I’ve just completed a morning’s teaching session. It was a free “Taster” for the Photography for Beginners Course I’m running in October. I try and teach in the Adult Learning Sector. I say “try” because I’m still not sure whether I’m a successful teacher or not. I’ve had some good feedback in the past so I guess I must be doing something reasonably right but it’s not for me to say whether I’m a good teacher or not. The proof of course is how my leaners learn, whether and how they progress. Most of my learners come to my classes with a super duper digital camera they’ve bought but not quite plucked up the courage and confidence to get it out of Auto or Program Mode. The Manual is usually as thick as a brick and in several different languages and assumes that the new owner knows what an Aperture and a Shutter Speed is and the difference between white balance and ISO etc. That’s where I enter the room. I have to go right back to basics and I mean right back. Exactly how one explains Aperture and Shutter Speed and how they combine to create a “correct” exposure you’d think would be relatively straightforward but you’d be wrong. Thinking the best way to explain the concept is not easy. Even the filling the bucket of water analogy can be problematic when one learner queries what about water pressure coming through the hose ? Sometimes I think they’re doing it deliberately. I had one lady adamant there was no correct exposure meter indication when in manual mode despite me showing it her in the camera manual and suggesting she just needed to find the setting on her camera. As this was a taster session I was not even going near Exposure Compensation ! I think I’m patient. My learners have very different learning abilities and I still remember how long it took me for the exposure penny to drop in my early twenties. I pretty much taught myself. I don’t mind that they don’t at first get it because I’ll keep explaining it to them until they do in whatever simplified way I can. Keep it simple stupid. Cameras these days are not easy either. While they’ve become easier to get the perfectly exposed shot the multitude of function buttons all doing pretty much the same thing i.e. setting aperture and shutter (landscape, portrait. sport mode etc) are confusing and intimidating to the unknowing. Many learners in their enthusiasm jump ahead of themselves and want to know what the thing is before I’ve explained the thing they need to know in order to understand the what the thing is, if you get my meaning. How do you explain how depth of field is achieved for example without first explaining the different combinations of aperture and shutter speed to create exposure and then going on to explain how the choice of aperture affects the depth of field and has to be considered in your choice. I’m not asking for help here folks. After three or four years I’ve pretty much got it sorted but it’s not always easy.
I finished off by showing some of my less challenging work. Trying to explain that photography is not just weddings and portraits is another eye opener for new learners.
A new camera won’t improve my photography. I am under no illusions. A change from an SLR to a Rangefinder might change the way I look at something through the viewfinder. It might even change my approach to the medium but it won’t improve my photography. I’m not saying it can’t be improved upon. Absolutely not. On the contrary. I’m my own worst critic and that’s how it should be. Sometimes I look at my images and……well ? There’s a difference between want and need. I don’t need a new camera. I can manage without one. I just fancy a change, that’s all.
What might improve my photography is my continued attempts to understand the subject by reading around and within it. Books by authors whose capacity to think about things and elucidate their thoughts far better than I can. I’m currently reading Understanding a Photograph – John Berger (he died recently) – Edited and introduced by Geoff Dyer (he wrote a good book on photography called The Ongoing Moment.
Here’s a paragraph which resonates somewhat with my own thoughts on photography being viewed as fine art and particularly with this continued assessment by those supposed photography experts who seldom get beyond discussing whether a photograph is well composed or not.
“We must rid ourselves of a confusion brought about by continually comparing photography with the fine arts. Every handbook on photography talks about composition. The good photograph is the well‐composed one. Yet this is true only in so far as we think of photographic images imitating painted ones. Painting, is an art of arrangement: therefore it is reasonable to demand that there is some kind of order in what is arranged. Every relation between forms in a painting is to some degree adaptable to the painter’s purpose. This is not the case with photography (Unless we include those absurd studio works in which the photographer arranges every detail of his subject before he takes the picture). Composition in the profound, formative sense of the word cannot enter into photography.”
Over the next few weeks I will be adding my Photography Reading List to a new page on this Blog and I’ll welcome suggestions from readers for more.
