Photography Lessons at the Delaware Art Museum by Danny Schweers
- I teach eight-week-long introductory photo classes at the Delaware Art Museum on Tuesdays, 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. in the fall, winter, and spring. The next series begins in January, 2020. I will be teaching one-evening demonstrations on how to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop software to process images on November 12 and 19, 2019, and again in March, 2020. Also, I am teaching a one-day workshop on portraiture using a live model on Saturday, January 11, 2020. Click here for details about my teaching schedule at the Delaware Art Museum.
- Contact Danny Schweers.
Typical Digital Photography Course Outline
as taught at the Delaware Art Museum
by Danny N. Schweers
What We Hope To Accomplish
My classes deal with camera mechanics and photography aesthetics. That is, we learn how to use the camera and learn to make art with the camera. This class is about capturing images, not manipulating them with a computer. That said, in class I often show how images can be modified using Adobe Lightroom software.
Students will learn some simple rules of composition in every class. I give out homework assignments, and we spend part of every class looking at student images. When we see a photo that's better than others we've seen, we try to analyze why its better in terms of rules of composition.
If this course is successful, students will be better able to use the camera as an extension of their eyes, so what they see or want to express can be preserved and shared as photographs.
(1) Camera, Spare Battery, User Manual
Students should have a good digital SLR camera or mirrorless camera. Camera phones and point-and-shoot cameras are not good enough for this class. Students need to easily change ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focus, and white balance. Please bring your camera, a spare battery, and a user manual to every class. If you don't have a spare battery, make sure your battery is charged.
The closest parking is in front of the museum on Kentmere Parkway, the street in front of the museum. Also, if you drive behind the museum, there is lighted parking in back. Please do not park in the fire lanes. Here's a map:
(3) Missed Classes
If you will miss a class, please let me know. If you cannot make Tuesday night, try to attend Kathy Buckalew's class, same time, same building, but a different evening. If you cannot attend the entire class, please attend for whatever time you can.
(4) Food and Drink
Since the class is at supper time, you are welcome to bring a meal or snacks to class. Extra credit if you bring food and refreshments to share with the entire class, but no alcoholic beverages, please.
There are homework assignments for each class. If you can, please bring your images to class on a thumb drive (flash drive, USB drive) and give them to me as the class begins. Or, write down the file numbers of the photos you want to show and give me your memory card as class begins.
This plan covers eight (8) weeks. Our ten-week course follows a similar path, but in more detail.
Introduction, Image Quality, ISO (camera sensitivity), Rule of Thirds
We begin with introductions. Students are asked what experience they have, what they hope to learn, and what they like to photograph. A list of the variables that can be changed using a digital SLR camera will be handed out. Click here to see the list. By the end of this course, every student should be able to control all these variables.
In this first class, we begin by varying image resolution and image quality, to make sure we are getting the best image from the camera but also learning to get small, low-quality images when we want them. We check that everyone's camera has the correct date and time. We make sure Vibration Reduction (Nikon) and Image Stabilization (Canon) is turned on, if the camera or lens has that option.
Then we learn to adjust the camera's ISO setting, which varies the sensitivity of the camera sensor. Camera sensor sensitivity is like that of your own eyes. If you step from sunny outdoors into a dim house, it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust, to become sensitive to lower light. Cameras work similarly. Indoors their sensors need to increase in sensitivity to be able to "see" in the lower light.
When the camera sensitivity is increased, usually the quality of the image suffers. Colors are less faithful, details are less sharp, and often image-sensor noise increases, adding random variations of color intensity and hue. These random variations are called "noise", using a term from signal engineering.
Every class we will talk about aesthetics, about what makes a good photo, and talk about some basic compositional rules that generally make for more interesting images. We begin with the Rule of Thirds, that elements in a composition should be on lines cutting the image into thirds.
