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During my trip to Bangkok, I added an extra day so that I could meet up with locally based freelance travel photographer, Gavin Gough for a 1 on 1 workshop.
Gavin is a freelance travel, stock and assignment photographer, who has also established the Bangkok Photo school – which he co founded with Jackie Rado – and additionally runs highly sought after workshops to places such as India, Tibet, And South East Asia.
This past week he has been busy documenting the Thai opposition’s – The Red Shirts – demonstrations against the government (see my earlier post here). Whilst Gavin’s passion is travel photography, the images on his blog of the Red Shirts actions put most of the major news organization with full-time photojournalists firmly into second place.
So what does a workshop with Gavin entail? The format for the one day workshop is very much tailored to the individuals’ needs. For me I wanted to understand the process that Gavin went through in selecting subjects, how he set up his camera, how he tackled metering in difficult lighting situations and any other nuggets of information or advice that he was willing to share.
We met early at Sathorn Pier to catch the water taxi to Bangkok’s main fruit, vegetable and flower market, where we were going to spend the morning session.
One of the things that immediately strikes you about Gavin is that nothing much phases him. There is an inner calm, a genuine enthusiasm for his work and teaching and an irrepressible sense of English humor – which for me as another Englishman was a much-needed tonic! This combination makes for a wonderfully relaxed approach to the workshop, which in turn makes it easy to ask any questions – however dumb and trust me, some of mine really qualified there – to ensure that my high expectations did not turn into frustration, and that both Gavin and I were able to have fun.
We started by reviewing all the different camera settings, ensuring that I was set up for the morning, and Gavin also showed me how to customize the settings to have some default templates set up for panning, bracketing and portraiture.
Then he set me a 5 minute exercise to shoot anything green, but I had to return in 5 minutes with a minimum of 20 images. This seemingly simple task is actually quite challenging. It clears the mind, help you focus on looking at things differently and also ensures you get in to your “groove” from the beginning. It is a great exercise and one I recommend any of you adopt as a way of warming up each time you go out.
Then it was off to wander the streets, with Gavin seeing subjects and ideas, patterns and light that I either missed or ignored. We practiced environmental portraits, head on street portraits, and lots of panning. By the time lunch came around some 3-4 hours later we were both in need of a rest and a chance to review the morning’s images. This is also a critical part of the workshop that Gavin really focuses on – the critique of images and suggestions and advice for things to consider in the afternoon session to improve the quality of the work.
After a couple of hours back at my hotel recharging batteries (both the camera’s and mine), and having a temporary respite form the heat and sun of Bangkok, we met up again for the afternoon session which was based around a visit to Chinatown.
This time Gavin set me an assignment, loosely based on how LIFE magazine used to direct its photographers. We had to get a series of shots as if we submitting a photo story – these compromised of an opening shot that would tell the reader where we were, often used as the cover shot for the story; a portrait, and environmental portrait, a sequence of 3 linked images and a closing shot. A selection of those images, plus some from the morning session are in the slideshow below.
The power of this exercise was as a tool to help me look at things in a more structured and yet more flexible way than I would have done otherwise. It helped me to construct an imaginary story in my mind, and this in turns give me a rhythm to the time spent out wandering around the streets observing the culture.
By the end of the day and with just under 800 images to process, I was ready for a drink, some wonderful Thai food and to sit and chat with Gavin about what I had learned and how I thought I had done.
So many photographers offer workshops these days that it is often difficult to know what to expect and like many things in life the quality and the value vary enormously. It was clear from the get-go that Gavin was different. The pre-course documentation, contact and responsiveness were thoroughly professional. The checking by Gavin at the beginning of the day what I would deem success to be at the end of the day assured me that this was a really tailored experience. The constant banter, the advice and suggestions throughout the day ensured that I remained engaged, motivated and had fun, And of course the critiques at lunch and over dinner were an incredibly powerful and useful mechanism for me to hear what I was doing well and what I can take away to work on further.
I cannot recommend the experience highly enough. Gavin is delightful company; incredibly experienced and your photography can only improve when you spend time with him. You can find out more details about individual courses, group courses and his other week long workshops via his website, www.gavingough.com or the Bangkok Photo School If you live in Asia, you need to find an excuse to route via Bangkok. If you do, be sure to email Gavin in advance, and add a day to your itinerary to experience a brilliant photo workshop.