Time away has been what I have needed for a little while now. Time to get back to me, to be a bit selfish and focus on my needs. I had forgotten how all time consuming having a small one was. You start to forget who you are and you start to become an extension of your baby. Someone’s mum. So, when details of The Flea Retreat hosted by Tots100 and Flea Enterprises came to my attention, I knew it would be just what I needed at exactly the right time. Plus, as an added bonus,, it was only an hour and 15 minutes drive from my home.
Arriving at Croydon Hall near Minehead
Driving through the very narrow country lanes to reach Croydon Hall, it became very clear why this event was called The Retreat. We really were in the middle of nowhere. I was one of the first to arrive and was given my room number which happened to be a two-person room with en-suite at the top of the house. I was sharing with the very lovely Steph – and it wasn’t the first time we had been roomies.
After lending a hand to take Sally’s car to the garage in Minehead, I arrived back to find a couple of brave souls had ventured into the pool. It wasn’t really surprising as the weather was gorgeous – the water looked freezing though!
The event began in what I believed to be the best way to leave the outside world behind for a while. A wonderful Yoga Nidra from Rachel – who was based at Croydon Hall and knew the stresses and strains of motherhood having given birth 4 months prior. She taught us to find our power pose (I have already been using the superman pose for a number of months after seeing it used on Greys Anatomy).
The Sessions – Day 1
Golden Hour Photography
Tom Arber has always been a photographer whom I have admired. We have a photo on our lounge wall taken by him of me at the MAD Blog Awards a few years ago. It is one of Ross’ favourite photos which he had put on canvas. I knew his knowledge wouldn’t disappoint and, there we all were, playing with reflectors at the back of the field behind the house as the sun set at the opposite end.
The Sessions – Day 2
The following morning and, again, a session from Tom. There were far more of us than I thought there would be who got up at 5am to set up their tripods and wait for the sunrise – and boy, was it worth it! The sun was totally amazing and, because of the slight haze, it was a big pink ball as it came up. I had promised myself I would stay in bed if I was too tired but, instead, I found myself very excited to go out and take photos.
Before the Shoot
Richard from Somerset Film was on the case with this session. If there was one thing I took away from this weekend from a technical point of view, it was the importance of a back light. Richard explained the key light, the side light and the back light and set them all up in order for us each to do a piece to camera. One of the things that I was impressed with was that each professional advised that we did not need to spend vast amounts of money to get the kit – and gave us information on where to buy the products too!
Creative Product Photography
I have never been a big flat-lay lover. I find it a little too contrived for my taste so, when Derek Lomas showed us how we could photograph products using tracing paper, Perspex and a light from Screwfix, I was sold! The results are tremendous and I, amongst many of the other people who attended, are frantically searching for the best place to buy.
To my mind, the photos that we took of the products in this manner look like they are straight out of a magazine.
— A Moment With Franca (@WithFranca) April 21, 2018
After a 15 minute power nap, Steph and I headed down to the Spa and met Franca and Tayla already enjoying a sauna. I opted for the hot tub followed by the steam room. It was really relaxing and a break from all the excellent information we were being served with.
Low Light Photography
Tom took us around many areas of the house to show us different pockets of light and how we could make them work for us. Many people had not come out of auto mode on their camera. It was great to see how much support and encouragement they were getting to enable them to do this. I found that it helped me cement the information I already knew in manual mode.
The Sessions – Day 3
Portraits That Tell Stories
Sarah Mason, ably assisted by her business and life partner, Suzi, were full of enthusiasm for their photography. Armed with some beautiful examples that Sarah had taken, she shared with us her knowledge of using light, whether it be side, back or front. Her images were something I will definitely aspire to take. She showed us how to blur objects in the frame and focus on the person. We used walls, benches and steps as examples of leading lines. Sarah left us with a project – to take one photo every morning for a week. I am pleased to say that I am keeping up with this so far!
Saving Time with Lightroom
Once again Tom came up trumps with his knowledge. For a long time I have mainly been using Camera Raw in Photoshop to edit my photos. However, I can now use Lightroom far more effectively and it shall certainly be my program of choice going forward.
Amongst many other things, Tom showed us how to pick photos and put them into survey mode so we could decide which one we wanted to use.
The final session of all had me in tears. We were all told to write something nice about some of the people we had spent time with. I was first to have my photo taken with the words about me in my group – and I am not ashamed to say that I may have cried a little!
The whole event was well organised, catered for and friendly. We had cakes on arrival and you could help yourself to cans of soft drinks from the fridges in both the bar and the dining room. Each meal had been thoughtfully put together with pizza and jacket potatoes with salad on the first night, pastries and sausage sandwiches for breakfast, soup, sandwiches and lasagne for lunches and a catered meal on the Saturday night (my least favourite of all the food funnily enough!).
I brought a few bottles of my own alcohol but didn’t really want or need it. The company was excellent. There were no cliques, no divas, no falling out (as far as I know) and every one talked to everyone! On the first night I went to bed fairly early but was late getting to sleep (always happens when I go away!). The second night I chatted most of the evening away with Jaime. A long overdue catch-up.
I enjoyed the fact that the sessions I attended were taken by professionals in their field. It wasn’t about SEO or making money on your blog or how to be a good blogger. It was about creativity and learning. Nothing felt rushed and I managed to take time for myself as well as attend all of the sessions I mentioned above!
I have been in the process of putting together a new venture for a little while now and was a little apprehensive in sharing the fact that I was going into business as a photographer. I started to tell a few people when we were at The Retreat and they couldn’t have been more supportive. This has given me the motivation and confidence to launch Vocal Eyes Photography properly and I am pleased to say that I already have two bookings. I am so excited for what is in store in the next few years.
A huge thanks must go to Sally, Lindy, Sarah, Louise, Monika for finding the perfect place to host us, for their arrangements and for all that they did to keep us happy and entertained. So, this time next year then?!
I attended The Flea Retreat on 20th, 21st and 22nd April. I paid for my attendance and was not obliged to write about my stay. I do feel that you need to know about it though!