29 Nov. 2010

Lesson 8 - Camera Lux

Our final lesson. I mentioned in the previous post that I am desolate. In my everyday life, Tuesday mornings were my highlight, and now the beginners photography course is finished, I am probably going to have to go and do something ridiculous like pilates. It is Monday today, so I'm expecting quite a bit of grief tomorrow. Zahra, if you are reading this, please hurry up the intermediate course before I go and do something stupid like sign up for decoupage.

In our first lesson, Zahra took us right back to the beginning, when the camera was simply a box with a pin-hole in it that would replicate an image (upside-down) on the back wall. It was a dark room, so in the language of the day (Latin), this kooky little contraption became known as the camera obscura. Things have come a long way since then, and now we not only have digital SLR cameras (interesting that the name of our photographic contraptions translates simply as "room". The Italians must wonder what the hell we're doing, all walking around with rooms in our handbags...), but we have technology for after-photo treatment. In our lesson this week, Zahra gave us a brief introduction to Lightroom, which is an excellent place to start adjusting your photos if you are a little too immature in your photographyness to embrace Photoshop. I have affectionately renamed it in latin, Camera Lux.

26 Nov. 2010


I had my last lesson only a couple of days ago. I'm desolate....but at the same time, also inspired. I think I am actually going to keep it up. If anyone knows of any proper courses (I'm talking about the kind of thing I come out of with a bigger brain and a piece of paper with a big red star on that I can put on my wall next to all my photographs), please let me know.  Preferably it would be one that I can do in Dubai, because as much as I love photography, I'm not ready to leave my family for it. Besides, they would just track me down - my three year old has a nose on him like the mafia. (please mafia, don't come after me for saying that...)

I still have lesson 8 to summarize (a brief rundown on Lightroom 2), and an assignment that I have given myself - architecture - because Zahra gave us some great tips on getting the best out of it - and I do live in the city that has a skyline that looks like a drawer of kitchen impliments.

In the meantime, I have discovered that there are all these great blogs out there that keep us on our toes with weekly photo challenges. Photo Friday is currently asking for hands.
This is my son fiddling with the Lord's Prayer at a wedding I attended recently.

What do you get for taking up the challenge? Probably a hand...better than a finger...

22 Nov. 2010

Assignment 7 - I've never been to me

When Zahra announced the topic for this week, there was complete silence for at least thirty seconds. That doesn't sound like much, but when you are in a stuffy room with only the whir of the projector and your own crashing thoughts, it's enough time to see your life going before your eyes.

Self Portraits.

A couple of weeks ago, Zahra showed us the work of Shirin Neshat, and Iranian artist born in 1957 who has taken scores of self portraits. They are amazing. Not only because she is beautiful, but because she is passionate about her history, her sex and her race. And she has a story to tell. She is an American born Iranian, and has grown up with the contrasting views of Muslim Iran and the West, and her country has gone through a revolution that rocked the world.

I am a thirty-something sedentary housewife that is particularly lazy and gets my maid to do everything. I come from Australia (where I didn't have a maid), and the closest they have come to a revolution is a referendum concerning the English Monarchy that proved Australians are very happy with ER. (Don't know how they are going to feel about queen Camilla though...)

18 Nov. 2010


This week it is Eid al-Adha, and so there has been no photography course. It has left a surprisingly gaping hole in my planner - not because of the length (only 2 hours once a week), but because it was the only weekly activity I really looked forward to (except the thursday or friday night getting away from children thing).

Eid al-Adha is a Muslim celebration that centres around the sacrifice demanded of Abraham by God - that of his son, Ishmael. God was really just playing a dirty trick on Abraham - he wanted to see how much he was adored - test the relationship so to speak. In the end he substituted Ishmael with a ram, and so Abraham got to keep the love of God and the life of his son. Fortunately it was not me going up Mount Arafat, because I would have been asking a hell of a lot of questions.

What it means today is three days off work, inflated hotel prices, and a whole load of goats in the back of utes. Yesterday I saw a man with a shaggy nanny draped across his shoulders. Casual as anything, walking down a main road in Abu Dhabi, holding all four feet together in one hand - he'd definitely done this before. The poor old goat was just staring off blankly into the distance. I didn't have my camera ready, but remember thinking how infrequently one might see something like that on a Melbourne metropolitan street.

