Friday, 9 May 2014

Guest blog: Gill Stafford writes for us about "The Golden Hour" for photographers in Puglia, Southern Italy.

Gill Stafford - photographer and guest blogger!


The night before……

I’ve come a long way with my photography since my first Authentic Adventures photography holiday with Chloe Hall.  Building on the knowledge I gained in Morocco, I’ve upgraded my camera, completed an Open University photography course and joined a local photography society, being promoted to the Advanced section after only one year of entering club competitions as a Novice.

When I first saw this holiday advertised, I was delighted as early morning misty olive groves, the seaside and Italian trulli houses combined with characterful Italian faces really appealed.  Lashings of Italian ice-cream, strong coffee and excellent pasta - I would be in foodie heaven! Shooting poppies, pigs and priests really sounded too good an opportunity to miss. My usual Shoot-and-Run street photography would be replaced by time to really get to grips with camera settings.

Chatting to Hamish Scott-Brown, the tutor, on AA’s Facebook page wetted my appetite further and I can’t wait to meet him and the other seven fellow photographers booked on the holiday.  Keeping the groups small, means everyone gets attention from the tutor and no-one is left struggling.

Day One: making new friends

What a co-incidence!  Quite by chance, I found myself seated on the plane next to a guy of my own age who recognised my camera rucksack and was going on the same holiday.  Even more amazing was that he was born in the same Welsh County Town as I live in.  We chatted nonstop for the duration of the flight. 
After a bonding coffee in the airport cafeteria with other members of our group and Hamish, who was waiting for us in Bari Arrivals Hall, we drove through torrential rain on flooded roads to our first hotel, our base for the first three nights.  Hamish stayed on at Bari to meet the remaining guests arriving on different flights but we all met up for an excellent three course dinner.  I was pleased to see vegetarian food was served on request with a smile!  A quiet corner for coffee, an explanation of the proposed itinerary and the first of many hints for those of us who are  less experienced photographers from Hamish had me itching for the trips to come.

Day Two:  Monopoli, poppies and olive groves

Coffee and a local cake started off our morning in the fishing port of Monopoli.  Narrow winding streets with local people taking a slow Sunday walk; washing flapping languidly from balconies under a cloudless blue sky.  Peeling paint on houses with rotting doors gave us many photographic opportunities while, in the main square, locals milled around while children rode bicycles and took rides on a round-about.  One small alleyway unexpectedly opened out onto a small quay with local fishing boats and a tiny beach.


Beautiful red olive groves that surround the Masseria

Lunch in an agroturismo restaurant was enlivened by the noisy antics of a large Italian family celebrating their Grandfather’s birthday.  We were fascinated by the constant movement of family members as they couldn’t sit at their table for more than a few minutes, babies toddled, children ran round and young women tottered on impossibly high stilettos as the men gossiped accompanied by much arm waving!

Hamish had scouted out the most scenic olive groves and poppy fields to photograph so we returned to our hotel stopping to photograph landscapes and flowers at several locations.  Hamish announced a competition for the best photograph of a tree which he would submit to AA to judge.  We were only allowed one entry each and entering the competition was compulsory!

An optional trip to capture sunrise means early to bed tonight although I’m not sure that I shall be able to get up early after today’s fresh air.

DayThree: Cheesemaking children and  Trullis in a wildflower meadow

A pre-dawn start for those of the Group who did manage to rise early (I didn’t), saw them capturing early morning life in a small town, the weather precluding the proposed sunrise photography.  After breakfast, we headed to an artisan cheese maker.  Mozzarella cheese-making was demonstrated by a large Italian who stretched and twisted the strings of white cheese stopping mid-stretch to allow us to take photos.  We were invited to watch - and photograph - a small class of young schoolchildren learning how to press ricotta cheese into moulds.  the children bustled around oblivious to our cameras allowing us candid shots. 

