Star Island 2017

Heath Bristol

Back in September of 2017 I was gifted the chance to spend four days on Star Island on the Isle of Shoals with members of the NH Society of Photographic Artists. It was an amazing, awesome experience, and I wanted to share my story and some photographs that I made during that trip. All the details after the cut:


The end of 2016 and start of 2017 was pretty messy: I had moved out of the Picker Building and into a smaller studio with the Picker Collaborative Artists, and it got pretty stressful: tempers flared and personalities clashed and the stress was out of this world. Shortly after 2017 arrived, I got a letter in my mailbox from Marie Bristol: she was in charge of organizing the 2017 photographers trip to Star Island and she had been a fan of my work ever since I was back in college at NHIA. She invited me to be their "guest photographer": my travel, room and meals would all be covered and in return I would spend some time with the attendees in whatever manner I wanted.  PLUS, I could bring Sara along with me as well, all expenses paid.  I totally jumped at the chance for Sara and I to get away for four days on a 23 acre island in the middle of the ocean with nothing to do but photograph things, and talk about photography with other photographers.  YES!

I stayed in communication with Marie throughout the year and as the trip got closer I started to get nervous - what would I do to keep people entertained? Am I interesting enough to hold peoples attention?  I knew I would dust off the Portable Portrait workshop and present two miniature versions of the workshop on Day 2 and Day 3 of the retreat.  Then I figured I'd show some of my work on the night we arrived so that people could see my commercial work as well as my more "fine art" photography of toys and pop-culture things.

We met Marie and her husband Jim and her son Heath at their home and we rode with them to Portsmouth NH where we all boarded a boat and took an 1 and 1/2 hour ride out to Star Island. It's an old hotel that has been there since the early 1900's.  It's very off-the-grid, but there are solar panels that help keep the lights on.

Our arrival on Day 1 got us frequented with the island, and within an hour of being on the island I had already visited the infirmary as I'm a clumsy oaf and got my ankle caught in a bunch of rose bush thorns and tore the back of my ankle up pretty good. After getting bandaged up I did a presentation to the rest of the attendees about my work showing them my websites and walking through the images and just generally letting them get to know me a little bit before we started doing the workshop stuff on Days 2 and 3.


Star Islands chapel. The oldest chapel in New England.

On the morning of Day 2 we met in a building called the Art Barn and some of the group made little still-life setups and photographed those.  Because this was a no-pressure retreat, attendees weren't obligated to do anything they didn't want - so some people went out in the morning around the island to photograph whatever they wanted.

While I was in the Art Barn, I grabbed a piece of deep crimson velvet and hung it up near some of the Art Barn windows, and I photographed some natural-light portraits of some of the attendees that stuck around:







After lunch on Day 2 the first small group of people met with me for the first of the mini Portable Portrait workshops.  Marie had scheduled a young lady who was on Star Island as part of a Yoga retreat to be our model.  Cada, our model, met with us outside the front of the hotel and we began

Cada hangs out while I set my rig up and explain with everything does


Cada from our first location


Cada from our second location.

On Day 3, we had Marie's nephew Matt model for us.  He just happened to be on the island at the same time, and he didn't mind spending a little time with us as we took portraits of him.


Matt from the Day 3 workshop

Marie took lots of behind-the-scenes photos on Day 3.

Overall I think the mini-workshops went really well, and I think people definitely picked up some things from the hands-on learning that we did. I always enjoy watching those moments when you see it all just "click" in their brains and they start figuring out all their manual settings and knowing what setting does what.  That is why I like doing these workshops - so that people can start figuring out how to manually control their camera settings, giving them complete control over creating a photograph.

The rest of the time was spent letting people do whatever they wanted.


Cottages taken near the center of the island.

Sunset at the Hotel

The sun sets at dinner time on the front deck of the hotel.

Oh, man, I haven't talked about the meals on Star Island yet!  Okay, so, all meals are included in the cost of your stay on the island.  They provide three meals: Breakfast at 8am, Lunch at 12:30pm, and Dinner at 6pm.  Each time dinner is ready, someone comes out on the front deck of the hotel and rings a giant bell.  You then have an hour to get to the dining hall and eat.  The meals are served family-style; each retreat gets tables so that everyone attending can sit together and eat and chat.  And the meals are pretty awesome. It was only four days, but I got used to hearing the bell ringing, and when I got home I was so sad that dinners didn't come with a ringing bell, and weren't already made for me ;)


Rocks on the island, taken on the first evening, right before I tore open the back of my ankle.  Anything for the shot!

During some down-time after one of the workshops had finished, I was still in the zone and wanted to photograph someone else, and Marie's son Heath was sitting on the front deck of the hotel. He was wearing the perfect outfit, so I grabbed him and a light and we started walking around the island so I could make some portraits of him:

Heath Bristol

For my first location I had him sit in a chair on part of the deck that wraps around to the back of the hotel.  There were a bunch of empty chairs near him, so I started lining the chairs up but staggered them a bit so that your eye kinda follows the chairs and ends up on him.

Heath Bristol

Horizontal shot of Heath in the chairs

After moving off the deck, we walked towards the center of the island where there are all these old stone cottages. They are these fantastic yellow color and the paint is all old and peeling and speckling off the buildings. I had Heath sit on the steps in front of the door, and suddenly the best shot of the trip was looking me right in the face:

Heath Bristol

Folks, it doesn't get any better than this, right here.

I grabbed a few horizontal shots as well

Heath Bristol

The perfect location.  The perfect outfit. Far and away my favorite shots of the retreat, and some of my favorite portraits I've ever taken. I love these.

I had an amazing time on Star Island, and met some really good people and had some really fun conversations about photography and gear and all the good stuff.  I think the attendees enjoyed themselves, and I hope they liked the information and stuff I did with them, and I really really hope I get the chance to go do this again.  It was an incredible time, and if any of you reading this get a chance to get out there for a few days and do nothing but photograph, do it, it is totally worth it.

A big thank you to Marie and her husband Jim, who took such good care of us the whole four days and handled out "guest photographer" status.


Marie, taking the group photo of all of us on the last day of the retreat

The group for the 2017 Star Island retreat associated with the NH Society of Photographic Artists

What an incredible experience.