Today was the inaugural five-hour lesson of Matt & Pete's Photo School in which 10 strangers met upstairs in Birmingham's Victoria pub to learn more about photography and how to improve our own efforts.
The framework of the day – after tea and coffee – involved an hour of learning a bit about the technical side of how a camera works, a bit about Henri Cartier-Bresson and a bit about the theory and style of street photography.
Then Matt and Pete set out three rules for our photowalk around Birmingham:
- use a fixed focal length on the lens (no zooming!)
- use the rule of thirds in some of the compositions
- frame your chosen scene, wait for someone to walk into it and then take the shot
On the walk, I found the rule of thirds pretty easy to apply. But having a fixed 50mm lens and trying to find a good frame was disconcerting.
The fixed lens also meant getting closer to strangers and taking the risk of being invasive, but mostly they seemed to be buried deep in their own worlds. The discomfort was more mine. This was not helped by a sticky shutter button – a known problem on some Canon DSLRs – which kept delaying the shot, leaving me with a lot of 'nearly but not quite' pictures.
I chose the one above as an example of that. I was playing with shutter priority and using a slow speed to create motion blur. Luckily, one of the subjects turned to face the camera as I pressed the shutter button, which created a nice focal point. Unfortunately the act of pressing the button shifted the camera slightly and all the static lines of the steps and Town Hall columns end up blurred rather than crisp.
I presented it as an interesting failure but was surprised that the photo got a fairly positive critique. Apart from the unintended camera shake, the overall effect is quite painterly, the feel was accidentally 'very Cartier-Bresson' and it led to some discussion about how boring 'perfect' photos can be in the digital world and how non-standard ones can jump out at you. I did take better photos but the critique at the end of the day opened up my thoughts about the emotional effects of a photo that isn't technically perfect.
I don't want to go into all the issues that I have with my own photographs but one of the main things I've realised is that apart from a couple of rules of composition and my own personal likes, I lack confidence in judging a photograph. I don't have a strong sense of when a photo is good or not. The end result of this is taking an endless series of photos rather than taking control of the creative decisions and shooting less.
The other thing I learnt about myself today is that I need to slow down. I tend to get frustrated at missing the shot but perhaps I need to see this type of photography more like going fishing: set up the equipment, throw the line out, sit back and see if you get a catch. If you don't, then just chill and start again. Enjoy it!
It will be interesting to see what the others produced in the Photo School Flickr group.
The next session is in a month's time and will involve stepping away from the 'normal view' to investigate wide angles, landscapes and a photowalk around some of Brum's iconic buildings. Looking forward to the fancy learning, the practical stuff, meeting people and getting my head around 'me' as a photographer.
More info on how to bag a place is here.
Otherwise here are the other three photos I took today that I think have some merit: