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Story by Parmjit Parmar
First published on 

JACKSONS POINT, ONTARIO — Usually, when tourists visit a resort, it’s with relaxation and indulgence in mind. On my recent stay at the Briars Resort and Spa, however, I arrived with a mission. The Lake Simcoe resort known for great food, outstanding spa treatments and apristine golf course was offering a Landscape Photography Workshop.

The opportunity to improve my skills with a camera tempted me to head north from Toronto to the Briars. Only an hour from the city, the 200-acre property is surrounded by tall pine trees, hiking trails and Ontario’s fourth-largest lake. The Briars has been in the Sibbald family for more than 150 years and retains the charm of a family-run enterprise. In fact, the photography workshop began with a Friday night wine-and-cheese party hosted by Andrew Sibbald, a younger member of the family.

Over glasses of wine in the Manor House library, photographers Neil Kinnear and Lesley Chung, who led the workshop, regaled the group with travel photo stories and outlined what was in store for the next day.

How to Take Great Travel Photos

More resorts should offer packages where relaxation and learning are blended together. Known as “edutainment” in the hospitality industry, this resort offers an excellent blend of both. At the landscape photography workshop ($289 per person), the two couples in the class were seasoned travellers, talented photographers, and also from the Toronto area. I could tell the two male participants took their photo craft very seriously, each being equipped with some exceptional cameras and lenses. My equipment was pretty basic in comparison, a Nikon D40 with a decent 18-55mm lens. I also had on hand my external Nikon flash and 200mm zoom lens.

Following a hearty breakfast, we were given a visual tour of Kinnear’s stellar photography while he conveyed tips for capturing the ideal travel photo. He explained that lighting is probably the single most important aspect of photography, whether you’re shooting during cloudy, shady, or sunny days. That day was somewhat overcast, so we adjusted our camera settings for the right aperture and ISO dial for cloudy conditions.

One of the best tips I picked up during the workshop was how to take photos without the built-in flash in a low-light situation. My pictures always tended to be blurry and not as sharp as I wanted. Kinnear suggested I stabilize the camera on a still surface. Use whatever is around you for support, be it someone’s shoulder, handheld tripod, branch or a wall, he instructed.

With a head full of information and a stomach filled with a delicious breakfast of eggs, French toast, and copious amounts of coffee, we headed out onto the Ontario Heritage property for our practice shots.

Kinnear stressed that no matter what we may have learned previously, we should always follow the rule of thirds. Think of your image as breaking down into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Composition is all about how you view your photo subject, don’t point and shoot but rather study your surroundings and determine what would make an interesting photo, then apply the rule of thirds.

Walking around the well-groomed grounds, we shot anything in our eyeline — trying to factor in framing, composition, lighting and depth of field. I fared well on the lighting and depth of field but my composition and framing still needed work.

The real proof of our labours would be in the afternoon review and through Photoshop editing.

Landscape Photography Course Shows Results

After stuffing ourselves with an excellent lunch, we ventured back to the workshop area and picked three photos from our shoots to review and edit.  I have to say the results were impressive. Barry, Percy, and Andrew — my fellow workshop attendees — possess major talent. I did well with the depth-of-field shots, pleased that I captured the subject and the background appeared blurry.

We concluded the workshop with a celebration dinner. After returning to Toronto, I reviewed photos from past trips to Barcelona and Provence and was able to immediately see how those images captured three years ago could have been improved.

There are so many ways a photo can be taken, but it’s up to you to make it a keeper.