“ Digital camera training courses in Birmingham's jewellery quarter. „
~Confessions of an AUTO photographer~
People tell me I'm quite a good photographer; that I have 'a good eye'. They may be right, perhaps I can see the picture in a scene rather than just snap away randomly. However whilst my eye might be good, the rest of me is rubbish when it comes to photography. I have used SLRs for a decade and a half, converted to a digital SLR two years ago and I shoot many thousands of photos a year. But here's the awful admission - whisper it quietly for I hang my head in shame - more than 90% of them were shot on that magical setting marked 'Auto'. The other 10% were on one of the other pre-determined settings of portrait, landscape, macro or whatever. I didn't know my aperture from my shutter speed, my f-stop from my depth of field. I was a photo-moron. I had, as the saying goes, all the gear but no idea.
I do not in any way imagine I was unusual in all of this. I'm willing to bet that nine out of ten people who buy a DSLR might as well get rid of all the other settings and stick with Auto for all they're likely to do much dial fiddling. I admitted my ignorance, recognised that I want to change and so back in the autumn I bought 2 vouchers from GroupOn for a digital camera training course for a cost of £30 each. I had intended to go in October to get some training before our last trip to India but the courses were massively oversubscribed and the first good date we could get was in January in Birmingham at a place called 'Fotofilia' in the Hockley district of Birmingham.
The course was on a Sunday which meant that the streets around the studio were empty and the on-street parking was free. Hoorah for free Sunday parking and well done to Birmingham City Council for that. We arrived at 9.30 am, a full half hour before the start time and sat in the car killing time until the roller-shutter on the front of the building was lifted and we could get in. The trainer - David Rann - welcomed us in, showed us to the kettle and told us where to go when we'd got our drinks. We passed down a long corridor decorated with a photographic exhibition and into the studio at the back of the building where fifteen folding chairs had been arranged in three rows. The room was quite cold and we joked that it was probably perfect for glamour work as it would almost certainly guarantee pert nipples.
In total eleven people attended the course out of a maximum of fifteen. Most people admitted that the process for booking via a company called Photolinaker had left rather a lot to be desired and some said they'd not got any kind of confirmation. Perhaps that's why some of the people who'd booked didn't show up.
~Information is Power~
David asked everyone to tell him why they were there (my husband said "Because my wife made me come") and what they hoped to learn, told us that he would work on the assumption that nobody knew anything and would treat us all as beginners since even those who knew more would probably benefit from a refresher. He kicked off with the real basics - how to hold the camera, why it was essential to use the view-finder and not rely on the screen, and why only total losers would use the Auto setting - and of course, none of us would ever be tempted to try THAT again. Next we moved onto aperture size, shutter speed, exposure and depth of field, making sure that we all understood how these were interconnected and then we were sent out onto the surrounding streets to play around with changing the settings and seeing what happened. It was January, so you can imagine that nobody really wanted to stay outside for too long.
Next we were messing around with ISO settings, talking about why white cats in snow and black cats in coal cellars all end up looking like grey cats in grey 'stuff'. I found many buttons and wheels I didn't even know existed on my camera. There's even a clever little one to focus the view finder according to how your eyesight is - how smart is that and how come I never even thought to look for such a thing? He started to talk about changing the settings - I had no idea how to do that until it all just dropped into place. So THAT was what the little wheel on the front was for. Eureka.
We broke for a 30 minute lunch break. My husband had thoughtfully brought a bag of goodies but others went off to the Tesco Metro nearby to pick up sandwiches. In the afternoon David showed us examples of portrait photographs that he admired, asking us why we thought they worked and explaining the difference between straight portraits and situational portraits. Just in case you're starting to think that you maybe know what you're doing, it's always useful to be reminded that you really are just an utterly clueless greenhorn.
~Smile - or maybe don't~
David specialises in portraiture and had arranged for us to take photographs of a model called Kat. He showed us how to use silver and golden light reflectors to bounce the light and then took us all outside to a scruffy street corner to shoot poor Kat against the doorway of an abandoned building. We were told to direct her and that she would only 'perform' for the person whose turn it was but that everyone could take pictures even if someone else was directing. I don't think I'd ever really understood the term photogenic before looking through my camera at Kat. She's a pretty girl but so much prettier in the photos than in real life. I honestly think that even a determined 'Auto' setting user couldn't fail to take good pictures of someone who glows through the lens.
Kat was ridiculously patient - posing, smiling, pouting and occasionally if caught off guard, even laughing. She'd been given a fake fur coat to soften up the texture, a chunky pearl bracelet and some sparkly gold earrings and she looked marvellous. I decided to try and see if I could get a few good photos of my poor husband, working on the theory that it would be slightly more of a challenge to make him look gorgeous, especially since the wind was blowing down the street like an icy wind-tunnel and his eyes were watering like a North Korean mourning the loss of his beloved leader. I got a couple of shots that I really liked and a couple of dozen that were pretty awful.
We returned indoors for a final session talking about how to deal with our photos. He told us about free and paid for software and about the pros and cons of shooting in different formats. Eventually he gave us a bit of a soft-sell on the other courses that he teaches both at Fotofilia and at local institutes, about events he organises, the company's two camera clubs and about the costs for hiring the studio (a surprisingly cheap £10 per hour). For us it's a bit too far to go to Birmingham on a regular basis and we aren't able to commit to anything that happens every week due to work but if we were local, I'm sure we'd have been tempted.
Courses with Fotofilia are available every few months through GroupOn (via a supplier called Photolinaker) and directly through another website called Livingsocial.co.uk. I believe we paid £30 each and it was well worth the money.
20 Regent Parade
Birmingham B1 3NS