27 Oct. 2010

Lesson 5 - Still in the dark

Evaluative (total scene)
spot metering 
Got slapped around by Zahra today. She has been reading my blog and is highly disappointed that I have been over-simplifying her lessons, and blatantly changing them willy-nilly.

So before I corrupt her teachings further with a summary of today's adventure, I need to tell you that YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SWITCH WHITE BALANCE ON AUTO. The camera is more clever than me in many ways but lacks a proprioceptor system, so it cannot tell what kind of light globes you are standing under.

Got it? Good. Now she will slap me around again for making her appear like a raving harpy (which she isn't).

Ok. Now I think today was about light distribution, and the light metering settings. But I forgot my notebook and Zahra forgot the handouts, so it may be called something completely different.

26 Oct. 2010

Assignment 4 - Losing focus

I hit a low this week. Our assignment was to practice using the manual focus, and I had already been mucking around with this - so no new thrills. In addition, I had been complaining in the previous lesson that my camera was far too helpful, and always put everything in focus. I've been struggling to get nice blur (once I thought blur was a bad thing!) and like all poor artists I blamed the equipment. (in my defense, I have a Canon Powershot SX20, not a SLR like most of the others)

Therefore, instead of getting right into it, I spent all my spare time researching SLRs on the internet. Then I told my husband that I needed to go out and buy the Canon Eos 550 at 3500 dhirims (about $1000).


And nothing (I mean NOTHING!) I could do could change his mind.

22 Oct. 2010

Lesson 4 - Cheating

Our instructor Zahra (incedentally her website is www.zahraj.com) is playing fishing games with us - she draws us in. She lets us loose. We get all tangled in the line. She draws us in again. For now she has me hook line and sinker. I wonder if she is going to kiss us and throw us back once she has finished? Probably. Let's hope we all swim off and grow and learn, rather than get infected then die and bloat.

NOW I find out that there are cheat functions we ARE allowed to use, and they are halfway back to my old comfy home, "auto". These are P, AV and TV.

P is almost exactly like auto. The camera chooses the ISO, aperture and shutter speed for you. To be honest I don't really understand any major differences to "auto", (which remains  - like the chocolate on the shelf reserved for ungrateful Halloween urchins - enticingly in plain view but entirely forbidden) except that the camera seems to assume that you don't want to use the flash, and it will allow you to fiddle with the ISO if you wish. This is a great setting to use if you are completely lost and want a starting point for all your settings - just pop it on P, and check in the display to see what the camera chooses.

20 Oct. 2010

Lesson 1 - again. Woopsie!

In what is a typical move for me, I have ignored an important issue in my rush to move onto the next big thing. Before I go any further, I must rectify this and talk about aperture.

Aperture refers to the little contraption in the camera that looks like an iris (in the eyeball, not the garden). Open wide means lots of light gets in, and closed up means little.

The really annoying thing is that the numbers on the camera are the opposite way around. Eg aperture F8 is almost closed, and F2.8 floods the light in. Can't believe I have been doing this course for 4 weeks and I still always turn the dial the wrong way.

18 Oct. 2010

Lesson 3 - White balance and Focal Point

Thursday last week saw the first true clouds above Dubai since May, and with it came a breeze that silently drove out the blasted humidity. Instead of being 35 degrees celcius and feeling 46, it was 35 with a sea breeze and just enough moisture in the air to make it smell good. This had to be celebrated with Gin and tonic, and much of it. So by the time my next lesson came around I was at the end of a 3-day hangover, and sat in the corner with my sunglasses on for the duration. Fortunately there were handouts, because things are starting to get interesting.

White balance was not my highlight, because this is often automatic and apparently the only 'auto' function we are officially allowed to use. However, it can be particularly useful in creating fake suntans on yourself and completely washing out all your attractive friends. Like black and white photography, it can also be used to create interest in a picture that may be a little dull, which I found while walking around Bastakiya (see assignment 3) - dusty brown walls can become warm teracotta, and cave-like white-washed rooms can become cozy ethnic retreats. It's very simple - just a choice in the function settings - sunny, cloudy, flourescent (my setting - instant bronzing for polar bears), tungsten and flash.

17 Oct. 2010

Assignment 2

We get to take pictures in monochrome! Oooooooh - I feel so cultured and intelligent! I believe I am starting to understand why photographs are so different to the real thing, even though they are an exact image.