Homework Assignment No. 1
Click here to see Homework Assignment No. 1 - Explore Your Camera's ISO Settings
Shutter Speed, Diagonals
Shooting in Shutter Priority Mode: If you set your camera to Tv (Canon) or S Mode (Nikon and others), you can change the shutter speed while the camera automatically takes care of everything else. Just rotate the selection wheel in the front or rear of your camera.
The shutter speed sets the time that light is allowed into the camera. That is, the shutter opens, light entes into the camera, then the shutter closes. Most cameras allow shutter speeds to vary from 30 seconds to 1/4000 of a second.
A "fast" shutter speed is 1/400 of a second or less, all the way down to 1/4000 of a second on some cameras -- a very short exposure. A "slow" shutter speed is 1/10 of a second or more, all the way up to 30 seconds -- a very long exposure.
Fast shutter speeds minimize the blur that movement produces, slow shutter speeds emphasize blur.
Diagonal Rule: Diagonal lines in an image, coming from one or more corners, are often more interesting than lines coming from the middle of a side. In the above photo, lines go to the top left, top right, and bottom right. For a good discussion of diagonals, click here to see Eric Kim's website.
Homework Assignment No. 2
Click here to see Homework No. 2 - Explore Your Camera's Shutter Speeds.
Focal Length, Focus
There are telephoto lenses, zoom lenses, fixed lenses, wide-angle lenses, and fish-eye lenses, to name a few. It is even possible to make a photo without a lens, using just a pinhole! We will discuss lenses of various focal lengths, noting that wide-angle lenses naturally have more depth of field than telephoto lenses. That is, a zoom lens at 18mm will have more depth of field at, say, f/8, than the same lens will have zoomed out to 70mm.
We will look at how camera optics work, why focusing is a challenge for the manufacturers of lenses, and why fixed lenses are superior to zoom lenses: because they offer wider apertures with less depth of field, because they let more light into the view finder, and because they are sharper.
We will also learn about automatic and manual focusing. Most digital SLRs allow the user a choice of automatic focusing. Because focusing works in much the same way as light metering, they can be confused. For example, both spot metering and spot focusing are options on many cameras, but they are entirely different concepts.
COMPOSITION: "Fill The Frame" is an oft-quoted rule of composition. In simple terms, it means to pay attention to everything in the frame, not just the center; to pay attention to the background as well as the subject; to pay attention especially to the corners. The photo above fills the frame, yet has lots of empty space.
Class Assignment No. 3
Experiment with photographing a subject at different focal lengths, so that the subject is the same size in each photo even though the focal length changes from wide-angle to telephoto, from say 18mm to 300mm. Try to fill the frame.
Change the dial on top of your camera to Aperture Priority mode -- Av for Canon and Ricoh, and A for Nikon and Sony. Now you can control the aperture setting by moving the adjustment wheel.
"Aperture" is a fancy word for lens opening, the hole in the lens that lets light into the camera. Because it varies in size, it can let a lot of light into the camera or very little light.
Technically, aperture numbers are fractions like f/5.6. An aperture of f/5.6 is a hole 5.6 times smaller than the focal length of the lens; that is, the aperture at f/5.6 is a hole 5.6 times smaller than the focal length of the lens. Most lenses have an aperture range such as f/4.5 to f/22. Because apertures are written as f/..., they are also called f-stops.
Aperture settings determine depth of focus, how many things are in focus. When the aperture number is large, lots of things are in focus. When the aperture number is small, very little is in focus. Another way of saying this is that small aperture numbers produce small depths of focus while large apertures produce large depths of focus.
Out-of-focus blur and motion blur sometimes look the same, but can look very different. Often both kinds of blur are present to some degree and can be controlled to some degree.
COMPOSITION: Separate subject from background by using small aperture numbers; that is, large apertures with little depth of field. The subject is in focus while the background is out of focus, blurred. A word for out-of-focus blur is "bokeh". In the photo here, there is very little depth of field. The horned tomato worm is sharp, in focus, but that white glow behind the horned tomato worm is an asphalt road blurred beyond recognition!
Homework Assignment No. 4
Click here to see Homework Assignment No. 4 - Explore Your Camera's Aperture Settings
Manual Mode, Metering Light, Histograms
Good exposures are made when the right amount of light is let into the camera. In Manual (M) mode, the camera's built-in light meter helps the user adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO (camera sensitivity) until the amount of light captured is just right.
In this class, we will put our cameras in Manual (M) mode and adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get good exposures.
A camera's built-in light meter measures how much light is in front of the camera, but most digital SLRs can do this in several ways. In general, cameras can measure all the average of all the light coming in, or a small spot, or a center-weighted area, or the meter can be "smart" about its metering, adjusting the light meter to an on-board database of values. Here's an article on how cameras meter light: Average, Center-Weighted, Spot.
The easiest way to tell if you have a good exposure is to look at the photo after you've shot it. The display on the camera's back can be varied to show not only the image, but the settings used to take the image. Usually a graph of the image pixel intensity is also available. This graph is called a histogram. Histograms chart the number of pixels in an image from dark to bright. They are a good way of quickly seeing, in graphic form, the darks and lights of the image, especially if any are out of range.
Class Assignment No. 5
Take some photos in Manual (M) mode, using your light meter to adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Practice looking through the camera to use the light meter inside. After shooting, look at what you've shot, especially the histogram. Also, practice filling the frame. Questions about shooting in manual mode? Look at your user manual or look on-line:
A good general discussion of manual settings.
Equivalent Exposures, Stops: Manual Mode continued
In this class we explore the concept of equivalent exposures, equivalent meaning similar or equal. The idea is that you can use different settings for ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in Manual Mode to get the same exposure; that is, the same range of lights and darks in the image. The histograms will be virtually the same.
For example, you can get the same exposure if you use a higher aperture number and a faster shutter speed. You can also get the same exposure by using a higher ISO and a faster shutter speed. Or you can use a higher ISO and a higher aperture number.
This concept is powerful because it means that you can vary ISO, shutter speed, and aperture with each situation.
On some cameras, if you change ISO, shutter speed, or aperture one click, you can change one of the other settings one click and get the same exposure. Changing any setting by three clicks means that the image will be twice as bright or half as bright. In photography, twice as bright or half as bright is called a "stop". You may find it easier to think in terms of clicks, three clicks equals a stop.
NOTE: In some cameras, one click on an ISO setting means the image will be twice as bright or half as bright. That is, in some cameras, changing the ISO setting one click is the same as changing the shutter speed or aperture three clicks. Check your camera!
COMPOSITION: We have already talked about separating subject from background by putting the subject in focus and the background out of focus, and by making the subject light and the background dark. There are many other ways of separating subject from background. Here are a few we have not previously mentioned:
- Texture: subject and background have different textures.
- Color: subject and background have different colors.
- Contrast: subject and background have different contrasts. This is often seen in hazy landscapes, where the background is washed out, even ghostly, because of haze, smoke, or fog, but the subject has a full range of lights and darks because it is close. In the above photo, the boys close at hand have a range of light and shadow while the figures behind them are ghostly.
- Interest: the subject is fascinating, the rest of the image is not.
- Size: the subject is larger than other objects in the frame. For example, the one person is much larger than the smaller, more distant people in the background. Or the flower is larger than the background trees.
- Attention: The subject gets attention from other elements in the image. All eyes are on one person. Or lines in the image converge on the subject. Or elements in the image frame the subject, a frame within the frame.
- One of Many: the subject is one of many in the photo, but has a unique feature. In a group of dark horses, it's the Appaloosa. In the line of ballerinas, it's the football player dressed in a tutu.
Class Assignment No. 6
Your homework assignment is to take a single subject and to vary how it looks by changing the ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. You might also change how it is lit. If you choose a moving subject, its image will change with shutter speed. A subject with depth will have its image change with depth of field. I’d like to see dark moody images and bright airy images as well as traditionally “good” exposures.
