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Photography Training at Jessops – City Tours Class:
I have to admit to being slightly gutted when I was offered an introduction to Jessops photography classes on a date I couldn’t make myself. But, I found a willing contributor in Simon, who is a rather better photographer than me and who went along and wrote a very informative piece on what he had learnt at the Jessops Academy. He also came back with a voucher for a free course – and with an evil glint in his eye suggested that perhaps my need was greater than his.
I looked at the courses running London and decided that the City Tours best fitted my ‘greatest weakness’. I’m the photographer who has taken pictures of the leaning tower of pisa – without any lean. While I can now cope with most food photography (so long as someone else has done the cooking), I’ve found on press trips that my city shots are really not up to scratch. So, one rather grey Sunday morning I set off for Jessops in Oxford Street. My aim to be able to produce more professional pictures outdoors both of the architecture
And of people (apparently the trick is to try to focus on the eyes!)
In the classroom upstairs the introductions were enlightening. Two out of our small group had been on a Jessops course before and come back for more. We were a mixed group both in terms of cameras (one point-and-shoot, my micro 4/3 format, a few relatively basic DSLRs and a couple of owners of impressive and rather expensive kit) and in terms of experience. For some, taking up an old hobby that they’d enjoyed before digital photography, for others a desire to go pro. I don’t believe anyone felt out of place though.
Our trainer explained that his day job was training Jessops staff – so of course he was uniquely placed to know exactly where every button on our cameras were. For me, that is what made this day so special. Without any particular effort, every member of the group could be helped. The aim was to give us a grounding in composition, to increase our confidence and to ensure we knew how to use the correct modes and setting for different types of shots.
We started with learning a little bit about the structure of our cameras. For me, with a tendency to geekiness, this really helped. In particular learning about the difference between sensor size and megapixels. If you’ve always wondered why your mobile shots are not as good as those on your camera despite the phenomenal megapixel output, it’s apparently to do with sensor size. My Micro 4/3 camera uses a relatively new technology so that the sensor can produce good quality results.
We opened up our cameras. Ooops…an easy place to improve for me, my memory chip was apparently totally inadequate. I had a Transcend 8gb card with a ‘2’ on it. The number relates to the speed at which the camera records shots and my ‘2’ was the cause of the egg timer I’ve often seen when I’ve been taking shots and, it’s my excuse for all those out-of-focus moments. Now I have a 16gb ’10’ – a relatively cheap upgrade at around £30.
What else might be useful for me? Well something called a ‘circular polarising filter‘. Out in the field I saw how it worked in action – turn it a little to reduce the glare on a sun drenched building or improve the definition of clouds for example. And I now have one, though I haven’t really tried using it.
Then we covered some of the basic functionality of a DSLR or Micro 4/3 camera
Exposure – is controlled by two main settings – Shutter Speed and Aperture. I still tend to leave my camera set on aperture priority, which means that the best shutter speed is controlled by the camera’s auto settings. A low aperture means that more light is allowed into the camera. So, when I am taking photos in a restaurant without a flash that works well. It also gives me low depth of field (e.g. I can focus on JUST the plate rather than the array of wine glasses behind it). Similarly outdoors, it allows me to take a shot of a flower with a soft blurry background.
On the course I learnt a little more about using shutter speed priority and why you might want to do that. If you are taking photos of a moving image it stands to reason that you will need a faster shutter speed.
We tried taking shots of moving vehicles by setting a burst mode on the camera (so that it took multiple shots) and panning our cameras at the same speed as the camera and using an appropriate shutter speed. The intention was to get that ‘moving’ effect of a blurry background with a sharp vehicle in the foreground. Lots of attempts later, I got this…
We also learnt about ISO (international standard organisation), a control that allows your camera sensor to be more or less sensitive to light. The lower the ISO the less ‘grainy’ the photo will appear. Again for the most part I am still using the auto setting for ISO but I understand that I can use this to help compensate in very dark situations.
We covered white balance and for me, a new control which allows something called ‘exposure compensation’. Essentially it is there to manage the tendency of all cameras to produce ‘grey’ photos. It’s perhaps best illustrated by this picture of a statue. Without the exposure compensation, the lion, with sunlight on it, was a grey colour rather than the true, near black of the second photo.
Finally a little about composition.
The rule of thirds is probably the single thing that has helped me most in learning how to shoot a decent picture (or how to crop it afterwards when I’ve messed up!). Most cameras and even my mobile phone allow you to set a grid over your camera that divides the view into 9 neat boxes. The idea is to put the subject you are most interested in onto one of the grid lines, preferably at an intersection, so that it is slightly off-centre. And, then to try and ensure that each of the grid boxes has its own composition (even if that is simply a pure colour, what was described as ‘negative space’).
The second rule – to try and use leading lines to draw the eye into the photograph was one I tried to put into practise once we went outside to practise. And for the most part it seems that it is a lot about practise – about getting confident with the settings on your camera and when to use them and about developing an ‘eye’ for a great shot.
I’m hooked. I know my photography needs a lot of work, but I really enjoyed the day’s workshop and found that having a trainer who both understood composition and styling and also could coach everyone in the group on how to use the settings on their own camera was really helpful.
With many thanks to Jessops Academy. Their one-day classes run in various UK locations and include various levels of technical training in addition to some specific classes on events as varied as ‘Wedding Photography’ and ‘Birds of Prey’. Each lasts for around six hours and costs roughly £120.