1. We get to squeeze out all the rubbish, and only show the good stuff (wish somebody could do that with my double chin...)
2. We make a 3d image flat. Sometimes it is better NOT to see around corners (especially those involving my butt)
3. We control the perspective, and show the image the way we want it to be seen.

Not only that, now I am learning to control the amount of light and shade, and even the amount of colour. I find that black and white is a much better way to show light and shade (derr...), and that sometimes a dull image in colour can suddenly pop (I use that word at the danger of sounding like a DIY show host...) when the colour distraction is removed - and that the contrast is surprisingly pleasing.

assignment 3 - magnum force

Assignment 3, go and check out the website: www.magnumphotos.com and browse the photos of all these amazing and particularly famous photographers. (I am such a ninny I had only heard of one of them.) Then, when you have browsed sufficiently to form an opinion on a favourite (this took three and a half days because everything loaded at glacial pace), take their style and copy it.

But my favourite was particularly clever, and all the exact placing of things and forming structure and not making it look really wanky got a bit hard for me, so I reassessed and found something I could copy, and made Bruno Barbey my favourite. No offense intended Bruno - you are a legend.

I loved Barbey's Moroccan photos, and living in Dubai, the settings are something I can find a little of here. Bastakiya is one of the truly old places left in the land of concrete, glass and Louis Vuitton, and at 9am it is guaranteed to be silent and there is nobody there to laugh at little old me putting on my professional hat, albeit wonky. I tried to imitate the way he sought out geometry in his compositions, and the angles, the shadows and the galleries made for plenty of subject matter.

13 Oct. 2010

Lesson 2 - releasing the artist

It's time to stop looking at stuff, and start looking at stuff. We brought in our stunning attempts at photography and discovered that something can be beautiful in real life, but we cannot truly help the camera to capture its beauty unless we frame the picture properly.

Oops - well NOW we know...

Pictures need to tell a story, draw the eye, interest the viewer, inspire them or tug at their heart strings. And the way you do this is by dividing your frame into nine squares and making sure the interesting stuff sits on one of the lines, particularly where it intersects. Amazing! Seriously, it's called the rule of thirds,
and I tried it with all my favourite snaps, and 95% of them had the subject on a third intersection.

Components to make your exposures interesting are subject matters with pattern, contrast and texture. We must consider taking pictures from other positions than eye-level, which is just like missionary - practical, but after a while, a little boring. Then, you mix that with a good splashing of perspective and depth of field, and presto! Life becomes art.

Assignment 1 - ten minute art

So we were all sent off with our cameras, which after one lesson had morphed mysteriously into scarily complicated pieces of equipment, of which we had no idea how to use. All we knew was that switching back to "Auto" is absolutely forbidden.

Take a walk, 10 minutes from your home. Stop. Find beauty in your surrounds and take 10 pictures. Well, really - does she know it is 100 degrees in the shade right now, and humidity is 50%. Ugh. I drove for 2 minutes instead, then got out of the air-conditioned Volvo on an isolated stretch of Umm Suqeim beachfront, and fiddled and snapped until the sweat started to dribble into my eyes and blind me.

Then I gave up and took photos from the car the next day on the way to dropping my son off at school. I managed to get some interesting solar flare results, entirely accidental.

12 Oct. 2010

Lesson 1 - Switching off the autopilot

I bought myself a shiny new camera for Christmas. It has heaps of buttons and features, and is too big to put in my pocket. It is so completely intelligent that it can take my holiday moments and freeze them not just as I remember, but even more romantic, spontanious, fairytale and
dramatic. I am now not just a woman who takes photo, this little black box has made me a photographer.

I have found that I am unable to stop looking at my holiday pictures - and it's not only because they make me feel like I am back there, but that they
provide me with an even more perfect view - they are art. But I never even got off the "Auto" setting. Imagine what I could do if I actually knew how to use the other buttons!

And now I am learning. I have stepped into "Manual" mode. Pictures have become "exposures", and light is paramount. My journey follows......

Lesson One - an introduction to shutter speed and aperture. The faster the shutter speed, the smaller the moment in time - look at the water in the fountain. But also the shorter time there is to let light in - so you need to widen the aperture (the iris of the camera) - which ironically is a smaller number when it is open wider. We took pictures in the heat at the Dubai Ladies Club, and got all sweaty and our Prada Sunglasses fogged up only slightly less than our camera lenses.