Subjects could be people walking on a crowded sidewalk or hallway, a hand scrubbing a black frying pan with white suds, water condensing on a window and dripping down with interesting stuff in the background, lights coming towards the car as someone else drives you, and an animal running. I’ve attached some samples.
CLASS #6.5 Light Painting (for 10-week courses only)
Bring a tripod and a flashlight to class. If you don't have a tripod, one will be provided.
We'll work on giving everyone a solid grounding in exposure settings and the concept of equivalent exposures.
One way we'll do that is by learning to paint with light. That is, instead of using light from the overhead fixtures to illuminate our subjects, we'll use a flashlight. You can also use a cellphone with a flashlight app. We will not only be controlling the camera, we'll be controlling the light as well!
COMPOSITION: The subject will stand out from the background if it is lit and the background is not. Often this means controlling the light, something easily done with light painting. It can also be done by having the subject close to the camera and using a flash. Here are two links:
- Photographer Harold Ross
- A four-minute instruction video
Class Assignment No. 5.5
With your camera in Manual Mode, make some light paintings using a flashlight. If you don't have a tripod, set the camera on something so it doesn't move during the exposure. Or, if you really want to experiment, hand-hold the camera and the flashlight, moving both. Extra credit for making the subject bright and the background dark.
White Balance, Flash, Artificial Light
We will learn to adjust the white balance of the camera manually. We will discuss white balance, how different light makes some images yellowish and bluish, how the camera "sees" color differently than the eye, infra-red and ultra-violet light, the light spectrum, how light temperature can be measured, and white balance adjusted.
White balance settings do NOT affect the actual data collected in RAW format, meaning those images can have their white balance adjusted fully in post-processing. JPG images lose data when they are adjusted in post-processing, so it is best to get correct white balance before shooting in JPG format.
We will also learn to use our flash, not only as a primary light source, but as a secondary source to mix with the ambient light of a scene. In particular, in Manual Mode, you can set your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture so that you get a darker than average photo. Then you can pop up the flash. The flash will illuminate subjects close to it but will do little to make distant objects brighter. By mixing ambient light in the scene, the background becomes part of the scene instead of going black. Also, this saves your battery because the flash is not the only light source.
Here are some links to videos about white balance:
COMPOSITION: One way of separating subject and background is to light the subject but not the background. If the subject is closer to you than the background, using an on-camera flash will do this automatically. In the photo above, the match illuminates the candle and fingers that are close to it, but does not light up the background enough to be seen.
Class Assignment No. 7
Experiment with scenes lit in different light: sunlight at morning, noon, and dusk; in daytime shadow; on overcast days; scenes lit at night by street lamps, car headlights, and your flash; indoors with your flash, or lit by incandescent, fluorescent, or flashlight. Adjust your white balance to fit the light source. Use your flash in daylight to add light to shadows. Use a similar method indoors so that the flash lights up objects close at hand but objects further away are lit by other light sources such as incandescent bulbs. If you want a specific task, light up a large object with the lights from your car's headlights while you use a flashlight to paint an object close to the camera. Get it all in the frame in a pleasing composition.
CLASS #7.5 (for 10-week long course)
In this class we will explore single images and series of images that tell a story.
Class Assignment No. 7.5
Make a series of ten images that tell a story, and one photo that summarizes the story in a single image.
Simplicity, Following Your Eyes to Make Better Images
Keeping it simple is a great compositional tool. Eliminate the extraneous. Keep the essential.
Follow your eyes is essential. Trust your vision to see things. Seeing is a form of thinking. Pay attention!
What variables did we not discuss in previous classes? Here's your chance to ask. It seems like every camera has hundreds of variables such as file naming, menu banks, color space, noise reduction, multiple exposure, movies, bracketing, image sensor cleaning, copyright info, GPS, firmware updates, etc.
And what other, aesthetic issues can we explore?
If you'd like to borrow one of these books, please contact me.
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