Tuesday, June 30, 2009

10 Picturesque Things

10 things about my photography class since writing about it essay style is clearly not working for me.

1. I think I owe everyone who has gotten a photo shoot from me a new session free of charge because I know a lot more now. Some of it I learned from doing your shoot and a lot of it I learned from this class. Feel free to contact me to get that debt repaid.

2. I took the class at The International Center for Photography (ICP) which, as the name suggests, is kind of hoity toity. At first I was scared that it would be too difficult for me and I would be the least knowledgeable person there. Then the confirmation letter stated more than once, "No point and shoot cameras allowed!" and I wondered if the class would be too easy, covering things like the on button and the auto focus feature. It was just right. I learned a lot of technical stuff that I would never have guessed I needed to know and some things that I knew a little about and some things that I'd known a long time ago but that had become jumbled in my mind over time. I had to work to keep up but I didn't feel in over my head.

3. The teacher was Maynard Switzer, a travel, portrait and fashion photographer who apprenticed with Richard Avedon. He switched fully over to digital photography about 6 years ago and as he learned the differences between it and film photography he realized that a lot of photographers, even professionals, hadn't tumbled to the adjustments that needed to be made. He decided to give this introductory course to ensure that people were getting a good foundation. I would take any course he taught from macrame to composition and everything in between, he's that good. Unfortunately for me he makes a fine living actually taking photographs and this is the only teaching he does regularly.

4. Not the first thing he said but one of the biggest and simplest was to explain why he recommends shooting in RAW. The files are much larger, you can't attach them to things or e-mail them to people but, if you're doing any post-processing to your images, then RAW gives you more options. RAW provides you with more data to manipulate. If you shoot in JPEG you're letting the camera make a lot of choices for you and, though we learned to make the most of the settings in the camera, it is a much less powerful and detailed computer so you're losing a lot of versatility. Hence my switch to RAW and my need for a new hard drive and a new memory card. Not to mention the fact that I'm probably going to break down and get Photoshop Elements or something so I'm not using the free photo software from Apple. I think that'll open up even more options for me.

5. At one point he looked around the room, stood up and set down his notes. He then proceeded to explain how nervous we were making him and showed us very specifically how to wrap our camera strap around the lens every time we set it down to reduce the likelihood of someone snagging the strap and dragging our expensive equipment to its death. It's the little things, right? That's kind of a no-brainer and yet, despite the numerous close calls I've had, I never thought of it.

6. I learned a really simple thing about focusing that I'd taught myself previously but never felt confident about. Let's say that you're using autofocus and you are looking at a little kid in a field of daisies. You want the little kid to be in focus, you don't so much care how focused the daisies are but you want the kid to be in the lower right hand corner of the photo. Using autofocus you just put the kid in the center of the lens, half press the shutter to focus, move the lens to frame the shot as you prefer without lifting your finger from the button then finish depressing the shutter to take the picture. Voila. For example I used it here and you'll see it a lot in the mermaid photos once we hit the beach.

7. I understand aperture or Fstop or the amount of light one's lens is letting in on a given shot now. That's always been a little baffling to me for some reason but I keep having it explained to me by different people in different ways and this time I think I've got it. I don't know all the details but I know enough that I can shoot in Aperture Priority (I choose the Fstop, the camera chooses the shutter speed) with abandon.

8. I can also shoot in Shutter priority (I choose the shutter speed, the camera matches that to an Fstop) and, in a pinch, I think I could shoot full manual, I'd just have to work out which buttons will correspond to which command when I go full manual. Like shooting in RAW this means that I'm making more choices rather than letting the camera make them and that's better. At least for me it is.

9. When I walked out of that class I was afraid to pick up my camera. I had like 16 pages of notes and so many things that I was supposed to try so I could decide for myself what worked and like 10 things I was always supposed to do and know and check before I made a move. It was overwhelming. I forced myself to take a few photos at lunch and then basically put down the camera for about 3 days. I finally made myself take it on a dog walk to the park and made myself use some of the knowledge, just what I could remember, no note reading as I walked. So now I've gotten a few things solidly under my belt. I read over my notes on the bus up to New England earlier in the month but haven't used them again, even to write this post. So it's about time to dig a little deeper. Perhaps on the plane ride to the West Coast next week.

10. The expense of this "hobby" or "outlet" hit me full force. In order to process and store photos it's not practical to be running obsolete or hand me down computer equipment and that's what I have. Though I can do a lot with the lens I have, I could do much more with two, or even one more and lenses can be very expensive. A flash, something that would facilitate indoor and portrait photos, is also not cheap. Plus I'd also probably need to take a flash class. This class helped me to figure out that I don't learn well from non-narrative non-fiction. Instruction booklets are good to refresh my memory but for learning new concepts I need to have a lecture demonstration. There's the software I mentioned above and the camera bag I bought on Friday, too. I can go along quite well with the equipment I have and the skills I have but in order to make it to a new level (not something that needs to happen immediately, I just got to this level) I'll require an infusion of cash. I don't see that happening right now, but I'm going to try. I hear this "manifesting" thing is all the rage.

*You may get another 10 things post about this subject or perhaps an essay even. This doesn't cover everything I learned in my class but it's a good start.


  1. Mediaguy5:43 PM

    Don't get Photoshop elements. Get a copy of real Photoshop.

  2. I'm so proud of you for doing this. You have such a gift. I'm gearing up for another shoot!!!! Perhaps in November!?!?!?!?

  3. I can't wait to see the results of having taken this class. :)