Turning off a country lane, our minibus headed up a single track into a meadow of wild flowers, fruit and olive trees. The owner greeted us, then we were free to follow a footpath meandering past tumble-down Trullis, beehives and even an old church.  Wild flowers of many colours appealed to flower photographers and we could explore inside the Trullis, all to a background of birdsong.   Hamish skittered between us giving valuable advice and pointing out items of interest that we might have otherwise missed. Lunch, Italian tapas style, in an organic restaurant , saw us tasting produce grown nearby along with delicious still-warm granary bread and a freshly baked chocolate cake.

The afternoon downpour started just as we arrived at Arbrello, a town of well-preserved Trulls. Finding a quiet spot to shelter, I took many shots of tourists of all nationalities who head to this spot.

Dinner and anecdotes around a large table, discussing where we’d been and the wonders still to come.


Tuesday: a diverting transfer to the Lecce region

Leaving at 10.30am for the short (1hr 15 min) drive to our second Masseria, we had many interesting diversions and distractions, making our journey some seven hours in length. Our first diversion, came as we stopped at a particularly attractive poppy field. Framed by limestone dry walls and edged by olive trees, it was a carefully selected spot to spend time taking photos from the quiet roadside verge. Driving near the city of Ostumo, the driver decided he should direct us to a panoramic view. Heeding Hamish's safety instructions we squatted by the crash barrier on a sharp downhill bend to photograph the rooftops and churches. Several further 'distractions' later, we were met in Lecce by our tour leader for the second part of the week and taken to an old traditional Italian trattoria for yet another delicious lunch. A visit to a traditional papier-mache figurine maker saw us marvelling at his skills and taking photos of both him and his cluttered workshop. A walking tour of Lecce's historic centre was scheduled by the, by now familiar, afternoon downpour saw us take refuge in a very acceptable coffee bar instead.
Our Masseria for the rest of our stay was bran new; we were the first guests and were welcomed with wine and nibbles which stretched into dinner.
Wednesday: Sunrise to sunset, and everything in between!

I managed it!! Up in time to watch sunrise from a tiny fishing harbour before photographing olive groves in the “golden hour”,the first light of day after sunrise.  Wild flowers dripping with dew, backlit by early sunshine started off a day of adventure.

Following the coastline, we stopped off at a disused lighthouse, taking photos of the adjacent deserted beach.  A derelict beach cafe proved so much more fascinating than the more pristine affair where we’d earlier enjoyed coffee and the one-and-only ice cream cornet of the holiday.

After lunching at a cafe overlooking the huge Ostello Castle, a slow amble through narrow, but touristy, streets brought us to the town promenade and harbour where local boat builders were happy to demonstrate their skills before our cameras.

Shelagh Wooster photographing sunset in Gallipoli

Sunset in Gallipoli

A disused bauxite mine, now a milky pale-blue lake was worth the short hike through a nature reserve; the colours of blue, brown and green delighting us. I was even handed samples of tiny round bauxite balls, heavy like ball-bearings, by a young Italian man who scrabbled in the ground to retrieve them. 

After a long drive to Gallipoli, we crossed the bridge into the old city.  A saunter through narrow alleyways with our tour-leader pointing out places of interest and back onto the seafront just in time to set-up our cameras for a perfect sunset.  Instructed by Hamish on the ideal viewing spot and camera settings, I took my best sunset photo ever!

Gills entry for the 'Trees' competition.

