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I'm still buzzing after a wicked weekend in a gorgeous château in southwest France with a group of strangers all seeking to improve their creative streak. My goal was to take better travel pics and here I was on that first step to photographic wizardry.

Creative Escapes' tutors -- Roger and Jon -- waited at Toulouse airport with wine and baguette. With September temperatures in France promising a weekend away from the steady downpours at home, I already felt a million miles from the office.

I've been taking pictures on my travels ever since I received a little instamatic for a birthday present at school. About 20 cameras later (some due to damage on nights out with friends) and upgrades every time I moved to another country, I finally had a digital SLR (Canon 30D) and was immediately stunned with the numerous little dials, symbols, buttons and numbers.

So this was my challenge -- to move the dial to manual (M) and say goodbye to the days of pressing the green button.

Four days of intensive tutoring, copious bottles of red wine, and lashings of strong coffee and pains au chocolat for breakfast, I finally have 11 pictures I'm really proud of. 11, I hear you say, is that all? Well, yes. But they are 11 quality photos, the likes of which I have never taken. I learnt about apertures and depth of field, although I think I developed a few frown lines in the thinking process; shutter speeds came next and this one made sense; then we covered histograms and brightness. Phew! Pass me the red wine again?

But it wasn't all hard work. The B team (as someone supposedly nicknamed us) were three of us made up of a writer from Roger's writing course and two of us amateur photographers. The challenge was to make up a story with pictures from a little jaunt around Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, a medieval village just 30 minutes from our château and one of the locations used in the film Charlotte Gray. Anyway, to gain inspiration, we headed to a café only for Jon to catch us red-handed with a beer in hand. Maybe that was what the B stood for?

That evening we put the words and pictures into a PowerPoint. Lounging around in the château's sumptuous sofas, we laughed and smiled at the amazing stories compiled by our now-able student writers and admired the inspired images of our fellow photographers. Our team's love story produced a few ah's and was hopefully enhanced by my close-up shot of an old rusty heart.

The next day's challenge for the photography crew (after last night's hangover) was to search out the village celeb and shoot a whole load of paparazzi shots. Was Brad Pitt in town? I think we missed him while we set up our shots -- and had to make do with Jon

Final practice we set off to the town of Cahors and its Saturday market. Despite a few raindrops, I couldn't believe the quality of images my co-students had taken from close-up shots of sticky cakes in the pâtisserie to a squashed tomato in a puddle. I took courage after a few wise words from Jon and a 10-point plan on a laminated cheat card and approached the leek seller who was more than willing to have his photo taken by me.

Not only did I achieve my goal to take better pics, I enjoyed the added bonus of a weekend in France with good food, wine and great company. On top of all that, I came home armed with 11 images that I will always treasure and the email addresses of a bunch of people who I hope will remain great friends. So guys, when's the next course?

For more information, see www.creative-escapes.co.uk