Brownsea Island Workshops
Brownsea island houses one of the largest populations of red squirrels in the UK. The island itself is also home to a vast array of other mammals and birds and is located in the second largest natural harbour in the world. From embarking on the short but scenic boat journey, through to walking around the different landscapes the island has to offer, any visit to this bio-diverse, pristine location is always special. In partnership with Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) I'm very pleased to be able to offer one and two day photography workshops in such a peaceful, unspoilt location. You will be based in the splendid DWT Victorian villa where the carefully created workshops will encourage participants to explore their understanding of the various photographic techniques, exposure triangle and composition before going out and photographing the many different birds found on the lagoon from the two perfectly positioned hides. Later in the day we will visit the best locations to find red squirrels, sika deer, water voles and any island birds not on the lagoon. The workshops are specifically designed for people at all stages of their photography journey so whether it's your first camera or you are a seasoned photographer there will be something for everyone on these well attended and popular workshops.
When are the workshops?
These two day workshops are held in April, July and October. Each season brings with it unique opportunities, species and light. All of the sessions give photographers at any skill level the opportunity to stay on a peaceful, highly photogenic island and learn photography at a nice pace with low number groups of like-minded people.
The 2020 workshop dates are at the foot of this page, Numbers are strictly limited to a maximum of 8 participants per workshop. This gives everyone the time they feel they personally need with me - particularly if they are relatively new to photography. Participants don't always have to stay overnight and can rejoin us the next day subject to boat timings and weather conditions. Unfortunately it's not possible to attend the second day unless you complete day one. My personal view would be to stay for both days if you can as you get the fairly unique opportunity to experience both a sunset on day one and dawn over the lagoon on day two - the island also becomes even quieter as the last boat leaves at 1700.
2019 saw our busiest series of workshops to date with an extra two day session added in October to give as many people the chance to visit the island at this special time. The format is the same as the summer and spring workshops with the added bonus of the island's trees going into autumn colours and red squirrel activity at its maximum as they prepare for winter. Birdlife both on the lagoon and inland can be more varied as early winter migrants start to arrive.
Further workshops may be added if any particular date is over-subscribed subject to agreement with DWT.
Below are a number of images taken from my time on the island running workshops:
What equipment will I need?
I'll start by saying participants have attended workshops with a wide range of cameras from compacts through to bridge and beyond to DSLR's so please don't think these workshops are somehow only for people with high end cameras as that's definitely not the case. One of the main aims of the workshop is to get the most out of the camera you bring over and get you shooting in manual mode. With that in mind I spend plenty of time with each member of the group looking at what their camera can - and cannot - do. This has proved to be time well spent as the camera gets set up in a way that maximises photo opportunities. I would say any lens with a 300mm+ reach would give you plenty of focal length although I've successfully photographed birds and red squirrels using a 70-200mm lens. I also have a very flexible Sony bridge camera that can be rented for the workshops should you be thinking of investing in a new camera system or you don't own a camera. Clearly a small compact with a limited lens range isn't going to produce the same results as a bridge or DSLR with a longer reach. If you have any questions about the limits of your camera or any other kit please contact me on +447810862599 or email me at where I'll be happy to talk through your concerns.
I strongly suggest you bring over as many memory cards and batteries for your camera as you can - that includes the charger for the batteries as I can't think of anything more frustrating than running out of memory or power on a workshop as good as this one. If you have a selection of lenses and have the room then pack a wide-angle (sunrise and sunset can be spectacular on the island) and a telephoto plus extender if you own one. A tripod would be useful but it's certainly not a deal breaker if you don't bring one as many of the subjects are fast moving and agile. If your lens has a lens hood please bring it over as it will help your camera make more accurate exposures and shield the lens from any rain or spray. If you aren't that au fait with how your camera works and have a physical manual then pop that into a bag too - I have a good idea how most camera settings work but there are occasional anomalies depending on the make and model.
The terrain on the island is varied and includes muddy paths, slippery surfaces and several reasonable inclines. It's important you bring the right footwear for the conditions which tend to veer towards damp rather than dry. A good pair of walking boots or wellies should suffice. Participants staying overnight will need enough clothing for two days along with extra food. There is a fridge, freezer, oven, microwave and kettle in the villa along with pillows, mattress covers and showering facilities. Those of you staying overnight should have a sleeping bag, pillow case and towel. The accommodation is comprised of several rooms most having bunk beds with a single twin room - although this is prioritised for people with disabilities.