MA Photography Notes
Susan Sontag – On Photography
Photography Fails for Five Reasons
- A photograph is both a piece of time and space. By including or excluding things its arbitrary borders both create and break relationships. The temporal and spatial dislocation results in social reality being presented as small discontinuous particles.
- A photograph only shows us the surface, so it has many meanings and encourages us to deduce or intuit what the reality was like.
- Photography can only give us knowledge of the world if we accept the world as we see it. But this is the opposite of understanding which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. Photographs have a use in giving us a mental picture of things but they always hide more than they reveal.
- While photographs can arouse conscience this is only a semblance of ethical or political knowledge because it is always sentimental ( whether it is cynical or humanist )
- By duplicating the world in such a comprehensive way it has made the world seem more available that it really is.
Search the web and sooner or later you’ll find the ‘ My top ten photography tips for taking better pictures’. I often get asked this so here are mine. The first four really need no explanation.
Take photos that surprise :
Take photos that delight :
Take photos that inform :
Take photos that intrigue:
Take photos that please you: Don’t take photos that are trying to please others. It’s nice when people press the like button but ultimately you have to make work for yourself. If others like it then that’s a bonus.
Avoid the obvious: If you’ve seen the image before then best to avoid. Don’t try re-invent the wheel, reproduce what you’ve seen in other photography magazines. It just makes you look dull and uninspired.
Keep it simple: More often than not the best images are the simplest.
Say something: Say anything but say something.
Have an opinion : By saying something you’ll express an opinion. See ‘ Take Responsibility for your own education ‘ below.
Think visual literacy : Semiotics is the science of signs. Your images are a series of signs which you are trying to communicate to your viewer. If you feel the need to explain in writing your image to the viewer then you’ve probably failed.
Think metaphor : An image which shows one thing but is about something else ! An image which is about something and not of something.
Take responsibility for your own education : If you’ve been fortunate to live in a country whose establishment believes that the education of it’s people is the key to it’s future prosperity then attempts have already been made to educate you to a certain standard. If you can read this, thank a teacher. However, there comes a point in everyone’s life when they must take responsibility for their own education. You never stop learning and you never should. I wish I’d realised this before I did, but better late than never. Learn about the world. This will inform your photography whether you realise it or not.
Follow your own instincts:
Try and develop a unique vision: Be a shepherd not a sheep.
Street Photography – my favourite!
Ok so the first thing you need to understand about when you photograph someone, even a complete strange, you steal their soul. Yes really ! The camera literally sucks their brains out of their skulls and leaves them with no personality or anything else worth salvaging. Yes exactly just like them Dementors in the Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings and all those other fantasy tales of good versus evil in parallel universes, black holes, drainpipes etc etc . .So if you must indulge in taking your camera out on the streets, beware! real people go there too and they have a nasty habit of getting in the way They do rude things like stand in front of you when your trying to take a photo and you wouldn’t want to steal their priceless souls now would you?
Anyway you shouldn’t really be taking photos in the street where people go should you because it’s wrong and immoral and people will think you’re a terrorist or a paedophile or both because they’re thick like that. Someone sooner or later will ask you what you’re doing because they’re bloody nosey and they can’t help themselves and they would have joined the police if they hadn’t had been so thick ! So ! how do you deal with people like that ? It’s really quite simple. Just smile politely, put your camera away and apologise profusely and walk away with your head bowed in shame. If you are approached by a security guard or policeman do the same thing but this time offer him ( or her ) money as a gift not a bribe to supplement their meagre income. Hand over your camera so he can delete all your images and your clothes as well. Walk home naked with a large sign around your neck with PHOTOGRAPHER written on it so people can see you’re a terrorist or paedophile or both . As you walk home find and take a large branch from a tree so you can flagellate your self with it so you’ll arrive home badly beaten and bruised, naked ! Nothing else will suffice to rid you of the evil you have just committed. Never ever never think of taking photographs of real people ever again…………….ever !
Next week other things you can do with your camera !
Here’s that photo of people looking at a ship out to sea I promised you. The ship is out at sea not the people ! Well actually they might be because they might be on another boat which is also out at sea as well.