January, 2012

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Candid Street Photography and an HDR Workshop at Design4Kids7

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Thursday the Design4Kids group took a break from workshop classes. Each workshop includes an excursion day, giving everyone an opportunity for a bit of sightseeing and the chance to take some photos in a new environment. Along the way we all learn a little more about the area and its people.

The morning saw everyone pile into one of the many water taxis that ply Lago Atitlan, and take the short trip around Vulcan San Pedro to the small town ofSan Juanla Laguna. This small pueblo is the home of many of the local artists and traditional textile cooperatives.

The first thing we see is the result of the torrential rains of a year ago, which caused the lake level to raise by nearly two meters. The water has remained at this new level, and the entire first block of town, previously filled with waterfront shops is now half submerged.

This is a scene repeated all around the lake, and most local businesses have relocated to higher ground and reopened.

There were great opportunities for candid street photography, and the majority of the people here seem quite open to being photographed. Of course there is always the occasional shy subject. The town itself provides a backdrop for creative photography of all kinds.

After returning to our workshop base at la Posada Santiago, Moe Murdock held a great drawing workshop, which was followed by an impromptu mini-class in HDR –HighDynamicRange– photography.

We discussed the entire process of planning your photograph for HDR processing, making the series of exposures and then combining yhem in HDR software.

There are nearly limitless variations of processing options, from very photo-like with expanded shadow and highlight range to the highly graphic look of exaggerated tone-mapping. Of course the kids latched on to the way-out there look right away!

Photos of the day’s activities are posted on the Design4Kids Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/Design4Kids

Tomorrow is the final day of the workshop. The graphic design projects are due, and the lesson plans for teaching the digital SLR camera will be presented. Preliminary work looks very good!

– Stu Estler

Reviewing Digital SLR Camera Basics

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

We’ve completed the first phase of Design4Kids7, reviewing and refreshing the basics of using the digital SLR cameras with the classes.

Since these students have come up through Fotokids for ten and more years, they began with film SLR cameras. Most already have a pretty good understanding of concepts such as depth of field and capturing motion effects, and the exercises they’ve completed are useful to reinforce what they know.

A few need a little more study and practice. The beginning digital camera work at the school uses point and shoot cameras, much like many people like you. While the basics of photography apply to all types of cameras, the step up to the SLR allows a much greater degree of control in applying these concepts.

The concept of the assignment here was to think of ten or more ways to create blur in a photo.

The most obvious, moving the camera and not focusing properly were of course represented, but everyone went well beyond those, usually considered mistakes, to illustrating concepts such as selective depth of field, using a slow shutter to blur subject movement and panning the moving subject.

To see what they’ve been up to chekc out Design4Kid’s Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/Design4Kids?ref=ts

Now it’s time for the classes to put what they know into lesson plans that will allow them to effectively teach what they know to their students, realizing that the young people they work with learn differently than adults.

We’re anxious to see what they come up with!

Design4Kids 7 Photography & Design Workshop – Teaching the Teachers

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

Just one week until we’re in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala for the Design4Kids 7 Workshop! No one could have imagined four years ago that this would grow from a vague idea that we could do something positive here to become an institution that we as instructors look forward to as much as the students.

This will be a very special workshop. All of our Fotokids students who will attend are no longer “the kids”. This group is made up of graduates of the Fotokids program, all now in college and all currently teaching the new generation of Foto“kids”.

Veterans Jeff Speigner, Eric Lolkema and myself will be joined once again by Moe Murdock, who is destined to become another of our regulars. Our objective in this workshop is twofold.

On the Graphic Design side, Jeff and Moe will be working with the group to further develop and refine the Jakaramba design studio identity, the fully operational (and profitable) business that was born of the Design4Kids project.

Moe, the incredibly talented illustrator who stole the show last June at Design4Kids 6 has promised to conduct at least one session on how he performs his illustration magic on paper and in computer. I’m personally looking forward to learning all I can from that lesson, right alongside our Fotokids bunch.

On the Photography side, Eric and I will be working with the Fotokids students/now teachers to develop and improve their lesson plans for teaching topics such as using the digital SLR, using fill flash and more advanced exercises in Depth of Field, Motion Effects and working with the color of light.

A little better technology and hopefully improved internet reliability at La Posada Santiago where we stay and work from will perhaps allow regular updates from the workshop, so stay tuned!

– Stu Estler

Getting to the (Focus) Point

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

When we talk about using the aperture to control depth of field during our Photo Walks, Classes and Workshops, we specify focusing on a particular point in your composition. The depth of field extends in front of and behind that point.

Not too surprisingly, many of you who are just learning your camera are not familiar with setting it up so that you control what the camera focuses on!

Left on its own at the default settings, with all focus points active, the camera is programmed to focus on the closest object it finds in the frame. This is not always where you want to focus.

You do have a way to select a specific focus point. As usual, how you do this differs from camera brand to camera brand (and sometimes model).

On all Canon SLRs that I’ve used this is done by pressing the far right button on the upper back of the body. Canon amazingly calls this the “AF Point Selection” button – mark the day, this may be the only time you find anything described that clearly!

You’ll need to half-press the shutter to activate the meter – to “wake up” the camera – first. When you press the AF point selection button you’ll see all focus points lighted in the viewfinder and on some models also displayed on the LCD screen. You then use the front control wheel to move through the focus points to select the one you want.

On Nikons, (sigh) it depends. On most models you go into the Menu, to AF Area Mode and select Single Point. Then use the Multi-Selector (up, down, right and left arrows on the back) to move the focus point to the desired position. (Note- some Canons allow you to do this as well as select with the front control wheel.) If this doesn’t work for your model it’s time to look in the manual.

For other brands, Sony seems to mostly follow Nikon’s arrangement, Pentax follows Canon’s and the others – well, this is again the time to “go to the book”. We’ve all agreed that the camera manual is not ideally read like a novel. But it is useful as a reference when you know what you’re looking for.

How many options of points you have will depend on the model camera you are using. Typically the higher-end (as in, more expensive) the model, the more points you’ll have available.

For most shooting it isn’t critical which one you select as you can still half-press to focus and then re-compose. I usually use the center point unless I know I’ll be regularly looking in a particular part of the frame. The idea is you now have control over where the camera focuses by placing that point on your subject.

Of course all of the above applies to SLRs. The many point & shoots, advanced digitals and now the mirror-less interchangeable-lens models all have their own language. Some point & shoots don’t have the option to select the focus point, others do. Pretty much all the advanced digitals and MIL models have it. Again you’ll want to see your manual for your particular model.

While there are always exceptions and for some types of fast-moving subjects having all focus points active can be desirable, for most day-to-day walk around photography I recommend always having a single focus point active, allowing you to put the focus exactly where you want it.

Hope this helps make things clearer. (Don’t you really miss my bad puns during the off season?) See you on the next Photo Walk!

– Stu Estler

www.premierphototours.com