Recently, we were lucky enough to take part in Marcus Bell’s Photography Retreat at Spicer’s Peak, Maryvale. Spicer’s Peak Lodge is one of the best wedding venues in Southeast Queensland and stands majestically upon a mountaintop in the Scenic Rim of Queensland. Marcus is arguably one of the best photographers in the world, and certainly the best in Australia.
The retreat was designed by Marcus in partnership with Spicer’s Peak, for photographers of all levels to hone their skills and take their photography to the next level. It was, without a doubt, one of the most valuable learning experiences we have ever had – exceeding our expectations in every way.
Arrival at Marcus Bell’s Photography Retreat
Although our journey from Brisbane was only a short one (around 1 hour and 55 minutes to be precise) we were transported to a different world when we arrived at Spicer’s Peak. It began as we turned off the Cunningham Highway, made our way over some cattle grids, a few creek crossings, and then upward into the bush. Before long, the bouncing dirt road turned into a sweeping, manicured pathway, and the trees began to clear.
Suddenly, we emerged out onto a breathtaking and vast plateau with a mix of carefully curated greenery, long barley grass, and grazing highland cattle. Perched at one end of this mountaintop was the majestic lodge – a homestead to end all homesteads. Something that would put television’s Yellowstone house to shame.
After picking our jaws up from the floor, we drove onward towards the lodge. Gradually, more and more detail of this spectacular building became apparent. Huge, thick, timber beams. Hand-built stone walls. Vast floor-to-ceiling windows. A tiered lawn at the front, drawing down to an infinity pool. Whisps of smoke rose from the numerous chimneys and then trailed off into the sky. This place was heaven.
We pulled into the reception area, and were greeted by General Manager Martin Hamilton, who instantly made us feel like royalty. We were told of the many inclusions for our stay. Nothing was too difficult, or too much. We merely had to speak to any of the friendly staff and it would be organised. We were then led to the Main Lounge (which you can see in the video below), where we sank into the oversized couches that were positioned around one of the biggest fireplaces we had ever seen. We were brought a glass of champagne to enjoy while we took in the views of the plateau and freshened up with warm rolled towels. Not long after, we were invited to lunch at The Peak Restaurant – the first of many incredible meals.
As we sat in front of another stone-walled fireplace enjoying our eye fillet steak, we looked at each other and smiled – we knew this weekend was going to be epic.
Meeting Marcus Bell to Begin our Photography Retreat
We soon checked in to our luxurious room that had its own fireplace, marble bathroom, king size bed, and private deck. At 4pm we were invited back to the Main Lounge to meet Marcus and enjoy a casual drink before we set off on the first of our workshops.
Marcus Bell and his company Studio Impressions, are photographers we have always looked up to. Someone who we see as one of the best in the world. He has a quality and ‘story telling’ emotion that blows us away in many different ways, so it’s safe to say we were a little star struck. But Marcus was so genuine and open – he felt like an old friend. What was also clear to us from the moment we met, was his lifelong passion for photography, and his enthusiasm in wanting to share the knowledge he has built over more than 20 years in the industry.
Despite being a photography retreat that had a formalised agenda, it was so wonderful to initially connect with Marcus in this informal and genuine way. We would soon see that this is exactly how he approaches everything he does.
Photographing Sunsets, Ryan’s Lookout
After another drink (or two!) we set off for a sunset photoshoot at Ryan’s Lookout. It was about 15-minutes away via an offroad buggy ride, although you could travel in the Spicer’s Land Cruisers if you chose.
Ryan’s Lookout is perched at the end of a rocky trail, with very little room on either side before the ground drops away steeply. The trail to get there is tough to walk on, let-alone drive! Nevertheless, the staff from Spicer’s Peak Lodge drove us with confidence and ease (and plenty of laughs). When we arrived, they brought out wine and cheese for everyone to enjoy as we listened to Marcus speak about the techniques he uses to capture beautifully rich landscape imagery, during the sunset hour.
Each of us found a nice little spot to sit and snap away, while the Spicer’s staff brought us drinks and nibbles. The sun sank slowly, and we were greeted by true serenity and peace. Marcus also took the time to sit with everyone personally, and discuss the images they were taking. He gave advice on the best settings for our various cameras. And he addressed any number of other questions that we all had for him. In between these individual moments, he would pause and speak to the entire group about the changing light and sky, describing his thought process on what he was looking for when taking this type of photo.
After the sun had set, we made our way back to the lodge, and finished the night with a personalised degustation dinner at The Peak Restaurant – enjoying lots of drinks and laughs with Marcus.
