FREEWAVE SURF & YOGA RETREATS - Tommy Hatwell

Unplug from daily life and immerse yourself on a surfing & yoga retreat in Cornwall #SurfStretchStay

Waking-Up at 04.30am on Sunday morning was only painful for about 8 minutes, I’d soon loaded the car with pre-prepped camera equipment and set the compass for Widemouth Bay, near Bude on the North Cornwall coast.

*Always prep your kit bag the day before, this minimizes the chance of forgetting something and maximizes the time to figure it out if you need to.

Freewave Surf Academy is the premiere Cornish surf school and this summer they have launched their all-new 5-day surf and yoga retreats. I was selected as the weapon of choice to capture the essence of the retreat in one day, and this began with a 6.30am surfing session.

Arriving at the luxury house a few hundred meters from the beach the guests were already stumbling around slipping themselves into wetsuits in-between body warming sips of tea. I commandeered the air hockey table as my office for the day and set about choosing my equipment for the first shoot.

I wanted to work quickly, be able to shoot wide and long and capture some video at points. With two camera bodies, 6D and 70D set up with a 24-105mm and 70-200 + a doubler I was covering all bases from landscape/group shots to surf action from the beach. Soon I found myself and my wellies crouching in bushes to create depth and perspective in the images as the group walked to the beach.


* If you can always roll with 2 cameras, not only can you switch between focal lengths super fast, if in the unfortunate event one breaks, you can just keep firing with the other.

The light was amazing and very kind to the photographer, exposure wasn’t changing much so I just made sure my shutter speeds were enough to freeze motion, around 1/640th and the highlights in the sky were not blown out to high. This would leave me the most dynamic range to work with during post-production.

*really important to know the limits of your camera to maximize the end result.

The sun I ordered poked out from behind the clouds casting a beautifully warm light across the beach and the group as they warmed up, and ran through the basic surf skills on the shore. For me it’s important to utilize depth in the images as much as possible, getting low to the sand and using rocks creates the foreground blur and a neat perspective of the group, straight up shots don’t always have many dimensions and can seem flat.

*Get low, create depth

I spent the rest of the session shooting along from the beach as the group surf, smiled and slammed their way through the ocean under the guidance of surf coaches Robin and Charlie.

The light was perfect as the early morning played out well for the camera, catching great shots of everyone standing up on their boards. After nearly 2 hours the tide had risen and tummies were rumbling for breakfast.

I spent the time backing up the mornings' images before the group sat down to watch video feedback of their surfs. With warm socks and tea in hand, the group relaxes in the large lounge as Robin the head surf coach plays the video, breaking down techniques and offering tips and tricks to improve for the next surf session.

11 am and it was time for an energising yoga session with instructor Anna (@anyo_yoga)… honestly the bendiest human you will ever meet. The huge doors to the garden are pushed wide and the group settles colourful yoga mats on the grass bathed in the beautiful warm Cornish sunshine.

This called for a really wide perspective, again I found myself in the bushes this time barefoot and trying to avoid the bees to get the best shots of the group with the house in the background.

* Sometimes you can’t get wide enough, so a quick tip is to shoot a series of portraits left to right and pop them together as a panorama.

Freewave Surf Academy’s, Surf and Yoga Retreats are deeply connected to the local ocean environment and take this responsibility to the next level with the group re-visiting the beach to speak with a local environmental expert and spending an hour collecting plastic and removing it from the beach.

The sun was shining as we made our way back to the house for a bit of relaxation before the late afternoon cliff-top yoga session.

*back up images as much as you can throughout a shoot, or at least select and protect them on your SD card.

Perched above Widemouth Bay, Black Rock and using natures very own soundtrack, Anna led a revitalizing yoga session. I was blessed with perfect light once more, and shooting wide and long set about creating a variety of images and compositions, my mind always thinking about the journey of the image, where and how will it be used.

* Space is so important to mix up tight shots with wide shots to give you the most options for output.

Yoga is a beautiful subject to photograph, amazing shapes and the colours from the clothing to the mat’s, but just before the group finished I set up some backlit shots to make the most of this graphic subject by capturing some silhouettes.

A quick trail running shoot on the way home and it was time for the evening BBQ. Always got the extra mile, shoot around the subject and then look at how you can utilize the camera to get creative, experiment and make something special.

Rounding out an amazing day Robin’s BBQ was superb and we all sat around sharing the days' experiences. The shooting wasn’t over for me, a few of the group were up for a portrait session.

I set up a mini studio next to the lounge room and hear began the hilarious finale to a wonderful day. With the images popping up on the iPad as I was shooting the group took on the role of creative direction and soon we had made some really nice portraits using yoga mat’s as colourful backdrops.

*Connecting an iPad or live tether allows people to be involved with your shoot, its easy for the model to see themselves and feel confident in the results and makes life easier for me as the photographer to just get on with shooting without showing the back of the camera all the time.


And that was that, a photographers eye view of the Freewave Surf and Yoga Retreat, Widemouth Bay, Bude in North Cornwall.


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