Picture perfect: A photography tour of the Caribbean island of St Lucia

Melissa York
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So if my aperture is f/3.5 and my shutter speed is 1/125th of a second, what should my ISO be if I want to properly expose this image?” “Four...hun...dred?” I ventured timidly.

“Nooooo,” Kirk said, as we took a pew in a cathedral in Castries. To the casual passerby, he must have sounded like he was talking to someone with a slight grasp on the English language, but in fact, we were midway through a photography class around the St Lucian capital. Kirk, my tutor, wanted me to capture the way the Caribbean sun poured in through the stained glass windows, spilling out onto the rainbow-coloured floor. And it was becoming quite clear, under the watchful gaze of both Kirk and the Virgin Mary, that I was uncommonly bad at mental arithmetic. Why is it that whenever you go to learn anything in depth, there’s always maths involved?

“Two...hun...dred?” I said. “Riiiiiiight,” he nodded. This man, this wonderfully patient man, used to be the official wedding photographer for the island’s Sandals resorts and he’s snapped over 600 weddings in his time. Now he runs his own company, St Lucia by Kirk, teaching absolute no hopers like me how to take a decent picture on the streets of his hometown. We’d been to the beach at sunset, the cathedral and a food market where I was quite taken with some scotch bonnets (pictured below).

So far, I’d learnt about the exposure triangle, that I probably needed to buy a flash system and I have a rare talent for slipping my thumb into shot. As far as I’m aware, my thumbs are small-to-medium-sized, yet I go on holiday and all I’ve got to show for it when I return is a photo album of thumbs in exotic climes.

This is why I’d picked up a stylish, ivory-coloured Olympus PEN camera and flown to Rendezvous, a hotel on the north western edge of St Lucia which was offering a dizzying array of classes – including this one with Kirk – as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. From July to September, its Summer Tryst programme offers wine tasting, rum tasting, wood-carving, art classes, massage classes, cooking classes, all thrown in as part of its all-inclusive room rate. For a bit extra, they’ll arrange photography classes, tours of rum distilleries, cocoa plantations, marine dives, and day excursions, all on top of the vast array of watersports available every day on resort.

Once I’d mastered the art of photography, I travelled to Pigeon Island – a fascinating, historic British military stronghold – to Soufriere, the world’s only drive-in volcano, then took classes in cooking, steel drums and St Lucian history, with a bit of Saint Lucian Creole French on the side. The beach can bore off.

While all Caribbean islands have their particular charm, St Lucia has a long and fascinating history and a strong sense of cultural identity.

If you’re lucky, you’ll bump into the hotel’s director Andrew Barnard, a better-looking Heston Blumenthal-alike, who has managed to avoid catching whatever it is that sends most British hoteliers abroad totally mad. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact he grew up in the hotel with a lot of its staff, as Rendezvous – along with sister property The Body Holiday – is a boutique family-run enterprise.

The Barnards arrived in St Lucia in the 1800s, exporting coal and investing in sugar plantations. Denis, Andrew’s grandfather, built a house called Malabar on a seven-acre tropical garden next to a two-mile stretch of beach as a getaway, but soon became known for entertaining passing tourists with the help of his butler Lionel. A series of guest cottages were built along the beach next to the house and Rendezvous was born.

Melissa's Amazing Thumb-Free Photos

A market trader waiting for custom (Source: Melissa York)

Scotch bonnet chillies, popular in Caribbean cooking (Source: Melissa York)

A jazz musician serenades a couple on the beach at Rendezvous (Source: Melissa York)

The five star resort was the first couples-only retreat in the Caribbean starting something of a trend, and it recently had a $12.5m lick of paint, which saw it add a third restaurant to its roster. Malabar is a barefoot eaterie – don’t worry, there’s an adorable shoe rack where they can play with all the other flip-flops – under the stars; The Terrace does a glorious buffet including the best banana bread in existence; and Trysting Place is a plush a la carte French/West Indian number. And most punters are British, so there’s afternoon tea, too, obviously. All-inclusive places can afford to be lazy when it comes to food, but the menus here are surprisingly varied and packed with local delicacies.

My favourite spot, however, was the Champagne Bar because – stop giggling in the back – it felt like a heavily upholstered sanctuary perfectly preserved in the 1920s. A live pianist tinkles away until 1.30am and, if it rains, it’s pretty much the only place you can hang out if you’re not up for playing board games in the lobby. The rooms don’t have TVs either, if that’s the sort of thing that bothers you.

Nothing compensates for a wander off-resort though. While all Caribbean islands have their particular charm, St Lucia has a long and fascinating history and a strong sense of cultural identity.

With Kirk’s sums still rattling around my numerically challenged brain, I set out for Pigeon Island with a fresh eye for the landscape, determined to snap The Pitons, two mountainous volcanoes rising over 2,000sqft above sea level. But what I found was a national park strewn with colonial cannons, fortresses and even a decent view of Martinique. From up here, the luscious green landscape seems to rise up to sky-scratching heights from the undisturbed water, and it’s easy to see why St Lucia became known as the “Helen of the West Indies”, so bitterly was it fought over by the British and the French (it came under the rule of each seven times in total).

It’s not often you come back from a tropical paradise with a tan and a busload of newly acquired skills and knowledge. And, for the first time ever, a photo album entirely devoid of thumbs.

Rates at Rendezvous over summer start from $481 per person, per night, all inclusive. Summer Tryst classes can be booked in advance online or at the resort. Call 0758 457 7900 or 0758 452 4211 or visit theromanticholiday.com Find out more about photography tours with Kirk Elliott by visiting stluciabykirk.com

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