Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Back to school

Never, in my 30 and a little added something precious years had I been interested in photography. I never even owned a camera. I was one of those people who always go on and on about recording the memories in their minds, "the way they really are, complete with the atmosphere, and the feelings. The smells and all."

I didn't understand the fascination with photography.

When I and that dashing foreigner, whom I some years down the line convinced to marry me and keep buying me things to keep me happy, met, he was a photographer of sorts. He had a fancy SLR camera and he could spend an entire day with that thing glued to his face. It was a traditional film camera too, so he would plan and plan, and wait and wait for the perfect shot of the Colosseum when all I really wanted to do was to find a nice little gelateria or a pizzeria and really, really urgently use their bathroom facilities.

The Colosseum doesn't have a toilet. Which I think is very odd. But I think it is because their plumbing must be subpar. Or they don't have any plumbing. Could be either.

Every time we move, we transport with us thousands and thousands of photographs taken by my Viking. Most of them are of landscapes and architecture, some of them are of animals and people, and some of them are of me. And although, the Hubby is pretty excellent at this snapping photos business (just lookie here), none of the ones of me are any good. I either look angry, demonic, threatening, or really, really surprised, which comes out of an attempt to not come across as demonic.

I am the epitome of something that can only be referred to as crazy eyes meet caffeine stained teeth and much too much gum, and nothing else.

This picture is NOT by the hubby, but illustrates my point nicely. We will, however, forever be in the dark about how much 1800 tequila brings out this specific pallor in me.

When this supreme unphotogenicality (I am making it a word now.) is the hand one has been dealt in life (I'm not saying I'm an ugly, just photograph like one. And don't you dare tell me different.), what else can a person do but pick up the camera herself, and start snapping?

Which is exactly what I did, when I finally saw the light (or one more surprised with gums expression from myself). In last April. While we were in Zambia. Because I didn't know all of you back then, and thus didn't have much to do. Apart from people-watching in the hotel bar, and being afraid of that one waitress I crossed and who then started aiming her spit in my lattes. Or so I thought at least.

I picked up Hubby's, by that time a digital SLR, Canon 450D, and started getting blurred, wrong-thing-in-focus, horribly lit, confusing shots of Lusaka, Zambia. And corn. There were plenty of out-of-focus shots of corn.

Slowly, I started getting some of the basics right. Mostly by yelling at the hubby every time one of my 'good' shots turned out to be not so good at all, once I uploaded it on the computer, and he would then patiently tell me what button I was supposed to have pushed on instead of the one I had chanced at.

I refused to read the manual.

I looked at plenty of excellent photos from Erin, Kristine, Kristina, and Spud admiring their photo as well as their editing skills, and from julochka who is more resistant to the modern photography tools, and wants to do as little as possible to her photos after that shutter closes. (Please, please let me know if I forgot anyone else [Thanks Eidothia!], and I'm not sure how much editing the Ks actually do...)

Then I decided that better equipment was needed (This is my pitfall. I admit it. I'm gadget happy, and frequently buy instant gratification. What else is new?), and the Hubby had also subtly hinted at possibly wanting his camera back. Or maybe there was talk of the Hubby, the real photographer of the pair, wanting a new camera, so that I could keep the 450D? It's very likely, but could hardly be what actually took place.

So I got me a DSLR Canon 5D Mark II, and some fancy lenses: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L USM, Canon Macro EF 100mm f/2.8 USM, Canon EF ultra wide-angle 14mm f/2.8 L II USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, and a tripod to boot.

The Hubs got Big Berta, the mother of all lenses. And that eased his pain.

Still, I had no idea what I needed all of the equipment for. I had bought a professional camera because I could, not because I knew what I was going to use it for. I was still shooting with the Program settings most of the time, so that the camera would set everything and I would only occasionally override it by changing the white balance or the exposure. Sometimes I would shoot fast moving objects with the Shutter Priority setting so that they wouldn't come off so blurred, and sometimes I would shoot something with the setting on Aperture Priority to achieve a good blurred foreground and background, to get a nice depth of field, a nice bokeh.

But mostly, I would just point and shoot. And let the camera do most of the photographing.  

Until yesterday night, that is.

Around the same time that I received the final bits and pieces to my new interest, a Field Guide to my new camera appeared on my nightstand. There were some more muffled whispers during the twilight hours on how it would perhaps be a good idea to read the manual to my camera, do some leafing through the Field Guide, to go out and snap some photos, to try out the different settings, or at least find out what the abbreviations by all of the different buttons on my camera meant. There were some hints at how it would be awesome to try out setting X or Y or QWK, and I started to see where the train was headed.

