I want to drastically improve my photography.
February 10, 2010 4:54 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to improve my photography (DSLR). I want to learn. I'm in Portland, OR. I could REALLY use some advice!

Ugh. I dread explaining this because I'd rather pull my own teeth than explain my vision... but it's pertinent to the question at hand, so here goes.

I'm legally blind. I have an eye for photography, but I'm feeling stuck, as if my skills have hit a plateau and I can't figure out how to reach that next level (corny as that phrase is).

What helped you to master your DSLR? ...beyond the trial and error, naturally. I've been doing that for a few years but I feel I'm progressing too slowly. I'm still using my camera more as a glorified point and shoot. Click my username for links to my photos if you'd like to get a feel for where I'm at, photography wise.

I want to master aperture, shutter speeds, ISO, use of light, etc etc etc. I'm guessing that many people learn this stuff through trial and error. Take a shot. See it on your camera's screen. Change your settings and try again. With my vision, the camera display only gives me a vague idea of what I've captured. I never really know if I got it right until I see it on my monitor at home. I think that has a lot to do with why I don't feel like I'm learning enough through trial and error. I'm definitely developing my eye for photography, but I'm not mastering the camera at all. And I really REALLY very badly want to change that.

I've been thinking about taking a digital photography class (I own a Nikon D50). I'd like to find a class (?) that's walking distance from downtown, where I live. Something on the streetcar or MAX is fine too. I obviously don't drive and I'm unbelievably intimidated about busses because... as I said... I'm legally blind (please, no lectures about blind people and busses). This is also why I'm also a bit intimidated about taking a photography class ("WTF? a blind guy in a photography class?" yeah, whatever) ...but I'll definitely take a class if that turns out to be the best option. I want to learn.

What other options are there?

If classes are the best way... where are they and what should I take?

If you have other ideas, I'd really love to read them.

And if you've mastered this stuff and feel the desire to wander around downtown/Old Town, etc for a photo walk... HECK YES! Let's go.
posted by 2oh1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
This website has tons of tip and if you subscribe (free) they will send you a weekly newsletter that is always interesting and informative.

(I realize this doesn't help you with the monitoring, but they regularly discuss aperture/shutter speed tips and tricks)
posted by archivist at 5:02 PM on February 10, 2010

One idea - you can do what's known as tethered shooting. As you take photos, they immediately show up on a connected computer. Of course, that has some portability problems.
posted by zsazsa at 5:04 PM on February 10, 2010

You seem to enjoy shooting abstract cityscapes. I don't see anything inherently technically wrong with the shots so I'm curious about what you want to do differently. In any case, I'm not a big fan of photography courses, at least for the types of things you mentioned; f-stops, DoF, ISO, etc. Read your camera's manual again and take a look at the multitude of links that will show up in this thread shortly. Your lenses also play an important role in the feel of an image.

As far as previewing on the camera's screen, all I use it for is a quick exposure check and general composition. The real assessment and post-processing work starts at the computer.

General links for good feedback and discussions:
Digital Grin <> Luminous Landscape
Learn My Shot <>
Good luck and KEEP SHOOTING!
posted by michswiss at 5:30 PM on February 10, 2010

Be careful with classes that you're not signing up for a B&W film course which is often still the standard for beginning classes. I wouldn't necessarily recommend a class, if you do find one that interests you be sure to visit the school's disability concerns office or the instructor to make sure they're able to accommodate your needs.

Is it possible to magnify your camera's screen enough to be useful? I think the tethered shooting -where you shoot while connected to your computer- is a good suggestion. You could possibly shoot tethered to a netbook or laptop that would be somewhat portable.

Good luck and keep at it.
posted by Locobot at 6:01 PM on February 10, 2010

"I don't see anything inherently technically wrong with the shots so I'm curious about what you want to do differently."

I'm basically just using the camera as a glorified point and shoot. I mostly shoot in auto or Aperture priority mode, but even then, I haven't mastered aperture at all. I want to use the camera artistically. I want to understand how different settings achieve different results. I want to get to the point where I'm comfortable shooting manually.

