Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Course To Date: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Given that I haven't posted in a while, I thought I'd take an opportunity to write a brief assessment of what I've learned so far, and how I feel the course is going. Well, I say brief, but anybody who's read any of my posts to date, will have noticed I have an ability to waffle, pontificate and generally witter on, like you wouldn't believe. I'm afraid I can promise you neither coherency, nor relevance, but if you stick with me, I'm sure we can make it through with the minimum amount of pain.

The Good

I'd like to start this self evaluation, by talking about someone else (you see, I'm off already.) I'll probably get in trouble for this, and when she reads it, Marie will probably ask me to delete it (out of a sense of modesty), but I just wanted to set her mind at ease about a few things.
I can't speak for the rest of the students, but for me, the class has quickly become the highlight of my week. Everyone is incredibly friendly, and there's a great atmosphere. I know Marie has concerns about the level of time she can give each student, but far from being the result of a lack of organisation, I think it's rather that she has a great ability to put people at their ease. Couple this with her own enthusiasm for photography, and you not only engender a real passion for the subject, but unfortunately, you also create a never ending list of questions. (So it's your own fault really!)   
I also know, she worries about the different levels of experience various students have, and that some might be going over information they already know. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I can honestly say, I've learned more in the last half a dozen weeks, than in all the time I've been studying on my own. There's an old saying: “can't see the wood for the trees”, that's how I'd sum up the situation. You might know various bits of information, but you need someone like Marie, to get you to take a step back, and allow it to all come in to focus. 
I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone else, or if it just makes me sound pretentious (probably the latter of the two!) But basically what I'm trying to say is... Relax, you're doing great!

P.S. Don't ask me why I talked about you in the third person, throughout that whole thing. I'm not really sure myself.

Right, I'd better actually talk about some of the things I've learned in class.

The Humble Aperture

Along with the Shutter speed and the ISO level, the aperture is one of the most important settings on the camera. Without knowing about the aperture, it will be incredibly difficult to get a correctly exposed photograph. A camera contains an iris, when you set your aperture, you are basically determining the diameter of that iris, and therefore, how much light is allowed through, and on to the sensor, or film. The diameter of the iris, is expressed on the camera, as an f/stop e.g. 4,5.6,8.
The important thing to remember, is that the the f/stop number is the inverse of the width of the aperture, so a small number, actually represents a wide aperture, and a large number a small aperture. Each number up the scale should allow half the level of light through.
The other use for the aperture is determining the depth of field you want in your picture. Depth of field simply means, how much of the area between the foreground and the background, do you want in focus. A wide aperture gives you a very narrow DOF, so only a small amount of the foreground is in focus. Whereas a narrow aperture, gives you a wide DOF meaning much more of the background is in focus.

Wide aperture: F/5.6, ISO 100, Shutter 1/6

The Shutter Speed

The shutter speed also determines how much light is allowed to pass through to the sensor or film, but rather than restricting the flow of light with its diameter, it works by opening and closing, for a predetermined length of time. The longer the shutter is open, the more light is allowed through, and the brighter the resulting image will be. Shutter speeds can vary hugely from something like 1/1000th of a second, up to 30secs. You can also set the camera to bulb mode, this keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down. Each increment on the scale, will either halve, or double the amount of light coming through the lens. The length the shutter is left open, also allows you to either, freeze an object in motion, with a fast shutter speed, or to illustrate movement with a slow shutter speed.

Fast Shutter Speed: 1/400, f/5.3, ISO 100

ISO sensitivity

The ISO number, denotes the level of sensitivity to light. In the days of film cameras, it allowed you to recognise the sensitivity of the film, but in a digital camera, it represents the sensitivity of the cameras image sensor. By setting the sensor to a higher ISO, you're able to take photos in much lower lighting conditions, using a faster shutter speed, and a narrower aperture. Although early films were available in much slower speeds, the lowest sensitivity level on most digital cameras is ISO100. The downside of raising the ISO level, is that it can create more noise on an image.

It would appear this is less of a post and more of a tome, so I'll move on to other subjects, and return to the good things in a later post.

The Bad

The area I'm struggling with most, is research. I don't have a problem finding photographers I like, or pictures that inspire me. The problem is, making any of it appear relevant to my chosen theme. I think having recognised the time constraints of the course (and my level of skill), I've picked a fairly simple theme and that's where the trouble lies. My classmates have picked fantastically original themes, and they post reams of information that's relevant to their subject. I on the other hand, can barely rustle up a quote. I'm aware this makes me sound petulant and jealous, but I am, so there!

The Ugly

We were let loose in the studio for the first time the other day:

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