Photography Course Part 1

posted in: Bucket List, Review | 1

It is no secret that one of my hobbies, one of my passions even, is photography.

I’ve loved taking photographs for years and years, and moved to having a SLR camera from just having a compact about seven years ago.  About three years ago we upgraded our Sigma SA9 SLR to their SD14 DSLR, a great move which has just improved our image taking ability no end.  But while I love taking photographs, and do get some fairly good shots, it’s all been much more a case of trial and error than actually knowing the ins and outs of capturing images.  Having done some studio still life as part of my job a few years ago I do have a knowledge surrounding aperture, shutter speed and so on, but you know how they say “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”… well that’s how it is with me.

Until today that is!

Today I went on the first of two one day courses I booked with Going Digital (http://www.goingdigital.co.uk/).  They are simply called “Explore Your DSLR” (part one and part two), and basically the idea is to take what knowledge I have and make sure that a) it’s right, and b) I know what it all means in practice.  Both courses are at Clumber Park, a lovely setting in Nottinghamshire, with nine other people wanting something similar to me.

The day started with a presentation by our trainer, Richard Williams, covering the basics of SLR photography.  This included depth of field, aperture, shutter speed, focal length, focal points, and composition.  Throughout this presentation I was pleasantly surprised how much I remembered from reading books and experimenting, but the examples and analogies Richard was giving us really helped me confirm in my mind what it might mean when I actually took some pictures.

Next was an exercise which was aimed at making us familiar with the manual settings on our DSLRs… basically a features sheet so we could work out (using the camera manual in some cases) where all the buttons and settings were.  This was useful as while I might know some of the theory when it comes to photography, actually knowing how to put it into practice on my SD14 is something I’m not very confident with.  Now I have a crib sheet which will stay in my camera bag and mean I don’t have to spend ages each time I get the camera out remembering what does what.

After we had done that it was time for our “assignment”.  We were given four different types of shot to capture, and an hour… the idea to put all the theory into practice.

The first thing was to capture a portrait (of another member of the group).  Richard was looking for good composition and a shallow depth of field – with the subject in focus and anything else thrown out of focus.  I was using my 18-50mm lens for the whole course and so to get the background out of focus even with a small f-stop I needed to be close to my subject – I need to remember that!

Portrait - got told this was good composition (thirds/looking space) but should have been closer to get more blurred background
Portrait - got told this was good composition (thirds/looking space) but should have been closer to get more blurred background
Portrait - this was used as a good example of a "candid" shot - this snap came out better than my proper portrait shot!
Portrait - this was used as a good example of a "candid" shot - this snap came out better than my proper portrait shot!

Following on from that I decided to have a go at really throwing the background out of focus on a still object… this worked much better for me.

A still life using a small depth of field
A still life using a small depth of field

The second thing we had to do was look at using different focus points to emphasise different parts of the image.  We were to capture a shot of three things in a row, and with the camera on a tripod, use the auto focuss settings to have the left, middle and right subjects in focus in three different shots.  I was quite pleased with the way this came out… I hope you can see the difference too!

Choosing the focus point - left
Choosing the focus point - left
Choosing the focus point - centre
Choosing the focus point - centre
Choosing the focus point - right
Choosing the focus point - right

We were asked to demonstrate the way exposure can be used in a shot by taking the same scene twice, the first time allowing the camera to set the exposure itself, and the second time by forcing the camera to underexpose by one full point.

Testing exposure compensation on a tree in blossom - normal exposure
Testing exposure compensation on a tree in blossom - normal exposure
Testing exposure compensation on a tree in blossom - under exposed - much more moody
Testing exposure compensation on a tree in blossom - under exposed - much more moody

Finally, we had to capture was one where the whole scene was in focus – so making use of a large depth of field.  Richard was also looking for interesting composition.  I’m not very pleased with my attemps (this was the last one I did and I was running out of time!) but thought I’d share them anyway coz then I can demonstrate how I’ve improved in future!

Landscape shot using a large depth of field... not quite right
Landscape shot using a large depth of field... not quite right
Landscape shot using a large depth of field - wanted something with more interest in the foreground, but it didn't work
Landscape shot using a large depth of field - wanted something with more interest in the foreground, but it didn't work

After lunch we spent some time reviewing a selection of each other’s assignment images, which was a great opportunity to see how other people on the course put the theory into practice as well as get some much needed tips on where I had been going wrong.

I’ve had a good day on this course and am glad I booked – thanks Jay for sending me the link to the Going Digital website!  I’m already looking forward to Part 2, which I’m doing in mid-June, also at Clumber Park.  Between now and then, though, I need to do lots of practice using the DSLR on aperture priority mode to make sure what I learnt today sticks in my mind!

What do you think? Comment below...