It's possible that a big part of my problem is the camera itself. I've owned a Nikon D50 for a few years, but I only recently discovered there was a firmware/software glitch in mine that was causing settings to constantly reset and change almost at will. Tech support talked me through a variety of hard resets until we managed to correct that problem, and that's good, but I often wonder if a different camera would make more logical sense to me in terms of adjusting aperture/shutter/ISO, etc. But that thought only leads me back to thinking what I really should do is learn to master the camera I have before I consider spending money on a better one (I really want a D90). And that thought led to this post.

I'm developing an eye for photography.
I want to develop the technical skills as well.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:11 PM on February 10, 2010

Using a laptop isn't realistic for me in most situations. Again, it's a vision thing.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:16 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might try getting a 35mm fully manual film camera and shooting with that for a while. It'd cost a little bit of money (up front for the camera and then for the developing) but it might help you learn the basics more quickly without all the fancy buttons and different options that digital cameras have. I, myself, am extremely intimidated by dslrs for this exact reason. I really don't know the basics and I'm just starting to learn about aperture, shutters speed, ISO, etc through playing around with film cameras. There's something I can't quite articulate about having physical control over an instrument--understanding how light enters/hits the film, and how the (rather few) settings available can alter that light. Maybe this is a little too basic for you, but it's helped me out a lot.
posted by a.steele at 6:24 PM on February 10, 2010

I'm a Canon guy, so you might want to confirm this, however: I believe the D50 is limited in what lenses it can use (and still have auto focus). But, there are a bunch of lenses that you can still get. I say this because a "fast lens" (i.e., a 50mm f/1.4, or a 30mm f/1.4) is going to help you learn how to use aperture correctly/artistically. The D90 itself will not help learn those things. In fact, for just learning things like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc., the camera you have will work perfectly fine. If the upgrade to the D90 is not a big deal for you financially, sure, do it. But if it's that or some nicer glass, get the nicer glass.

I'm going to disagree about getting a film camera. There's too much time in between taking the picture and seeing it. I think unless you take really good notes or have a really good memory, you're going to forget a lot of your settings, or the situation, distances, lighting, etc. The vast majority of things I've read about getting better with your camera say to take LOTS of pictures. For most people, that equates to digital, not film.

Give yourself little assignments. Try shooting all day at your widest aperture. Or all day in shutter priority. Or even manual (your camera's internal light meter will help you--read the manual to find out how). See if you can create something artistic in each mode. As long as you understand the relationship between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed you should be fairly successful. And if you don't understand that relationship, Google is your friend.
posted by dave*p at 7:00 PM on February 10, 2010

Actually unlike the d40 the d50 does have a focus motor so most lenses are compatible auto-focus wise. You could get a 20mm or there abouts fast prime and really see the differences that different apertures make.
posted by meta87 at 7:55 PM on February 10, 2010

you might try checking out the stop shooting auto website.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:44 PM on February 10, 2010

I'm basically just using the camera as a glorified point and shoot.
That quote really resonates with me. I knew that feeling very well.

Essentially, everything you have mentioned that you want to learn can all be distilled into what is probably the biggest subject matter of photographic technique: exposure.

By a ridiculously great margin, the best photography money I ever spent was the $180 I spent for a semester-long photography class at my local community college (sorry for the bold, but it is so true). I can be even more specific learning-wise and say the big leap came in the first few weeks when the professor showed us how to properly expose an image.

My advice would be to seek out a beginner's photography class or lessons at your local community college or university. I know photography clubs and shops might offer something similar, but given your unique vision challenges, I think a public institution might be better equipped to adjust their methods. I also realize there are websites and books, but honestly, I have met very few people who have a good grasp on how to use the various functions of auto-exposure (which is common of any DSLR) who haven't had somebody else show them.
posted by The Potate at 9:35 PM on February 10, 2010

I have a strong suspicion that The Potate is right.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:41 PM on February 10, 2010

I'm a professional photographer living in Portland. (Work for a local magazine and also freelance for other print gigs). I have an insanely busy schedule (just letting you know ahead of time), but maybe one afternoon we can get together and I can give you some of the great basics that I rely on. Once some things click, you begin to know instinctively how something will look- often I don't even look at the image preview, because I know whether the shot I just took will have aspects I'll either like, or dislike.

