Wildlife photography workshop in France on photographing birds from floating blinds — June 2015

Photographing birds in the marshes of La Dombes

We chose photographing birds from floating blinds as the theme for our wildlife photography workshop in La Dombes, a region north of Lyon, France. We set up 8 floating blinds on 4 ponds. All of the six trainees had different skill levels and different expectations. We based our technical program on developing new creative techniques, such as highlighting the subject of a photo using the background, or using backlighting, to list a couple of examples.

The participants of the wildlife photo workshop from floating blinds in La Dombes in France

The participants in the photography workshop (from left to right): Philippe, Michelle, Jean-Jacques, Andre, Isabelle, Patricia, Philippe and Amar.

La Dombes: a paradise for wetland birds

The region of La Dombes is home to a great variety of bird species. Nearly 130 species come there regularly to mate. 30,000 birds winter there every year.

The region is covered by more than 1000 shallow manmade ponds, which are used for fish farming. Their peculiarity is that the bottom of each pond is slightly sloped, so that the water flows slowly and steadily towards the outfall. These fish ponds attract a great variety of bird species. La Dombes is an internationally important habitat for migratory wetland birds.

From May through July, some species that you might see in La Dombes are great crested grebes, little grebes, black-necked grebes, pochard, whiskered terns, night herons, purple herons, gray herons, crab egrets, little egrets, great egrets, cattle egrets, cormorants, coots, sedge warblers, kingfishers, warblers, marsh harriers, and ospreys.

La Dombes attracts more than birds. Muskrats, nutria, dragonflies, green frogs and snakes also live in and around the ponds.

The region of La Dombes is often bathed in gorgeous light. In spring and early summer, early mornings suffuse the ponds with warm, muted light. It is truly wonderful to see ducks or grebes on the ponds in this magical atmosphere.

Gaining new technical expertise and developing creativity

As the skill levels and expectations of each participant were totally different, we chose to focus on developing creativity and using the environment to create good backgrounds that would highlight the birds. For this, we taught creative techniques well adapted to the environment of La Dombes. We gave individual lessons to participants who needed more personalized advice. Our goal was for everyone to progress rapidly during the week.

Since the lighting in La Dombes changes quickly, and the region’s landscapes vary widely, we taught simple creative techniques, catering to the perceptiveness and sensitivity of each photographer. We took the time to analyze their characters and understand as much as we could about their personalities. Then we gave personalized advice to each one. Every photographer was able to fully express him or herself through their photos.

A friendly and relaxed atmosphere

For us, a photography workshop consists of three elements: technical learning, discovering the hidden treasures of a region and a good, friendly atmosphere.

This trip was no exception to the rule. The atmosphere was very friendly, and the participants shared their insights and technical ideas with each other. Every day, coffee gave the photographers courage to go out to the ponds and search for the best possible light, despite the very early mornings. We went out to local restaurants for lunch so that people who were not familiar with the area could discover new flavors and recipes. For dinner, we cooked in the houses and shared local recipes. Eating around the same table and sharing our experiences created wonderful moments that everyone will remember. These dinners gave the entire group an opportunity to share what they had done during the day and talk about the good times they had had.

Some photos taken by the participants

These photos are organized as a slideshow which plays automatically. Mouse over a photo and the navigation buttons will appear.

Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop
Photo taken from a floating blind during a wildlife photo workshop

Comments of the participants

Michelle
Michelle P.

During this wildlife photography workshop, I learned more than I thought I would. I thought that photography was something easy. I thought it was an art form in which I could progress by myself. During this week, I realized that it was interesting to listen to someone who knows how to talk about photography.

This trip showed me the importance of light and setting. I have felt this in the past, but I had never managed to express it before. Amar helped me discover it. His approach has completely changed my view of photography. It is much clearer to me now.

During this class, I enjoyed working with photographers on widely differing skill levels. The participants were all on different levels, ranging from very serious photographers to others like me, who were much less skilled. Yet all the questions we asked were answered. Amar and Isabelle were always available. I do not know how they had enough energy to take care of all of us.

When I arrived at the workshop, I did not know exactly what I came for. I felt like I was stuck. I did not take a lot of pictures. It seemed that I had everything to learn. I had not even learned how to set my expectations. This workshop gave priority to creativity. I loved the fact that technique was always at the service of creativity. This trip helped me understand why I love photography.

