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Design4Kids Honduras Photo Workshop Wrap Up

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Well, as usual, the internet speed and availability down in Honduras kept me from updating live as I’d hoped to. So here’s a review of the workshop.

We arrived in Las Mangas just an hour after power returned following three days of their having no electricity, no water, nada. It’s the rainy season in Caribbean Honduras, and the La Ceiba and Rio Congrejal area had just received the most rain since Hurricane Mitch inundated much of Central America in 1998. The river had swelled to extreme levels, closing the road up to Las Mangas for several days.

Carmiña and David and their crew, our hosts at El Encanto Doña Lydia made quick work of the cleanup and we were comfortably settled in by Saturday evening.

My colleague Eric Lolkema and I had come by bus from Antigua, Guatemala on Saturday, and the rest of our mentors arrived Sunday afternoon. The students and staff got together Sunday evening to meet, learn about each other, and get a quick overview of the workshop ahead.

Our initial theme was to work with a client, as is the typical Design4Kids workshop format, this time producing a photographic rather than a graphic design project. A last minute change of plans for the planned client caused us to have to reevaluate this strategy. By the end of the day Monday we realized that our plan of introducing the students to the use of dSLR’s and controlling the cameras manually would be more effective without the additional pressure of trying to shoot for a client project.

Eric Lolkema demonstrates a creative motion technique

Eric's final result

 

The Guaruma students participating in the workshop were all experienced and talented photographers, but had exclusively used the school’s point & shoot cameras for all of their photography up until this time. Our objective was to bring them to the next level, integrating their conceptual knowledge of creative photography with the greater ability to control your results that using an SLR in Manual mode provides. The week consisted of classroom presentations and practical assignments showing the students the proper use of the Aperture/Shutter relationship, learning to read and interpret the camera’s Light Meter, and the creative use of depth of Field and Motion effects. We finished up with an introduction to the use of fill-flash and reflectors to augment available light for greater image control.

By workshop’s end we instructors realized that a week was not sufficient to bring these students up to being fully confident with all aspects of using and controlling their new cameras. Our review of their final assignment work revealed that the ability to take a photograph creatively with a fully automatic camera does not immediately transform into the technical skills required to control the camera on your own.

The good news is that these kids are already accomplished creative photographers, and the seeds have been sown for their continued growth to Mastering Their SLRs. They’ve begun to realize the advanced level of creative control that exists when you are in complete control of the photographic process.

Dates for the next Design4kids workshop, back in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala have been set, for the week of June 26th through July 2nd, 2011. More information can be found on the www.design4kids.org website or by contacting me directly at stu@thephotomentor.com

Two Weeks of Photo Classes!

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Wow, it’s been a busy week, with another coming right along.

Last Saturday started it off with the Kids & Parents Photo Class. The introductory class was geared toward the kids – 11 to 15 year olds – and the parents came along to share the experience and learn alongside each other. Of course, with today’s tech-savvy kids, it’s likely that they were explaining it again to the parents that evening!

We went over the basics of using their cameras – point & shoots – and a little on light and composition. Next we all went outside and practiced what they learned. Then we came back in the classroom and looked at some photo editing techniques, using software like Google’s Picasa.

The parents told me that the kids went home and took photos all afternoon!

That was followed up during the week with the first of two Home Photography Clinics, this one held in Potomac, Maryland, aimed at professionals in the real estate industry who take their own photos for their listings.

While I still make my living as an architectural photographer, it’s obvious that every photo of every home on the market doesn’t justify a budget of hiring a professional like myself. Many clients over the years have asked about how to take better photos themselves, so I’ve put together a two-day workshop to teach some tips and techniques for improving their photos, without all the expensive and complex equipment that I use.

We started with camera basics – many people at this level are using their cameras on the totally automatic settings, and just taking the camera off “the green” and learning how to control it yourself goes a long way towards improving your results.

We talked a bit about equipment – at least an entry-level SLR is really best – plus adding a wide angle lens and a hot shoe flash to allow bouncing and diffusing light.

And of course using a tripod! I’m a big proponent of using a tripod for just about any photo situation you can. It makes it much easier to get sharp pictures in any condition, and frees you up from worrying about too-slow shutter speeds and too-high and noisy ISO’s.

Then we talked about the qualities and colors of light, and how they all play a key role in the success of a photo. Light should always be the first consideration, not an afterthought.

We followed that up with a look at some basics of composition and design elements, like the Rule of Thirds and using lines – especially the power of diagonal lines – to move the eye through the picture and capture the viewer’s attention.

The first day finished up with some considerations and techniques especially useful for architectural-type shooting. We talked about perspective distortion and parallel lines. And about how to tame the typical ultra-high contrast lighting situations found when photographing interiors.

The second day began with the participants practicing the techniques learned on day one. I hold the workshops in a house to give the students an opportunity to try these techniques right away and ask questions.

Finally we went over some very useful post processing methods that make life in the digital age so much easier.

Shooting in RAW is the first thing to consider to make the process of adjusting images on the computer easier and more efficient. This is another reason for choosing an SLR – even most of the entry level models have RAW capture, while only some advanced digital and few point & shoots allow this.

White balancing an interior space illuminated by mixed light sources can be a time-consuming and complicated task with film and even when shooting JPEGS in camera. With Raw processing it becomes a one-click process, with maybe a little slider adjustment to fine tune things. True, some RAW processing software like Adobe Camera Raw allows white balance adjustments on JPEGS, but this feature is often not found on the more economical entry-level programs.

While critical perspective control is still best done with specialty PC lenses (or a view camera), the ability to quickly adjust for keystoning in programs like Photoshop will instantly take photos of both exteriors and interiors up to a level far above the average real estate listing snapshots.

And the ability to bracket exposures and combine them in post-processing is a tremendously useful means of overcoming too-contrasty lighting conditions. With a bit of practice it soon becomes a quick and simple method of taming extreme highlights and shadows, without the greater learning curve and specialty software required for true HDR images.

Everyone who participated was truly excited to start using their new-found skills, and this week we’ll repeat the workshop with another group in Northern Virginia. Those students are already calling with eager questions and requests!

Depth of Field and Fill Flash

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Santiago-45Back in the classroom this morning with an explanation of depth of field and using the aperture for creative control. We worked with “the girls” today on the photography side – it just happens that the girls in the group have less photo training, while the boys are more experienced, and we’ve divided the class into beginners and advanced.

After a short in-class presentation and a few examples, we went outside and practiced the techniques – definitely the best way to really learn and understand how to do it. Everyone loves the opportunity to play and experiment with the camera.

Then back inside for the next lesson – fill flash. We did double photo sessions with the same group today while the other group was doing screen printing on the graphic design side, and will do the same tomorrow with the boys working with us on photography.

It was a natural segue from aperture to understanding the use of fill flash both indoors and outside. It’s natural for beginners to simply use flash as the primary light source and blast away. Once you see the subtle natural results from balancing flash with available light, you really begin to get excited about the possibilities for creative control.

The kids really got into shooting photos of each other with the flash – they played like paparazzi and stars! This group is an amazingly talented bunch of kids, and they devour every new concept we present them.

The afternoon was project work. The concepts are set and the posters are really coming along. Only a day and a half before they present the final designs to the client.

Tomorrow we’ll see how the boys do with depth of field and fill flash. The girls have set the bar!