Of course, you use Nikon. Maybe this meeting won't work after all. ;) (kidding!)

MeMail me.
posted by thatbrunette at 10:37 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar situation. I would recommend this Bryan Peterson book that explains the relationship between shutter speed, ISO and aperture in any given exposure. He has many examples and some tips on techniques. I borrowed a copy from the library for a few weeks and it really helped me.

I would also recommend his "Learning to See Creatively" if you were more of a beginner, but I can see from your photos that you are not. Still it might be useful to check out from the library for a few tips.

Lastly, I would check out this website (it will take you 15 minutes) to just make sure that you have some of the basics (ie do you know what a merger is and why it should be avoided).

If you've done all that and feel you need more, I would take the photo class.
posted by poyorick at 10:38 PM on February 10, 2010

forgot the link
posted by poyorick at 10:40 PM on February 10, 2010

Take a shot. See it on your camera's screen. Change your settings and try again.

When I first got my DSLR a year or so ago, I tried using it like that and it just doesn't work. I could spend fifteen minutes fiddling with settings I didn't understand, trying to make shots look good on the LCD, then upload them to a computer to find that the only acceptable one was the first, done in Auto [Flash]. Now the only time I view photos on my camera is when someone else asks to see. So I really don't think you're missing much on that front.

For me, what has really, really helped is sitting down and actually studying photography. I heartily second poyorick's recommendation of Understanding Exposure - Peterson does a very good job of explaining the technical aspects of things (what is an f-stop? if you adjust shutter speed, what else has to change, and how?) and makes wonderful use of his own photos to illustrate points.

Now that I consider it, I've basically been using his book exactly how I thought to use my camera's LCD - Peterson often offers multiple photos of the same scene shot just slightly differently (so a collection shot with a given lens might include aperature f2.8 for 1/1000 seconds, f4 for 1/500sec, f5.6 for 1/250sec, etc.), so the reader can compare apples to apples, as it were, rather than simply trusting that a certain combination of factors yields a shallow depth of field (say).

What I also do for practice is try to take a specific kind/quality of photo - like, lately we've had a ton of snow, so I've been working on getting decent outdoor photos that aren't terribly overexposed, shooting in full manual. Of course, I cheat all the time and take just fun photos, but ultimately I think that by deliberately experimenting I'm getting a good solid grasp of the relationships between fundamental aspects of the camera, which is, I feel, what I need to move on to artistic/"creatively correct" photos.

PS: I'm sorry for bringing up something that makes you uncomfortable but I thought someone should say this: if people give you crap for being legally blind and taking a photography class, they're absolute jerks and should be told as much/officially complained about. I only see out of one eye and I play racquetball, and if someone made an issue of that, I'd smack 'em with said racquet and not feel the least bit sorry.
posted by teremala at 12:53 AM on February 11, 2010

Here is a little video tutorial.
It's actually made for video production, but also works with photos.
Digital Juice

One good thing about classes is that you (hopefully) get allot of creative interaction between you and your co-students.

posted by StephenMeldalFoged at 3:54 AM on February 11, 2010

Maybe a magnifier would help for viewing the LCD while out shooting?

A few options I've seen: 1, 2, 3
posted by o0dano0o at 11:12 AM on February 11, 2010

Just to be clear, I'm not looking for any help dealing with my vision here at all. I'm fortunate in that my vision is good enough that people don't notice it, and I prefer it that way. Anything that calls even a bit of attention to my lack of vision is something I'm not interested in at all.

I simply want to learn how to use a DSLR as more than just a glorified point and shoot.

I see so much depth in the photos experienced photographers post on flickr, and I stare in awe. I see a richness my photos lack. I'd like to have a better understanding of how to capture scenes at night (a tripod is a must, of course. I own one), or how to adjust the camera's settings to best capture the shot I see.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:48 AM on February 11, 2010

I'm basically just using the camera as a glorified point and shoot.