13 Nov. 2010

Lesson 7 - Let there be Night

I recall at the beginning of these sessions, that Zahra (teacher) had told us about the evils of using the in-built flash. It is designed for the novice, and is the brightest of all known lights. It strips your exposure bare, washes out the colour, and gives anything with eyes that 'rabbit trapped in headlights' expression. Not to mention the fact that on my lily skin it overexposes to the point that the sensor on the camera recognizes my skin as dead pixels (ie. no colour at all). We had been told to use low shutter speeds and wide aperture to compensate for darkness, and not to forget that we could also use higher ISO (although I find that anything over 400 makes my exposures unacceptably grainy. I have been told that this can be artistically pleasing, but I don't think I have the knack yet).

However today, Zahra ran us through the functionality of the flash, JUST in case we were caught in the dark with no tripod.

8 Nov. 2010

Assignment 6: man v nature

Well, not exactly man versus nature, the task this week was to take pictures that showed a relationship between the civilized and natural world.

My first port of call was a tiny marina in Jumeirah. The bleached sand, craggy rockwalls and azure sea made it hard to take an exposure with poor contrast and texture. Fishermen had left their lobster traps lying in clumps like huge wiry mushrooms. Clambering over the rocks I found an old dhow at anchor, and to my left a sad reminder of what humans so readily do to our stunning environment - rusty boats discarded like chicken bones, and jetsam hiding in watery corners and rockpools.

Second was a trip to the underwater zoo at Dubai Mall. More an expression of "man captures nature", but a relationship nonetheless. Loved dame iguana with her lipstick - reminded me of an old school principal.

Finally I took myself for a drive off into the desert. Seriously, how many people do you know who can do that between nursery drop-off and pick-up? My life is so cool. I found remnants of man in desolation, beauty in powerlines, camels be-shackled, and at the end of the line, Bab al Shams. A hotel that folds itself into the sands as perfectly as if it had grown there spontaneously. As the temperature climbed I found it hard not to strip to my underwear and jump in the idyll pools. Coffee instead. Don't want to scare the residents...

5 Nov. 2010

Lesson 6 - Regaining Focus

Do you remember the assignment where we were asked to play around with manual focus, and I got all depressed? That's because we didn't really know enough about focus way back then (all of 2 weeks ago). Today we found out there are ways of getting good focus (and blur) in your exposures
without actually shifting to MF mode.

With all the other womens' cameras (you know the sexy SLRs with fancypants lenses that I lust after), there is a switch that flicks between Auto and Manual Focus mode. On my camera the focus is automatically automatic unless you manually switch to manual. Let's assume one is happy in AF mode (yes, this one is). If we leave our focus here, we can still guide it to perfection. There are AF settings within AF, and they are for single shot or continuous. In simple Sarah words, single is for when you have a still subject, and continuous is for when you don't.

There is also a AE (auto exposure) lock, and AF (auto focus) lock function, where even if the light changes (this is assuming you are in a cheat mode like AV or TV, where this would force the camera to auto-correct) or you or your subject move positions, the settings of exposure and focus will remain locked until you half-press the shutter again. Zahra had to explain this to our imbesilic group (sorry girls, really just talking about myself here) about a hundred times before we still didn't understand it, and the I realised my camera doesnt have this function so I gave up.

1 Nov. 2010

Assignment 5 - Taking Talking Portraits

This week we were given the task of creating "talking portraits". Unfortunately this did not mean that we were allowed to add comic captions to our family happy snaps. We had to take photos of strangers that had to convey a story - or at least a feeling.

For five days I kept on spotting opportunities to fulfill my obligation, but either didn't have my camera, or was scared stiff of being either assaulted or arrested.  By Thursday, the camera came everywhere with me, and leaving the setting on 'P', I walked through my very ordinary life, finding extraordinary people everywhere I looked. Soon I began to sneak the camera out when I was positive nobody was looking (hence all the back shots), surreptitiously replacing it before I was caught.

On Sunday evening a local wedding started firing up on the opposite block. I started taking photos from my balcony, but the drums and the dancing drew me in. I tiptoed up to the fence and started snapping, even quickly having the nerve to fiddle with aperture and ISO. When a particularly stunning 6ft 6 man (really SHOULD have got a photo of him) started towards me with a couple of trailing henchmen, I had a tiny freakout, and started readying my apologies. I was totally prepared to have to delete all my photos.

They invited me in!