Tips From Marcus on Sunrise Images, The Plateau
After such an enjoyable dinner the night before, it was tough to get up and ready to go by 4am for sunrise – but we were not wasting a moment of this valuable learning weekend. Despite the freezing temperature (close to 0 degrees!), Marcus greeted us with a warm smile, and we made our way down into the plateau. There was something so peaceful and otherworldly in the pre-dawn. The growing light, misty fog and the gently rising sun created such a magical atmosphere.
It was a fantastic opportunity to build on our knowledge of tripod use and gain a valuable insight on the techniques and settings Marcus uses in the rapidly changing dawn light.
Morning Photography Workshop, The Lake
After an a la carte breakfast with the group, we all gathered in the Main Lounge with our gear. Marcus chatted to us about our upcoming day before we wandered down into the property.
As we meandered toward the lake, each of us ventured off the trail to capture images of whatever caught our interest. Armed with what we’d learned at Ryan’s Lookout, we trialled different techniques and challenged our thinking. With Marcus’ encouragement, we found beauty in the smallest of details.
As he led us further down, Marcus would pause to gather the group around a fencing post, or tree trunk. He would describe the nuance of his thought process around framing and composition, or colours and lighting. He would discuss lens he might use, or how he would hold his reflector to ensure the light bounced in the perfect way.
Although each of us were photographers in our own right, the value of hearing the perspective of this master craftsman in moments like this, cannot be understated. He made us think outside the box in the best possible ways.
After a couple of hours, we made our way back up past the lodge for a bespoke, country-style lunch, served around a campfire. The grilled chicken and beef, salads with home-made bread, and the roast vegetables and dips, went down perfectly with the champagne poured, at request, by the gracious Spicer’s staff.
Portraits and Lighting Techniques, Conference Room
After lunch, Marcus greeted us with espresso martinis in the conference room to discuss his techniques for lighting subjects when shooting portraits. We sat around the board room table as he delivered a masterclass on utilising both natural and artificial light when photographing people. In particular, he modelled how he adds depth and contrast to a face by utilising the simplest of methods.
Farm Life Shoot, Peak Station
Eager to put into action what we had just learned, we then made our way out to Peak Station, a cattle yard at the other end of the plateau. Once there, we were able to photograph Farmer Chris and his family on horseback as they worked their cattle. Marcus had organised for these cowboys (and girls) to go about their business, using their cattle dogs to move the highland cows from pen to pen, and around the grassy paddocks. Even more incredibly, we had some rainy cloud cover come over the plateau during this session. This environment made for some of our favourite photographs of the whole weekend (see below).
The cherry on top, was the Spicer’s Peak staff catering to our every need. A particular standout was the rustic toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and accompanying hot chocolate that kept us energised and warm.
After this, and because of the rainy weather (and some frozen fingers and toes), we all opted to run a hot bath and spend time by our own fireplaces in our private rooms. After the wind down, we enjoyed dinner with Marcus and the rest of the group in the conference room.
Sunrise Shoot, The Plateau
We couldn’t miss another optional sunrise shoot. We had already learned so much from Marcus, but again, he was so generous with his time and advice. Although it was such an early start, Marcus did not seem to be affected by the cold or the lack of sleep – spending time with each of us individually again, coaching the very best images from us. We were encouraged to experiment and build upon what we had learned the previous day in the early morning light.
Group Debrief, The Firepit
The last formal part of the weekend was a group chat about our learnings at the firepit. We were each given the opportunity to reflect and share our experiences. Despite having only spent a weekend together, we felt connected in that we had all been through such an incredible learning journey. One to be remembered for many years to come.
From there, we checked out and reluctantly made our way back down the mountain to reality – although not before we indulged in a full-body massage at the Spicer’s Peak Day Spa (another inclusion perk of the retreat).
Marcus Bell’s Photography Retreat Summary
Overall, the weekend photography retreat with Marcus Bell and Studio Impressions has been one of the most valuable learning experiences the Light Collections team has undergone. Marcus has become more than a photographer we admire and look up to, he has become a friend, a mentor and a colleague. His depth of photographical knowledge is second to none, and we will be forever grateful to have learned from him in such a picturesque setting.
Following the photography retreat, we couldn’t wait to start editing our images. We were also excited, knowing that one hero image of our choosing was going to be printed by Marcus to hang in our Studio. We were ecstatic when Marcus chose to utilise this image as part of the teaching in his Studio Impressions post-production workshop at Maud Street Photo Gallery. You can read our blog about the workshop here – https://lightcollections.com.au/marcus-bell-post-production-workshop/.
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To see more of Spicer’s Peak Lodge, visit https://spicersretreats.com/retreats/spicers-peak-lodge/