As a photography novice, I’ve often struggled to do so much as take a picture without getting a finger in the way of the lens. When I asked for a camera for Christmas, my only specification was that it fit in my handbag.
It was, therefore, from a position of ignorance that I embarked on Michael Potter’s Eye Photographic Workshop in Mallorca. However, any fears that I had were put to rest when we arrived at the Potters’ exquisite town house in Pollensa on the north-eastern part of the island, a 40-minute drive from Palma airport. Featuring tall doorways, original wooden shutters and tiles and a roof terrace looking out over the town, it was inspiring and welcoming.
Our first lesson was about the philosophy of photography, as well as the mechanics—how and why we capture the three-dimensional world through two dimensions. During our trip, we would try to master the photography ‘triangle’—the correct combination of light, depth of field and shutter speed—by taking hundreds of pictures, and then edit down our work into a 35-shot slideshow. As someone who barely exceeds 20 pictures on the average trip, the slideshow part sounded easy to me. I would later be proved wrong.
We went into town with our SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras, and I tried to remember which button did what on my Canon 450D. Amazingly, as soon as we started meandering through sun-dappled streets, much of what we’d learned made sense, such as using a high shutter speed to capture the motion of people in the square or passing motorbikes, and I began to understand what Michael had meant about the way photography can transform an everyday object into something extraordinary. A reflection in one of the tables in the square had an abstract quality, and a shot of the chapel, taken through the pews, was a more interesting view than a standard exterior—an artistic shot, not a holiday snap. A family in a cafe was made more intriguing by framing them through a dark doorway.
I also had a moment of sheer genius (or dumb luck) with my shutter-speed experimentation, capturing a skateboarder in an airborne pose.
As the light fell, we scrabbled to take our last shots, and I experimented with reflections.
Michael’s assistant, exuberant American Esther Gray, explained how to bracket—taking shots with higher, lower and medium levels of exposure, until (like Goldilocks) I could get it just right.
That evening, I discovered, to my astonishment, that I’d taken 812 pictures. Perhaps that 35-shot slideshow would be more of a challenge after all. Michael advised me to think about what made me take the shots, which helped me to crop in on the key sections of the images in iPhoto.
During the following days, Michael tailored our activities to our growing knowledge. At the beach, I tried to calculate the moment that fast-moving seagulls would come into range of my long lens.
The town’s Sunday market, with vibrantly coloured produce, was a visual treat.
At Port d’Alcudia, both tutors and students gamely leapt and cartwheeled across the beach so we could practise capturing movement, some with more grace than others.
We realised how spoilt we’d been on our part of the island when we went to Valldemossa—its renowned monastery drew a mass of tourists. I escaped to the outskirts and found some inspiring subjects.
The editing session and slideshow selection proved easier than I had thought, as I culled poorer shots from earlier in the trip.
After discovering my addiction to ballroom dancing, my tutor asked me to do some moves for the group. It was strange being on the other side of the camera, but I was thrilled with the results of the shoot.
The course taught me to view everything as a potential photograph. Next time I’m with my family in Wiltshire and I see our resident swans flying over the cress bed, or the light catch the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, I’ll be better prepared to capture such beauty.