two free art prints of our photos each but I also got to keep my ‘broken’ prints.
The day was an amazing experience and I’m really grateful to Princetown Visitor Centre, Jo Bradford, Lucy Piper, and Fotospeed for the opportunity. On the way home I was still taking pictures, and even got my dad to pull over so I could take some pictures of bales of hay wrapped in pink coverings which looked like giant marshmallows in a field. I have passed on the tips that Jo taught me to my family and now whenever I take a photo I think about those tips and take better pictures.