La Dombes is a place where it is easy to find inspiration, if you know where to look. The good locations are not conspicuous, and they can be hard to find, but Amar and Isabelle helped me find the right places. I went to the same locations several times, and every time something was different. La Dombes is not an exotic place in the sense that we understand it, but it is magical. I was surprised by the beauty of the lights and by all of the wonderful details in every scene I saw.

The atmosphere during the week was very good. Each participant worked hard, so everything went well. There was a lot of kindness and no headaches. The trip was very well organized. The technical explanations and photography reviews were very detailed. Everyone was free to attend the lectures and presentations. I like for everything to be perfectly defined and well organized. I do not like to ask questions myself.

One of my favorite memories is of a particularly special morning when the pond was covered in mist. It was fantastic. Another detail I will remember is that Amar and Isabelle took the warmest room in the lodging. This impressed me, because it's the most uncomfortable at this season and they chose not to give it to a participant. It was very kind to let others have the best rooms. This was an example of their mindset throughout the trip.

I had a wonderful week. Thank you.

Patricia
Patricia A.

I had a great week. Working with you two is a very unusual experience. I came because I wanted to learn how to take pictures from floating blinds. It is difficult to find someone who teaches this technique. I was worried a little at first, but after the workshop started, I felt much more comfortable.

I took this course because I wanted to learn how to photograph water birds in a completely different way. I have photographed aquatic animals and birds before, but never in conditions like this or from such a short distance. The most interesting thing to me was the way that we approached the birds: we always stayed at their eye level. Usually, we photograph them from above.

Although this is not my first workshop with you, I learned new skills and became more creative. I used to take naturalistic photos. I often forgot about the background. During this week, I learned to use the background to showcase the subject. I enjoyed learning about backlighting. We tend to think that we should have the sun behind us, but having it in front of us creates very interesting photos.

I was not familiar with La Dombes. It's a beautiful, friendly area. The ponds are gorgeous, and every one of them is different. A distance of a couple of miles makes a huge difference in the animal and plant species present.

There was a lot of camaraderie between the participants during the workshop. I already knew 2 of the other participants, but I was immediately comfortable even with the people I didn’t know. We laughed together a lot. We all shared knowledge, technical insights, and artistic points of view. During the trip, my camera and lens broke down, but I could count on the other photographers to lend me equipment, so I was able to keep working without any problems.

The trip’s organization was excellent. Since the group had a good attitude, everything went well, from visiting the ponds to preparing the evening meal. It was a very pleasant week. I appreciated the fact that everyone brought a local recipe to share for supper. Going to a restaurant for lunch gave everyone an opportunity to discuss technical questions.

My best memory of this workshop comes from an afternoon I spent with Michelle on my favorite pond. It was a beautiful afternoon, and our friendship was wonderful. I will remember that photography session for a long time.

Philippe C.
Philippe C.

I really enjoyed this wildlife photography workshop. The place and its atmosphere were new to me. I am familiar with many places. I have already participated in numerous wildlife photography trips. I have traveled to many different places, but this time it was totally different. I was surprised to discover the beautiful lights and magical environment of La Dombes.

When I arrived at the airport, I was not certain what to expect. I had never used a floating blind before. I thought that the technique itself wouldn’t be too challenging, but I need more than technical instruction to create good photos. I need to be able to walk around and get to know the area. I was always looking for birds, but I also watched for good lights and backgrounds. I found many things that surprised me. Fortunately, the weather was excellent and the light in the mornings was truly magical.

I was not familiar with La Dombes. It is a unique region, with its many ponds and its unusual lights. I was surprised at how much I progressed working in ponds managed by fish farmers. I talk about the lighting a lot, but it is truly unique and beautiful. I was constantly surprised by the changing light. I would take a photo with one kind of light, and five minutes later, everything would be different. It was really superb.

The atmosphere during the trip was very friendly. All of the participants shared ideas, recipes, and techniques. I enjoyed the exchange of creative ideas, and the local food was excellent.

Thank you, Amar and Isabelle, for your hospitality and kindness during this trip. You gave all of us a lot of technical advice, and you helped us succeed. I enjoyed the discussions we had during the photography reviews. I liked the fact that I was able to show you less successful photos and get good advice on how to improve. You were always able to answer my technical questions.