So I signed up for an intermediate photography class at the best institution in Johannesburg that Google could find for me - the National College of Photography.

And last night I had my first class.

From now on, there is only one setting I'm allowed to use: the Full Manual. There will be no more of "letting the camera take your picture for you." There will be shutter speeds matched to the aperture matched to the ISO speed according to the light meter reading, white balance settings, RAW format conversion, panning, filters, focal length, zoom, and only manual focus.

And other things that are complete and utter hebrew to me.

My first homework consists of taking light meter readings and a very complicated exercise in low light photography.

I'm scared.

Still, I get a huge kick out of it every time the teacher tells us to depress the button instead of pressing it.

And that makes all the difference.


Not So Glamorous Housewife said...

Sounds complicated and enriching. I love looking at good photography. My children are destined to have their heads chopped off as I take the candid shots creating blurry blob memories. Thankfully the studio's take nice stills and VISA.

Bill Stankus said...

Just curious, did you read my latest blog? Seems to be a co-theme here. Sort of.

Eidothia said...

Two things:
1. You forgot to mention another amazing photographer Kristine from Where is Kristine Now Love, absolutely love her pictures and you know her :)
2. Please can you leave us some tips from your class as well. As I thot the camera is what makes a difference and picked an SLR for a holiday I just took and the pics are horrible :( and I wanna get some tips in here, the neat little medium than a afull fledged class


Lisa-Marie said...

I have a Finepix S9500. It is a full digital professional SLR, but I tend to use it in manual mode. You get more out of doing it i think. Ulike your husband though, I tend just to point and click and take hundreds of photos in the hope i'll get a couple of good ones.

Fidgeting Gidget said...

Oohh, fun! When Grouper can finally get us out of here, the first thing on my list is to get into a photography class. I don't know the half of what my new camera can do--and he's not so new anymore.

My name is Erin. said...

As if I could love you any more! Thanks for tagging me. I'm honored to be included on your list. I'll be the first to admit... I need to read my manual. I need to shoot better and edit less. But with that said, I love to edit. I love taking a mediocre picture and making it slightly less so, maybe even kinda cool! Someday, I will take a photography class and learn how to really use my camera, so that I might actually deserve to be called a photographer.

I'm so glad you're taking up the hobby. I already enjoy seeing the world (or parts anyway) through your words and now we'll be able to see it through your lens. That's very exciting! Good luck with your class. I might learn a thing or two from you along the way. XO

An Open Heart said...

Wow! Congrats on school! Wow, I would love to go to photography school.....cannot wait to see your "homework"...you'll share it, here, eh?

Every photographer I've talked to always says, READ THE MANUAL....I haven't, but, periodically flip though it and when I can't find what I want, throw it down in disgust and just shoot until I get what I want....or, not.

have fun!

Sara said...

I've read the manual but luckily my still point and shoot is a much smalled manual. Though I'm dreaming of joining you in the ranks of complicated camera owners.

Show us some of your homework?

Ekanthapadhikan said...

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spudballoo said...

Oh I'm so jealous, I soooo want to do a course. I've got so much to learn, cry. Will you come and guest blog for Camera Club? Seriously, it would be a brilliant way to consolodate what you learn and, ahem, share it with the rest of us?

How exciting!! xxx

M.J. said...

Don't be afraid. A girl who can withstand rioting can certainly handle taking photos on the manual setting.

omchelsea said...

Wow. I'm a photo-paranoid and I TOTALLY admire you for getting started in the class.

Cyndy said...

Hey, I love the picture! It was the first thing I saw with my morning coffee yesterday and it screamed at me to "wake up!"

My photo lessons at this point are limited to making sure that I have batteries charged. This week I also have the special assignment of finding my USB cord that somehow left my camera case and is lost in the abyss of the place I call home. Ugh!

I wish you luck with your class. But the most important thing is that you learn to always have your camera with you. The most amazing shots, ISO-aperture-focal length-lighting aside, will surely be there when your camera is not.

kristina said...

how exciting with a photography course! I want to do one too... or you can come here and teach me everything when the course is done :-D
have a lovely trip!

kristine said...

woo hoo! i am jealous. I was thinking of doing an online course but. but. but. but i am lazy.

in other photohraphy related stuff, can you help me with something pls? Can you tell me how to install a flickr sidebar like yours? i am too stupid.