Improving Me Time: Photographic Skillz

Basics of Digital Photography on Craftsy

In Friday’s post I passed on some of what I know about knitting and stripes, and committed to passing on multi craft techniques throughout March. I’ve decided I need to participate on the learning side of National Craft Month too, and tasked myself with taking some classes on Craftsy during this relatively deadline-free week. :-> First up: photography.

My Motivation

Years ago I bought a Nikon SLR for a bicycling trip to Ireland, then had to figure out how to use it. I read about exposure, focal length, shutter, depth of field, etc etc and sort of understood what I read. But I didn’t practice, and eventually stopped using the camera. Digital came along, and I picked up a camera again, but really only for documenting vacations.

The need for photos of class projects and product samples is what has really got me interested in photography again. That and the fact that I take a camera with me everywhere in the guise of a phone. I love how my phone’s camera has let me play with composition and share the quirky things I see here in San Francisco on Instagram.  But I want to know more.

The Class: Basics of Digital Photography

When learning, I’m not good at just jumping in or flipping back and forth to what I want to know unless I feel I have a solid foundation. Plus a refresher on the basics felt needed, so I decided to take Rick Allred’s Basics of Digital Photography* class.

Overall, I loved the way the class was organized. The chapters built on each other nicely: light and exposure first, with an explanation of the exposure triangle, with more detail following in lessons on shutter and aperture priorities, ISO settings and exposure compensation. He did a great job explaining why you might shoot in shutter priority mode and choose a fast speed to freeze motion OR a choose a slow speed to create blur and imply motion. Similarly, the aperture priority lesson showed how using a wide aperture (shallow depth of field) blurs a background to draw attention to the subject, and how using a narrow aperture (wider depth of field) keeps several subjects spaced farther apart clearly in focus.

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One of my pet peeves is that manuals often tell you how to do something but not why you’d do it, or which settings might be “average” or “standard.” Rick explained the whys and gave some great rules of thumb (eg with respect to capturing motion and shutter speeds: ~1/125 shutter for walking, ~1/250 for running, ~1/500 for horse/car; and to make a waterfall blur, try 1-2″). Having his example photos up on screen, with the effects of settings changes on the same scene side by side, was invaluable. I’ve always wondered why I’d want to use exposure compensation; now I have the images of the pepper ristra plus and minus a stop in my head!

The final lesson brought all the previous ones together as he walked through the entire process: selecting subject and deciding what is interesting about it, then figuring out camera settings to get the image you want. Awesome.

The class is rated for Beginners, and it is. But not for beginners who know absolutely nothing and are starting from scratch. There were a few references to terms before they were defined (e.g., depth of field and focal plane), though they were eventually explained. I would have liked a more abstract first lesson, meaning more talk about the settings, what they do (image quality and size, metering modes, etc), and what to set them to, and less on the specifics of Canon and Nikon (one uses the camera one has, and mine is a Sony).

But really, these are quibbles. I know I’ll be watching this class a few more times as I practice what I’ve learned. Look for better photos here as I improve!


*Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link. That means if you like what you see after clicking through on it, and you buy the class, I get a tiny bit of financial credit.

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