One of the things that I will remember from this workshop is how beautiful and varied the lighting was. Every day was different. I could walk away from a pond, come back five minutes later, and find that the mood of the light had changed completely. The evening was different from the morning. The area is beautiful, and it seems to be alive. I want to come back.

I had a great week of relaxation and vacation.

Philippe D.
Philippe D.

This wildlife photography workshop was very well organized and innovative. It was an opportunity for me to continue my quest for photographic inspiration. The technical explanations were simple and clear, the food was excellent, and the lighting was unbelievable. This is a photography workshop that I would take again as soon as possible.

I was hoping for advice both on photography and image processing from this workshop. But above all, I wanted a really in-depth discussion on how to design a picture (framing, composition, creating an atmosphere, and using light). I was expecting a workshop focused on creativity.

This course met all my expectations by bringing the most important thing to photography: simplicity.

The atmosphere during the week was good, with happy, friendly companions. No one was stressed by the challenges. We all became friends naturally and spontaneously. I could expect nothing more.

The trip’s organization made it easy to be friendly. It allowed the trainees to immediately connect with the group. Thank you, Amar and Isabelle, for your enthusiasm and simplicity. In my eyes, you have two essential qualities: sincerity and honesty both in your teaching and your interactions with others. You have great intellectual honesty.

The first thing I will take away from this workshop is that I need to think about a photo before taking it. After this course I will take pictures differently. I will think of the picture I plan to take before pressing the button.

The second highlight was definitely the group’s atmosphere. Amar and Isabelle organized the trip so that the students could have fun taking their pictures. We all learned and grew under their leadership.

André
Andrew C.

The workshop was excellent, although there was a heat wave that came through. We rented fewer ponds than in previous years, and some of them held less water, but we saw a lot of birds. Because of the teaching and advice I got, my photos were much more creative than those I had taken during previous trips to the area.

I did not have any specific questions I wanted this workshop to answer. I was there to improve my general photography skills. Thanks to your advice, I learned more about various techniques, including backlighting. I managed to capture some very interesting colors in my photos. I also took pictures in many different styles because I worked in manual mode and I was able to vary the sensitivity and shutter speed of my camera. This allowed me to take excellent pictures.

I know the area of La Dombes well. It is a place where the tranquility and beauty of the ponds and the birds that inhabit them prevail.

The whole group, including the teachers, was excellent. All of the photographers were very skilled, almost professionals. This allowed us to have educational discussions and a good friendly rivalry. We also laughed together. It felt like we were just a group of friends who had met to have a good time and enjoy taking pictures.

The trip’s organization needs some improvement. You forgot to tell us that we should bring linens for the cottage and a tripod to photograph kingfishers. The floating blinds could also be better quality.

However, the organization in the cottage was excellent. The restaurants were outstanding, and they provided free delivery. The food was superb. In the evenings, each participant made a local dish to share. I gained four and a half pounds during the week.

If I had to list the two best things about this workshop, they would be the light at sunrise and sunset, and the extraordinary environment of La Dombes.

Jean-Jacques
Jean-Jacques A.

This wildlife photography workshop went very well. I discovered a new way to take pictures. However, even more importantly, I learned a new philosophy of photography. I made great progress in handling my camera. I learned how to use all of its functions. The floating blind allowed me to take my time, check everything, and make adjustments to improve my photos. Now, every time I pick up my camera, I take plenty of time to compose my pictures correctly. This workshop helped me understand how to create good wildlife photographs regardless of my location. Thank you, Amar, for your invaluable advice.

I was not familiar with the area of La Dombes. I saw numerous bird species that I had never seen before. They all have very different colorations and habits. I had never seen so many brilliantly colored landscapes with so many birds. The colors were both relaxing and stimulating.

This is my second workshop with you as teachers. The atmosphere was particularly friendly. People helped each other. There was mutual respect between all of the participants and the teachers. I thank the whole group, because I had a great week. I will come back the next time I have a week of vacation.

The trip was well-organized. Everything about the area was new to me. I progressed a lot, and everything went well. I ate well: the local food was excellent. I'm relaxed and well rested. Everything was well organized.

If I had to pick my two favorite memories from the workshop, the first one would be sharing my new photos with another participant. It was neat to share my feelings with someone else. The second would be photographing the kingfisher. It was a really great opportunity.

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