A camera is just a camera -- no difference between an SLR and a point-n-shoot. Put this attitude out of your mind. Just keep taking lots of pictures.

You know, it wasn't so long ago that we had to wait a significant time between pressing the shutter release and looking at the captured image. Back in the olden days, we used to keep notebooks. Why don't you do the same? For each exposure, write down the settings you used, and a note about what you were trying to do. (If it's hard for you to write, you could dictate into a handheld recorder.) When you're in front of the monitor you can look at your notes and figure it out.

A notebook is also very useful if you want an expert's opinion, you can how her the image and what you were trying to do, and what she would suggest. And as your eye develops it's very useful to go back and look at your older images and think about what you would do differently.

As for taking photographs and not snapshots, I remember what one of my teachers said to me -- figure out what makes you uncomfortable, and do that.
posted by phliar at 12:07 PM on February 11, 2010

"A camera is just a camera -- no difference between an SLR and a point-n-shoot."

I'm sorry, but that's just silly. I've already developed my eye for seeing what I want to shoot and capturing it (and, of course, I'm continuing to do so). Now I want to master the technical aspects of photography. I want to better understand f-stops and shutter speeds, ISO and how changes in one affect the others. I want to better understand working with light (mostly outdoors).

I get that a camera is just a tool. I want to use the tool to the best of my abilities. I know I can do better. I want to take steps toward learning how.
posted by 2oh1 at 2:33 PM on February 11, 2010

Honest question: have you tried to learn about exposure on your own? It takes a lot of time and a lot of reading, and most of all, a lot of shooting. If you haven't, then you need to pick a up a book or check out the online resources suggested here and actually spend that time. No one can do it for you. Read, and re-read if you have to.

If you have, and it still isn't clicking, then don't hesitate to take a class. If nothing else, a good class will involve assignments that get you out shooting, trying different things.

For me, lurking around www.fredmiranda.com was a huge part of my photography education, but classes (including a 35mm film class) provided a good foundation.

Final advice: put your camera in manual, and leave it there from now on. No excuses.
posted by hamandcheese at 8:17 PM on February 11, 2010

You might want to start a project that challenges you. I am 2 months into a 365 project and I feel that it has improved my photography already!
posted by gergtreble at 10:32 AM on February 14, 2010

Please forgive my ignorance, but if you can read printed text, I would suggest Ansel Adams "The Negative"

It's from the film days, but the concepts are still the bread and butter of photography, like zone metering and exposure. As for getting your photos to match what your eyes see, that takes practice and experience more than anything, but getting the exposure basics is the first step. The second step is learning your way around the adjustments available to you in camera and on the computer. My personal experience would lead me to say that levels and contrast adjustments played a huge role in giving my pictures more depth (after getting a composition and exposure that I am happy with of course).

If you have trouble with printed texts, can you work with e-books on your computer screen? I bet we can find some digitized photo books if that is a method you can work with.
posted by kenbennedy at 2:16 PM on February 15, 2010

I am seconding Peterson for the purposes you lay out. Furthermore, you would greatly benefit from having a fast lens like this 35mm. Finally, you are going to need to get out of Auto and A settings if you can. Being able to practice metering under different apertures is instrumental in understanding how it all comes together.

Now, I know that many pros use "A"...like crazy good pros like McNally. That's good for them, you are wanting to learn this stuff and you'd benefit from "M"

Between the book, the lens, and "M" you should be able to understand the basics.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:59 PM on February 26, 2010

Since posting this question months ago, I upgraded from a D50 to a D90 and instantly, things just made more sense. The way the D90 is laid out works well for me, and my photography has been progressing nicely. Also, the larger viewfinder and larger rear panel have helped me a lot. To the majority of people, these things might not make a huge difference, but they sure have for me.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:34 PM on June 30, 2010

« Older What to get my boyfriend for V-Day?   |   Need info on fighting red light ticket Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.