I need a 102, 103 class in photography. Suggestions?
October 20, 2009 11:35 PM   Subscribe

Where do I go for my 102 on photography?

I took a couple of photo classes in high school and know my way around an SLR/DSLR pretty well. I'm at about 102- I understand an Shutter Speed and an Aperture and I understand the trade-off between the two, but I'm not always sure what I'm looking at when I see my photos, i.e. this photo looks great, but how'd I get there?

Now that I've gotten a bit more serious, I'm interested in how lenses interact with that process. I understand what's different about an 18-55mm lens and and 28-200mm, but I'm not 100% sure what those terms mean, in terms of being useful for me, and how they change the photos I take beyond "Well, this one can zoom farther than that one". I'm also looking for clarification on things like AE, and the various forms of AF and why one matters more than the other and... phew!

I got myself a copy of Understanding Exposure, but that's much more about picture taking than the complicated technical world of equipment. I'm really looking for a 102-103 class: "Okay, you're comfortable with the camera and you understand what the aperture and shutter speed are. Let's go farther.".

Suggestions? Books are fine, but I have limited access to English language books. Web tutorials are better and I don't mind shelling out for something I can DL. FWIW, I'm shooting on a shiny new Nikon D90 with 28-200mm Nikon lens.
posted by GilloD to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I think beyond operating a camera it's just shooting a lot and thinking about things in terms of composition, subject matter, and what works in a two dimensional image. Read books on design and look at high quality photography (from professionals or working artists or whatever) and think about what you like in their photographs and why.

Just take lots of pictures and you will figure out whatever technical things you need to make it happen along the way.

I'm a professional and I wasn't even aware there was more than one kind of autofocus. Also have no idea what "AE" means (auto exposure?).
posted by bradbane at 12:57 AM on October 21, 2009

It sounds like you need to get onto a photography forum and seek detailed critique of your photographs.

In terms of stuff like acronyms, googling for them (or a glossary) helps. Have a read through the Understanding and Tutorial sections on Luminous Landscape. The Dyxum Learning Section is also great; though it's an Alpha forum, 99% of what's there is brand-independent.
posted by polyglot at 1:50 AM on October 21, 2009

Join your local camera club.
posted by polyglot at 1:51 AM on October 21, 2009

I would say... don't bother. Point your education into learning to see and learning what pictures to take, not how to take them. The mechanics of photography are no harder than the mechanics of writing. Don't fall into the trap of perfecting your technique instead of perfecting your vision. In the modern world, we have more than enough sharp pictures of fuzzy concepts.

There's a lot of great work out there on the subject: Sontag's On Photography comes to mind. But it's mostly looking at pictures and taking pictures. I would recommend primes over zooms for learning, jumping between focal lengths will give you decidedly different looks and let you really see what changes when you move.

Supposedly, when he was shooting in the studio, Mapplethorpe used a Rollei TLR set to f/22 so he wouldn't need to fine focus and could allow himself to exclusively concentrate on the image and its composition.
posted by jedrek at 1:53 AM on October 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

photo.net archives are your friend.
posted by availablelight at 2:23 AM on October 21, 2009

Here is a nice set of tutorials.
posted by jon1270 at 2:51 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

In the old pre-digital days. You had to write down what your settings were for each photo, so that you could you compare your notes to what turned up once you had the film developed.

If you're currently unsure of how you arrived at a great, or terrible, photo, it seems that this method might help.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 5:44 AM on October 21, 2009

Ansel Adams trilogy of books will help you get a very good understanding of this. The Camera, The Negative, and The Print are indispensible additions to your library. If you can't get ahold of the books then as has been said, practice and analyze. Keep notes or just shoot the same scene with different lenses and include a sheet with all of the details in the picture. Until you actually practice and see what changes are made in the picture due to different lens or shutter or exposure combinations then it remains abstract and hard to understand.

