Back in 2016, I decided to “up my game” for photography, and I thought I would start with a class or two. Henry’s courses are popular, but there are also courses through the city’s annual learning catalog, and even through Algonquin College if I want to get really serious. But I wanted to keep it simple, so I started watching The Great Course’s “Fundamentals of Photography” series (Fundamentals of Photography – Class 01 – Making Great Pictures).
Recently, as part of my lingering 50by50 commitments, I wanted to get back into photography learning, but even in the last two years, my approach has changed. I have a decent camera — a Canon Rebel T5i aka the 700D — and it works well for me. It is considered a high-value entry level DSLR, but my needs are relatively modest, with just a couple of quirks.
My primary need is outdoors photography … waterfalls, landscapes, flora and fauna, hiking through nature, and friends and family doing both active and passive activities.
My secondary need, like most people, is indoor photography … birthdays, parties, events, holidays.
My quirky needs are both related to astrophotography — first, attached to the scope (body only) or second, straight Milky Way sky shots (with and without zooms).
The T5i came in a couple of configured bundles, and I went with the one that included two lenses — 18-55mm, and 55-250mm. It also has a whack of pre-set modes:
- Portrait (blurred backgrounds);
- Landscape (wide depth of field so both foreground and background are in focus);
- Close-up (aka a software macro option for flowers and things);
- Sports (continuous shooting, high speed capture, rapid focus);
- Scene mode (several sub-options);
- Creative auto (simple mode for quick setting of common features);
- Flash off (can’t fire, no matter what the camera thinks is right or not); and,
- Scene-intelligent auto (the computer takes its best guess on all the settings, useful if you keep changing setting)
It then has four semi-manual modes:
- Program mode (P) — This is a bit misleading, as it is semi-auto (aperture and shutter speed) but you control the rest;
- Shutter priority mode (Tv) — You control how fast the shutter is, the computer does the rest;
- Aperture priority mode (Av) — You control how wide the aperture is, the computer does the rest;
- Manual mode (M) — The full power of the camera is at your fingertips.
For me, I spend almost all my time in pre-set modes, and truth be told, I don’t even do that well.
I have managed to get what I think are some great shots — birds in flight, cousins doing various water sports, flora around various hiking trails in Ottawa. But while I pointed the camera, chose the mode (sports, for example) and captured the shot (cousin waterskiing and spraying up water), I didn’t really know what the camera was doing. I wanted to know how and why it worked, not just the what of the shot or settings. Part of my reasoning is that if I can understand the basics for my primary needs (basic outdoors and indoors), I have a better shot at understanding how to approach astrophotography.
So I signed up in September for a course with Henry’s, the local photography store. I wanted a bit of hands-on experience to get me out of pre-set modes and into manual, but I also wanted to know what the camera was doing. Part of that experience is going back to look at previous photos that turned out well and figuring out, “OH! So THAT’S how I / my camera did that…”. There were a few options available including both “learn about your Canon camera” as well as “photography 101”. With timing and location, I opted for the photography basics course in Kanata.
The course was divided into four classroom sessions, plus one practical session, with each session designed to dive into the key aspects of what you control in photography. I’m going to write separate blog posts about each week, but the overview is show below, although the titles/descriptions are mine, not the official ones:
- Camera fundamentals — I hesitate to call this “meet your camera” but it pretty much is what it was about. You learn all the basic controls, what they do, and because it is a generic photography class with everyone having different brands and models, a lot of it was hands on walking various people through THEIR camera settings to get it into a relatively common set of options for everyone to start with.
- Understanding aperture — Looking at depth of field, aperture and f/stops, and fast lenses.
- Understanding shutter speed — Looking at motion for capture, blurring, and panning techniques;
- Planning the photo — Looking at a combination of different lenses, perspectives, sensors, and then the creative side (composition, tips).
It was an interesting experience. For week 1 and 2, I went to the Kanata course on Wednesday nights, and there were about 10 of us in the class. A wide range of interest — older for hobby, younger with dreams of entrepreneurship, a few unique interests. However, the instructor noted he was also teaching on Friday nights nearer my house (earlier time, and on a Friday?), and if we missed Wed, we could catch Friday at the other site. Week 3 & 4, I did just that, because there was only 1 person over there, meaning it was almost like a hands-on class. We asked questions constantly, at least I did, and stopped him regularly when something wasn’t clear. Way more “aha” moments than if we had been in a larger group because it was the follow-up questions that really crystallized things for me. When I do the four blogs for the weeks, I really want to see if I can re-create some of the examples.
I have the practical session tonight, but it isn’t as “practical” as it sounds — we’ll be over by a park in the relative dark. The Friday night class would be great for me, but it’s at a bad time for me this week. so not sure what I’m doing yet.
Am I ready to go full manual now? No, but I achieved my true goal — learning and feeling much more comfortable with making my camera do more of what I want it to and less of what I don’t. Part of a multi-year plan to get me fully conversant before retirement. And a welcome addition to my list of 50 things.