Upon our descent from the summit of Haleakala, we stopped at the Kula Lodge for breakfast. We had been up for over six hours at that point without any coffee or food and froze our rears off up on the summit. Needless to say, we were thankful to have our hands warmed and bellies full.
While breakfast was good, the highlight of our stop at the Lodge was its gardens. Which we would have missed if the hostess wouldn’t have pointed us in the right direction when Will stopped to ask a question about some flowers. The lodge itself sits high upon the hillside overlooking the valley. We really didn’t get the full experience of the views as there was still cloud cover in the valley. But the gardens were magnificently backlit with the morning sun.
Everything was dewy and radiant. It is almost as if the flowers in Maui make photography too easy with its copious amounts of sunshine, super saturated colors, and exotic flare. But sometimes easy is welcomed break.
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It isn’t everyday one is presented with an opportunity to travel to a new land and study a budding passion with Helene Dujardin. It was a leap of faith that has left me humbled and grateful for such an experience. I’ve been intentionally holding back on writing my recap of the workshop as I tend to need a bit more time than usual to process an experience like this. It was so much more than just another workshop. Experiences like these have the power to change you, to help you see things about yourself, change and stretch you in ways you didn’t know possible.
We were a group of twelve. Twelve women from around the world that descended upon the beautiful country estate and cookery school of Belle Isle. All of us bringing our own unique perspective and experiences to the table. We were all eager to learn… together. I’m certain the community element that formed during our three days together was an important part to the full learning experience of the workshop. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of women to work with.
While it takes a sum of all the parts to make an experience, Helene accounted for a huge part of making the experience. She is passionate, excited, grateful, humble and as authentic as you can get. It doesn’t take much time around her to realize how real she is. We were also treated to meeting her husband, Bill, who added great deal to our conversations at dinner. I love getting a peek at couples together (especially when I am more familiar with one than the other) – with Helene & Bill you could easily how they are each others compliments. Bills presence at the workshop really made me wish Will had taken part in the workshop, or at the very least hang around like Bill. There was so much shop talk, amongst other things, that I think Will could have added a great deal. Ah well, maybe next time. Back to Helene.
Helene is the kind of teacher that I connect with. The kind that lets you explore a bit and get a feel for things before guiding you this way or that way. She had no interest in turning us into cookie cutter food photographers. No, her goal was to impart her knowledge and wisdom to us so that we can develop into the best that we can be… whether that be a photographer, food stylist, prop stylist, etc. She also made herself incredibly available during the workshop. There was no question off limits, no problem to hard, and yes, she gladly re-explained things. She was there to help you work through it.
I don’t know if I can really sum all that I learned from workshop. As I have taken the time to really reflect on the workshop I am quite amazed at the gamut of things I took away. Yes there were the things like having light explained to me for the very first time. Realizing I need to become friends with my tripod. Getting an eye opening look into the world of food photography. Hearing a professional say “you can’t do it all.” And finally understanding what it means to tell a story. But then there are the less tangible, the personal takeaways. It is amazing how quickly you can be confronted by your own shortcomings in an environment like this. My biggest challenge the whole workshop was my unrealistic standards for myself. * takes a deep breath * Letting go and recalibrating is a process but it is a process I will not give up on.
The workshop was challenging, no question about it. But it was that challenge that once you get over it or finally start to grasp it, it leaves you with a strong sense of accomplishment and confidence. Each shoot, each session, and even each meal brought something new to the table. We were equipped well.
This was an experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I am looking forward to applying everything I learned to my work and am excited to see where it takes me. Thank you Helene for giving so much of yourself and your experiences to us at this workshop. I learned more than I feel like I can adequately express.
Is two weeks ever enough time in a new land? Probably not. But it is certainly enough time to be awed by the lands beauty and welcomed by the kindness of its people. I knew Ireland would be green but I never expected to see so many new shades of green that were full of saturation. And when the sun shone down through the scatter clouds it was a magnificent display of light, color, and creation. The west stole my heart… county Galway and the Connemara region. This was my Ireland, where my expectations were met, exceeded and blown away. If I had to… I could live here.
The trip began with very few “must sees” on the itinerary. We planned just enough ahead that we knew where we were staying and for how long. Aside from the that, we let our curiosity and few maps/guides lead the way. For not having a plan, we saw more than I imagined seeing. And yet there was still tons more to see and experience. It was a true feast for the eyes.
Our travels started in Dublin. Being a large city, we were able to explore a good chunk of it on foot. As we walked we found City hall, Dublin castle (which we toured and was given a crash course in Irish history), and St. Patrick’s cathedral (toured). Then we found our way to Stephens Green, up Grafton street, and onto Trinity college. Amongst the big attention getting sites there were churches and small places we came across along the way. What we saw was only the tip of the iceberg of what Dublin had to offer.
But the countryside beckoned and it was time to move on. County Galway was the next destination. The next three days were filled with castles, churches, estates, and natural wonders. Oh and narrow roads. Very narrow roads. This is when the trip felt a bit magical. Dunguaire castle, random churches along the road, the Cliffs of Moher, dinner and sunset at the Stonecutters Kitchen. The next day was just as exciting as we flew falcons at the Ireland Falconry school, explored the grounds of Ashford castle, discovered Leenane, the wool museum, and the Killary Harbour (it’s a fjord!), and had the best brown bread of the whole trip in the small town of Oughterard. The momentum continued into the next day as we drove through the Inagh valley, avoided hitting the sheep on the road, and spent the afternoon at Kylemore Abbey and Gardens where we found the most beautiful church/(miniature) cathedral we have ever seen.
It was time to head North to County Donegal. But first a stop at Athenry castle before driving north. Along the way we stumbled upon St. Columbas Church in Drumcliffe which also happens to be the burial place of W. B. Yeats. With Letterkenny being our final destination for the day we didn’t linger too long and were quickly back on the road.
Our time in Letterkenny was short and a bit slower paced than the rate we had been going. Instead of trying to hit multiple things we settled on a day at the Glenveagh national park and castle. Truth be told, it did end up taking most the day.
I was excited to leave Letterkenny because we were now heading into Northern Ireland on our way to Belfast. Taking the scenic route we headed along the coastal causeway. I wish I would have planned more time for this route. It felt like every 10 minutes there was something amazing to stop at and take pictures of. We did what we could though… Dunluce castle, Giants Causeway, a short stop in Ballycastle and then onto Belfast.
Belfast was a wonderful break in the trip. Not only did it give us some much needed down time, it also gave us several days with two wonderful friends we have known for years and were meeting for the first time in person. We spent two days relaxing on their couch, talking, eating, and playing games. I couldn’t think of a better way of spending time with friends. Needless to say we didn’t do a whole lot in while in Belfast… well we did laundry and drove up to Carrickfergus to and saw the namesakes castle.
The end of our time in Belfast meant it was time to head down to Belle Isle Castle for the photography workshop with Helene Dujardin. (I will be doing a separate blog post to talk about the workshop.) It was a bit of an adjustment switching gears from vacation mode to work mode but I fared just fine. While I was at Belle Isle Will drove down to Limerick and did some exploring on his own. The end of the workshop meant the end of our vacation. It was time to pack and head home and start thinking about Hollie and Jeff’s upcoming wedding. Ireland had been so good to us but it was time to leave.
Ireland was enchanting. The people, the land, the food… we ate so well! It was an adventure full of awe and wonder. This is not to say there wasn’t a few obstacles and stressful situations (mostly driving related) but aside from that it was everything I could have asked for in my first trip to Europe. I am incredibly grateful to have experienced such a beautiful land.