Sometimes a tutorial will tell you the way things should be but it may be not what you like or what is good for the picture. Experimenting will allow you find the settings that work for you.
posted by JJ86 at 6:34 AM on October 21, 2009

Wading through all the online information can be tough, but I recommend the forums at FredMiranda.com. There are dedicated forums to various types of photography (landscape, wildlife, etc) where you can post images for critiques (or link to places online where you have yours stored, such as Flickr). There is also a dedicated Nikon forum, where you can get help with the ins and outs of your camera.

I second the suggestion of Luminous Landscape, and want to add Cambridge in Colour to the list of suggested reading.

Browsing through that you will find link after link to tutorials and examples, so just start reading. Don't feel overwhelmed, just take 1 concept at a time and try it out. The Weekly Assignments on FredMiranda are a great place to put yourself into a challenge and teach yourself a little something, then get critiques on it.
posted by kenbennedy at 7:21 AM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not 100% sure what those terms mean, in terms of being useful for me, and how they change the photos I take beyond "Well, this one can zoom farther than that one".

That's all a zoom lens really does- changes magnification.

To change perspective, you have to use your feet.
posted by pjern at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2009

I'm not 100% sure what those terms mean, in terms of being useful for me, and how they change the photos I take beyond "Well, this one can zoom farther than that one".

Focal length does not just change magnification. Focal length changes the amount of area visible in the background and influences the perceived depth of field. Take a look at this tutorial

This many also be helpful
posted by Procloeon at 11:53 AM on October 21, 2009

My main suggestion would be to listen to photography-related podcasts such as:

Photofocus: http://photofocus.com/

This Week in Photography: http://www.twiplog.com/

Also, I've been taking non-credit photography courses from my local university. If you live near a college, you might check to see what is offered.
posted by daser at 12:23 PM on October 21, 2009

Wow, a lot of discouragement about directed learning here.

I completely, and respectfully, disagree.

Photography isn't some ethereal Art that can only be learned by smoking Galois in French cafe with disaffected political activists, while slowly dying from a combination of emphysema, heroin addiction, and poverty-driven malnutrition. Just like painting, sculpture, violin, guitar, dance, and writing, it is an amalgam of technique and aesthetic that almost always benefits greatly from critical feedback, disciplined studies, and lessons from master examples.

And just like nursing, engineering, and accounting, it is a technical skill that must be augmented with real-world experience. Fresh-from-school top-of-their-class types should still fill out their resumes with as much "OTJ" as possible.

Take pictures constantly, yes, and get feedback from others, yes, and take classes, online or IRL. I won't add any, because I'm at your stage (and favoriting this thread).

Good luck.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:26 PM on October 21, 2009

Learning about lenses and the technical aspects of depth of field would be useful to you; this isn't a "shoot, shoot, and shoot some more" issue. When I took a photography intro class, one day the teacher, just for kicks, went into all the technical aspects of focal length and how it relates to depth of field, and the equation you can use to figure that out. It was intriguing technical information I would never have intuited simply by shooting a lot.

There is a lot of detailed information in the Ansel Adams books listed above; start with The Camera. Other than that, maybe you can check out RateMyProfessors.com and see if there's a highly regarded photo teacher on there who you could take an intermediate class from.

You might try renting a view camera, playing around with it, and compare that to your SLR.
posted by malapropist at 3:34 PM on October 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't read St Ansel's treatise on photography if you're shooting digital. The Camera perhaps, but not The Negative or, The Print. The books are geared toward large format camera users who can develop one sheet of film at a time, the old skool way with stinky chemicals and such. If you want to confuse yourself and, rip your hair out by all means read them, but I'm not sure they'd be of any use to a digital camera user who can't apply his theories into practice. Says the person who tried learning the Zone System at the time with a 35mm camera.

To change perspective, you have to use your feet.

Wide angle lenses tend to stretch perspective and, zoom lenses compress it. It's called perspective distortion, no movement of feet required.
posted by squeak at 9:22 AM on October 24, 2009

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