In late April, I attended my first ever photography workshop. It was run by Foto Frenzy, who also run several other workshops including an underwater one photographing humpback whales in Tonga. But this was the first time they’d held a surf, ocean and lifestyle event in Bali. It was also, unbelievably, the first time that the legendary photographer Ted Grambeau had ever hosted such a workshop.
There were three hosts: world-renowned surf adventure photographer Ted Grambeau, Aquatech ambassador and big wave photographer Phil Thurston, and Foto Frenzy’s Jasmine Carey. We also had some assistance from an enthusiastic newbie Lachlan Callender. It was held at the beautiful Komune eco-resort in Bali, which is situated right on the famous surf break Keramas and just so happens to be the third stop for pro surfers on the World Champions Tour. I’ve spent a lot of time in Bali, but I’d never been to Komune Resort before and I would happily go back for a holiday. It was stunning. I was very happy to be spending eight days there learning from some of the world’s best.
When I arrived, I had no idea who else was attending or even how many people were involved. I knew one other attendee - my friend Kat Nielsen who runs The Creative Series photography blog. I was surprised to find out that there was just one student in addition to the two of us - a bubbly Mexican girl called Alexa. That was it! Three students and three (and a half) teachers. I’ll admit, this wasn’t really the plan for Foto Frenzy. They had hoped to get a few more sign-ups but they were always going to keep the student-teacher ratios low. But for this debut event, they just didn’t get the numbers. I have a feeling that next year will be quite different.
Having never attended a photography workshop before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard some horror stories from similar professional events where the students simply watch the instructors take photos, so I really hoped this wouldn’t be like that. It wasn’t.
On the first afternoon, we looked over our equipment and water housings to see what we had and made sure everyone knew how to set everything up properly. The event also supplied us with a few additional pieces to try out if we wanted, which meant that I finally got to take my 50 mm in the water :)
This first day was also used to get an understanding of what each individual was looking to achieve throughout the week, so the lessons and practical sessions were tailored to our individual needs. We had also completed a basic questionnaire prior to arrival, so the instructors had a good idea of our photography knowledge beforehand.
Our days started at sunrise where we’d swim out from the beach and shoot the rising sun from the ocean. Then we’d literally just turn in the other direction to shoot the waves. It was a dream location.
The workshop had various sponsors including Aquatech Imaging Solutions and Manfrotto. Ted had also arranged for Ripcurl to provide us with a model - Kipp Caddy - which meant that we had an incredible surfer ready to head out and shred whenever we wanted to shoot.
I already knew how to shoot surfers (hence my tutorial on how to take amazing surfing photos), so I was keen to learn some new techniques. On the second day, I had a one-on-one lesson with Phil Thurston - the master of shooting the ocean in slow motion - who showed me a technique to take panning shots of surfers. This was completely new to me but I have to say, I was really impressed with this shot I managed to get on my first time trying!
One of the things that Ted really wanted to teach us was how to understand light in order to be able to solve photography problems. The workshop provided scrims and reflectors for us to have a go and figure out how they work. This is my personal favourite way of learning so this really suited me. Learn the theory, then learn by doing.
One of the other things I got to try out was using lights, both continuous and flash. I’d never used lights before - in fact I went as far as calling myself a natural light photographer, which if I’m completely honest was partly because I was intimidated by flash. But now that I’ve learnt the basics, I realise it’s nothing to be intimidated by and something that can really add a wow factor to natural light photography.
Ted had an underwater continuous light as well as an underwater flash that we could try for ourselves. He arranged a portrait session for us in one of the resort’s pools. These were some of my personal favourite photos that I took that week and it really opened up my eyes to what’s possible with different locations and equipment.
I loved these underwater portraits so much that I also arranged my own private photoshoot with pro surfer Brisa Hennessy, who was already at Keramas in preparation for the World Tour event.
One of the most exciting things about the location is the ability to surf at night. The resort has huge floodlights that light up the wave in front of the beach so you can surf in the dark. I wasn’t sure how I would feel swimming in amongst the waves at night time, but I wasn’t going to turn down this unique opportunity. Phil paddled out with us into the dark ocean along with Kipp on his board. I wasn’t too focused on getting surf shots because I wasn’t at all confident that I would be able to shoot anything worth keeping (I was right!) but just being out there in the dark was a really cool experience. I did however, manage to get a shot I was happy with from the beach, using the same slow shutter panning technique I’d learnt earlier.
The entire workshop was based at the resort, as there were so many different locations within it, but we did leave the resort briefly to experience some local culture and attended a Balinese dancing ceremony in Ubud.
It’s hard for me to sum up eight such extraordinary days, but I left this workshop feeling like someone had opened my eyes as a photographer. I didn’t just learn how to do one particular thing, but how to use what I had learnt and adapt it to different situations. One of the main things I loved about it was seeing everyone else’s photos as well. I love how different people can shoot the same subject at the same time, and all come out with completely different images. We ended the week with a presentation of our best shots from the week.
Overall, the workshop was extremely professional but equally as informal. We had a classroom space to use all week, we had workbooks, presentations, practicals and editing sessions. We covered all aspects of photography including action, lifestyle, portraits, and products, as well as the business side of photography, workflow techniques and editing. We eat together and hung out all week and by the end we had all become quite close. The support has continued since we have left, and I now feel that I have a small network of professionals whom I can call upon for advice in the future. There was a perfect balance of freedom and guidance - we were encouraged to try everything but never felt obligated to do so. I can honestly say that this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and was worth every penny. If you have any questions about anything to do with this workshop, please feel free to get in touch.
If you’d like to read Ted’s write-up of the event, you can do so on his blog.
For another article written by Kat Nielsen, Founder of the Creative Series blog, please click here.
If you’d like to learn more about Phil Thurston and see some of his incredible work, you can visit his website.
If you’d like to enquire about attending the same event next year, you can do so via Foto Frenzy’s website.