Jump back just ten years and social media was mainly text based. Slowly photos came to prominence and now video is an indispensable element. Jump back even further and church magazines were text based. Today an article without a photo will not get published. Photos are essential. Yet sadly, while photos are crucial, not all photos are good.
To address this issue, a small group of photographers from Europe, North America and Iceland met together from 5-12 September 2019, at the Hlíðardalsskóli, the former Adventist boarding school situated 40 minutes south-east of Reykjavik, Iceland, and close to areas of outstanding natural beauty. The aim of the mixed ability group was to learn from each other, network, and develop the skills that will help not only their own publications, but other photographers that come under their influence and tuition back home.
The intensive program started straight from the airport as, under the direction of retired pastor and amateur photographer, David West, participants were deposited at a costal church, looking for colors and angles in the church yard that would bring out interest and color. That was just the start of stretching their photographic and video skills at costal locations, geo-thermal parks, stunning waterfalls, glaciers, and the unique landscapes and beauty of Iceland.
Photos were shared and reviewed in evening periods, while workshops helped participants develop their skills. Even the most experienced participants learnt from each other while those who arrived with more basic skills rapidly developed both technical ability and an appreciation for perspective, use of light, and the ability to make the photo tell a story.
That Special Shot
Daniel Kluska attended from Poland. Stunned by the landscapes, he noted that Iceland is “a perfect place for photographers and cinematographers to improve their skills in every aspect.” More importantly, he was grateful for the opportunity to watch professionals in action over a period of days. He was grateful to “see how they work, how they choose the equipment for each subsequent frame and, later also, how they edit photos and give them the final shape.”
Enno Müller from California followed the same principle. Already a good photographer, he intentionally spent time questioning everybody about technique, camera settings, and editing skills, while patiently sharing his own skills with keen-to-learn amateurs.
Experienced drone operators looked over each other’s shoulders and shared footage as they flew over glaciers, volcanic craters, lakes and waterfalls, looking at how they can gain that special shot that helps tell the story – and how that shot can help enhance video footage taken at ground level.
“Photography is about sharing something that moved you with others,” states Dan Weber, North American Division Communication director and joint organizer of the workshop. “It’s about taking a moment that took your breath away and capturing it so those who weren’t there can share in it.” Whether that is landscape, or capturing a baptismal moment or a church convention, the principle is the same. How can that photo enhance our mission?
In his youth, Weber spent two years volunteering at Hlíðardalsskóli and fell in love with Iceland. For this workshop, he partnered with Victor Hulbert and Corrado Cozzi, Communication directors for the Trans-European and Inter-European Divisions. All three confess it was an experiment, bringing Adventist photographers together in one stunning location, not for their normal event coverage, but to learn, share and network together. For Kluska that worked in more ways than one.
“The meeting attended by communication specialists from three World Divisions once again confirmed my belief that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a global church. A community that, despite its diversity, still remains one.” He adds, “I am glad that I could be a witness and part of this unique event. I come back to my country with a head full of ideas and with strong belief that the image can also be used to share the gospel and testify about Christ."
The strong spiritual purpose of the workshop was enhanced by carefully crafted Sabbath and morning worships led by Pastor Hulbert, who brought the power of photography, diversity of talent, and networking into a biblical, mission-focused purpose with devotionals based on Psalms and the Gospels. Pastor West’s Sabbath evening devotional shared the power of the story as he brought the story of the Good Samaritan to life though his personal experience of getting his van stuck while fording an Icelandic river. Weber equally shared his personal journey of God leading him from the corporate world to using his skills for church and mission.
Felicia Tonga, digital media specialist from the Lake Union Conference in the North American Division, commented on the diversity of the conference attendees, “Being surrounded by people from Italy, Poland, and other parts of this world, has been exciting because you are able to sit and listen to their stories of where they came from and how they got to where they are today and hear their testimonies.”
A final inspiration in service came from Corrado Cozzi, who not only remarkably improved his own photo skills during the day, but as a keen Italian cook, provided exquisite food twice daily.
The combination of low-cost accommodation at the school, Cozzi’s passion for cooking, and West and Weber’s knowledge of Iceland, helped make the photo tour workshop an affordable and profitable experiment. The skills learnt, and friendships made, will undoubtedly make a photo-impact on Adventist publications across Europe and North America.
Established as a senior boarding school in the 1950s, Hlíðardalsskóli set a high standard serving the Adventist and larger community across the island of Iceland. Due to changing demographics and the establishment of more government schools across Iceland, the school, no longer viable, closed. However, committed church members determined to re-purpose the building and today it provides friendly and hospitable hostel-style accommodation for families, groups and even sizable conventions. Self-catering facilities make it very affordable, and being 40 minutes south east of the capital, Reykjavik, guests are much closer to many of the best tourist sites. For more information, contact the Icelandic Conference office at sda(at)adventistar(dot)is.