Thursday:  Abandonment and Beatrix Potter
We were met at large rusty gates by the local Chief of Tourism. After shaking our hands, he slowly undid the large padlocks and invited us inside the overgrown garden while he guarded the entrance of this secret abandoned winery.  We couldn’t believe what we saw; was this really a film set?  Rust, dust, holes in roof and floor; bottles and discarded labels strewn across the floor, machinery unused for many years.  A car, it’s rusty engine spilling out of open bonnet - this was a photographers dream!  We explored various halls, smaller rooms and overgrown yards with further rusting vehicles.  It was worth coming on this holiday for this visit alone!  How could the early morning walk and talk in an olive grove accompanied by an expert in olive tree management compare with this?
A blacksmith demonstrated his craft allowing us to take his portrait framed in orange sparks before we wandered through several abandoned farmhouses and a monastery museum.  All seemed tame after the winery visit but a further delight was in store.
As we alighted from our minibus in a muddy farmyard, an elderly farmer shook each of our hands.  A gaggle of geese, dogs chasing cats, cats chasing dogs, flapping hens - this was a scene straight out of the Beatrix Potter books of my childhood.  Through an open barn door, more hens and several cockerels perched on a wooden rack, a kitten dozed on the doorstep of a dilapidated farmhouse; then there were the pigs! Two sows and assorted offspring rushed to the corner of their large muddy field expecting food rather than cameras! Two cows and a calf and even a white peacock added to the farm menagerie.  We explored sheds of old tractors and cars before meeting the architect of our hotel who was converting a cottage in the farmyard for his own use.  Offering us home-made grappa of high alcohol content and showing us his current modest living quarters he seemed an eternity away from the highly talented acclaimed architect who also holds a UN post.
I hope the Mayor of Lecce forgave us; we had been invited to visit him but the abandoned winery and traditional farmyard made for much more enticing photographic opportunity.



Friday: Market day and a preening peacock.

Much to my own amazement, not being a “morning-person”, I rose early and went for a walk through nearby olive groves.  The golden hour really is, I’ve discovered, a time of long shadows and gentle sunlight.  Maybe I should try getting up early when I’m home!  It’s interesting how much olive groves vary; some have red soil underfoot whereas others may have granite or yellow or white flowers while looking down in some reveals a poppy field.

Today is our visit to Lecce indoor market.  While markets provide opportunities for candid photography, it is harder to make contact with stallholders and shoppers and ask their permission to take their photograph although many people are only to happy to acquiesce to a request, language seeming no barrier when a camera is shown to them.  Hamish ably demonstrated how a smile can rapidly have the unlikeliest people looking into a lens. Ylenia, Authentic Adventures food holiday tutor, circulated among us introducing us to several stall-keepers and offering us samples of cheese and ham.

Back at Masseria Provenzani, I was fascinated by the solitary peacock living in a cage of hens.  With his tail feathers extended he really was a beautiful bird and I spent many minutes photographing him before joining the rest of our Group enjoying the food prepared by the USA guests.
A welcome two-hours back at our own Masseria (a sister hotel to the more-established Provenzani), before a final dusk walk in the surrounding olive groves.  Hamish even taught us a technique of capturing trees and reflections - shooting into a muddy puddle.  Strangely, it works!

A last dinner and a look at everyone else's photographs.

This was an amazing and varied holiday and the techniques I learned will improve my photographic skills.  Not only did I learn from Hamish, but from other members of the Group who were supportive and gave advice to the lesser skilled people among us - there were some superb photographers on the course! 
This was a very well researched trip, ideal for keen photographers of all standards.  I look forward to building on the new skills I learned and, hopefully, knees permitting, travelling on future Authentic Adventures!
I may not have photographed Pigs, Poppies and Priests but I still snapped my three P’s, Pigs, Poppies and Peacocks!


For more information about our Photography Holidays, follow the link, or call us in the office - we are always here to help. Our photography tutors always contact our guests before the start of a holiday to introduce themselves, discuss the trip and find out what they hope to achieve during the course of the week.

As you can see from Gills blog, our tutors make every effort to take you to really special places - before each trip, they go to the location and suss out all the best places, the perfect light, the transport, the rest stops - every detail is covered. If you are interested in this holiday, or any other, please give us a call in the office and we can put you in touch with the tutor who is happy to discuss the trip in more detail.

Office: 01453 823328 - we are here to help.

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