What does the workshop entail?
Like any other wildlife photography workshop we are at the mercy of both the elements and the vagaries of the wildlife itself. The March weekend workshop had poor light at times, was bitterly cold and many of the lagoon birds were sheltering out of sight. That said overnight participants opted to get up early and we found several red squirrels foraging for food in the snow. The resulting images were well beyond the expectations of any of us for a March workshop and everyone left the island with some amazing memories and photographs. Workshops generally run like this:
Day One - We usually take the boat closest to 0940 but you will be informed of the exact time closer to the workshop date. I meet you on the mainland and ensure those of you needing permits get them in good time. I ask you to be at the jetty in your car 30 minutes before the departure time. This lets you drive up to the National Trust pier, unload, pick up a permit, drive back to the parking spaces and walk back in good time. I then travel with you on the boat to the island where a member of DWT will meet us with transport to load your equipment into. We usually walk together in a group to the villa as it gives us time to get into the pace of the island - and see the odd red squirrel very early on in our stay. At the villa you will be introduced to either Luke or Nicki and given an overview of the island and the villa, species of interest and any health and safety information relevant to the workshop. I will ask you about your particular skillset and where you see yourself on your photography journey. If we have time I'll go through your cameras at the villa otherwise this will be done over at the hides. We'll also spend time looking at the exposure triangle, compositional rules and your goals for the workshop. The rest of the day will be flexible depending on the weather and the group skill levels but usually involves the morning in the hides followed by lunch and then back out again. This is a very effective mix of practical and theoretical with the focus on manual exposure, fieldcraft and photographing moving wildlife. We will take regular breaks but those of you staying overnight get the option to photograph the sunset subject to the weather. There will also be more time in the evening for any further questions you may have and a chance to review the day and another look at your cameras if you think the set up still needs tweaking.
Day Two - There will be a voluntary dawn start for anyone interested in photographing the sunrise. Clearly this can be as early as 0500 on the July workshop so if you are up for this we tend to work until around 0800 then take a good break for breakfast and chat around how the group want the rest of the day to go. Day two is very much about revisiting manual mode and getting used to the various dials and buttons that move your shutter, aperture and ISO around. This creates what is known as muscle memory and should ensure you become more familiar with how your camera operates and improve your chances of regularly capturing images you are happy with. Much like day one we will need to be at the villa by a certain time and again transport should be free to move our kit to the pier for embarking back to the mainland. I will accompany you and watch your gear so you can walk to your car without carrying too much. You can then drive up to the jetty, return your permit and load up ready for your journey back hopefully with a memory card (or three) full of memorable images and that sense of peace only islands seem able to impart.
How do I book?
Once you have chosen the workshop you would like to attend booking is then done through me and your details are passed on to Luke Johns and Nicki Tutton who are the DWT lead for Brownsea island. Please contact me on +447810862599 or email me via if you have any questions NOT ANSWERED ON HERE. There is a booking form at the foot of this page. Once you have provisionally booked Luke or Nicki will be in touch with you to take payment and answer any further questions you may have about the island. Booking via me is your confirmation you are happy I can share your personal and email details with the Brownsea team in order for them to facilitate and confirm your accommodation, boat pass and permit if applicable. I will not share your data with any organisation other than DWT.
The boat journey to and from the island, along with accommodation at the villa is included in the overall cost of the workshop which for 2020 will be:
Two day workshop including accommodation and boat costs - Adult £150
The dates for 2020 are:
22nd and 23rd April 2020
25th and 26th April 2020
28th and 29th April 2020
11th and 12th July 2020
14th and 15th October 2020
17th and 18th October 2020
20th and 21st October 2020
Please download, complete and return it to me and it will be forwarded on to DWT who will be in touch with you to confirm the booking and take payment.
Please read thoroughly to make your stay as productive and relaxed as possible
A parking permit may be available for participants attending the workshop. These are usually limited and issued on a first come, first served basis so it's important you ask for one as you book. Permits are £10 with the money being paid directly to DWT on the day of arrival. If a permit is unavailable you will need enough cash or a parking app to cover the cost of your parking, How much parking is available in the Sandbanks area depends on the time of day you arrive and the season. The link below will give you an idea of prices for the closest road (Panorama road) to the National Trust jetty which can be found to the right of the chain ferry on the Poole side: