Poland welcomed us with beautiful sunshine. After about an hour and a half’s drive, billboards in Slovak appeared, then the jagged peaks of the Tatra mountains appeared on the horizon and we instantly found ourselves in the midst of a violent burst of hail.
Changing weather conditions were to accompany us for the next few days. Normally, rain, storm, hail, clouds and other nasty weather phenomena aren’t welcome on holiday, but they are indispensable elements of successful landscape photography. There’s nothing better than a mountain stream bathed in sunlight set against the intense blue of an imminent mountain storm.
We used an utterly cosy guesthouse, Penzion 2004, in a small, sleepy village, Stara Lesna, as our base. The aim of the trip was to learn how to take better landscape photos. Lesson number one was that it requires a strong will. It’s not easy to force yourself to get up at 3.30am, especially on holiday. Lesson number two was patience. Out of five sunrises/sunsets, four were bland and we had to leave the site empty-handed, or rather empty-carded.
The only way to ease the hardship and occasional disappointment was to enjoy the company and focus on the thought of hot herbal tea waiting for us in the mountain cottage we stayed at for one night – a remote haven in Tatra national park. So remote, in fact, that not long before our arrival and just a stone’s throw from where we were based, a bear broke into a ranger’s cottage while he was inside, locked in his bedroom. The ranger tried shouting, clapping and turning the telly on maximum volume but nothing would scare the animal away. He finally managed to frighten the bear by turning the vacuum on.
Aside from the lessons in bear-scaring, there was much to learn about photography. We discovered that it is wise to enter restaurants with one’s camera clearly visible. In one place a very kind waitress noticed our cameras while we were having tea. She asked if we could help her out and take pictures of their dishes. There was one condition – whatever she brought out to be photographed, we would have to eat. How could we say no? After enjoying delicious local masterpieces of dumplings with sheep’s cheese, cabbage soup and blueberry pies as a thank you, we were offered bright smiles and herbal vodka.
All in all, it was a magnificent trip thanks to our tutors, Matt and Lee. I polished my technical photography skills using their tips and learned how to use filters and long exposures. The newly gained knowledge is very useful in capturing landscapes but also in other areas of photography. I also learned that the Tatra mountains, and Slovakia in general, are hidden gems definitely worth exploring.