Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Photography Teacher's Lesson Learned // Guest Post by Heather Liebler

Hello!  My name is Heather Liebler, and I'm Bubby and Bean's featured sponsor for the month of January.  I am also a photographer, mom, wife, chauffeur, first aid expert, cook, yogi wanna-be and as two weeks ago, photography teacher.  I am teaching a class for parents/adults at our local YMCA about composition.  Not necessarily how to use your camera - more how to compose a picture and be able to get the image in your head to an image printed on paper.  I have five students ranging from young mom to "retired Jack" and a few in between.  Through teaching this class, I learned some of my own lesson about the basics of teaching: mainly to never assume anything!

Having been at this whole photography thing for awhile, I learned to take photos on a manual film Canon camera many moons ago. The great thing about film is that you can't really set it to automatic, because even if your camera has this option, it isn’t very refined.  And film and developing  is expensive, so you need to have the basics under your belt to get the shot you want.  OH, and you don’t know if you got the shot until you schlep yourself down to drop off the film and then go back again to pick it up about a week later (unless you begged or promised favors to the kid running the darkroom).  There's a lot to it.

So all that is to say, I decided to teach the "back to basics/need to know" class.  In my opinion, that included aperture or f-stop, ISO and shutter speed.  If you have those down, you can take the image that you intended to take WHEN you intended to take it.  We had a great first class.  I talked about the three basics of all images, then sent my students off into the world to test out their knowledge, requesting that they send me their images by Sunday night so we could go over them on Wednesday at the next class.

On Saturday morning, I started receiving panicked emails, ranging from "I don’t think this is right..." to "I hate aperture!"  So I decided that we would set up a little still-life hands-on exercise for the first half of the next class. Their assignment was to use aperture to manipulate depth of field.  The smaller the aperture opening, the greater your depth of field, and the larger the aperture opening, the lesser your depth of field.  It sound straight forward, right?!  Well, this morning we talked about the assignment, and all of my students had at least one particular area that they just couldn’t accomplish. One student kept saying, "I can’t get it to focus on the part of the image that you are talking about!"  Finally I had them all take their cameras off of auto-focus (I just heard you gasp! I promise, it is possible!), and manually tweak their focus to the area they wanted.  I was still getting blank faces and frustrated sighs.  As I watched this student "manually focus," I took a deep breath, and realized that she had no idea how that you could truly focus your lens yourself.  Then I realized that everyone else in the class had no idea either!

Right then I learned a valuable lesson - you should never assume that something is "known" just because you know it.  I realized that it's important to risk offending to be sure that others know what they are doing - especially if you are teaching!  So I reworked things a little.  And I’m very happy to report that ALL of my students now understand manipulation of their apertures to help them achieve the looks they are going for!  By teaching this class, I was able to learn something myself.

Before I go, here is a quick, basic DIY tip in photography for all of you.  Set your camera to A (it stands for aperture priority, not automatic).  Aperture is the size of the hole in your lens when you take a picture. The bigger the hole, the smaller your depth of field (the area in focus) and the more blur you will have to the area not in focus. The smaller the hole, the greater the depth of field or area in focus. The camera will set your ISO and your shutter speed for the optimum exposure. Then go out and take ten pictures of something you’ve never seen before, placing each object anywhere in the frame EXCEPT the center. It’s always more fun to shoot with a purpose that is not just to record a vacation.  If you do this, I'd love to see what you come up with!  I've also included some of my photographs throughout this post to help to inspire your creativity...

Thank you to Melissa for the chance to chat with you with she's in Mexico!

Huge thanks to Heather for being such an awesome featured sponsor this month, and for sharing such a cool story about her experiences teaching photography and such great tips!  You guys definitely need to check out the amazing work she has in her shop, Heather Liebler Photography.  Her photographs are so striking, and the places and things she's shot are really incredible.  If you see something you like, she is generously offering Bubby and Bean readers a special discount of 20% off with the code BUBBYANDBEAN!  You can also find Heather on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog.

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  1. I'm no master of photography by any means, but the first time I showed my dad that he could actually turn off the auto focus on his professional camera, he was in shock. He spent all that money on a fancy camera, and didn't even realize all the amazing things you could do with it when you switch off of auto!

  2. These are great tips and I love your story about not assuming!! :-)

  3. BIG HUMONGOUS thanks, Melissa! It was so much fun to write. I hope you are having a blast and enjoying the sun. All too soon you'll have to come home ;)

    And thanks so much to everyone for the nice comments.
    xo ~h

  4. Being a photographer that's always learning, I love seeing people take pictures with their digital cameras trying to take pictures wondering why it doesn't look right. I look and it's always on "auto". I take it off, tweak it a little and bam, a better picture w/o flash. They're like "OMG, what did you do??? I'm scared."

    Auto mode is sooooooo limited. You'll never know what you're capable of creating unless you get off the path that's less traveled. You'll always be amazed when you experiment and learn a bit about photography, weather you do digital or old school film. Yes, the basics should be learned :)

    Sorry for my rant!! :)

  5. i always wondered what that A meant! thank you for the tips.

  6. I began teaching myself photography using all vintage film cameras, but found I never improved. So I invested in a used dslr to try and quicken my learning curve which... didn't really happen. I finally decided to take a little Photography 101 offered by my local camera shop, and holy cow - eyes are slowly opening. I guess you could say the aperture of my eyeballs is at a lower setting now (which means they're bigger and therefore letting in more light... i think... i'm still grasping it!)

    Anyhow, great post and thanks for all the info and great stories about other learners! It's nice to know others are in the same boat.

    1. I can completely identify. I recently asked my acupuncturist if she had any herbs to strengthen my eyes because that is the first place I'm noticing age. Once you get a handle on yourself and your camera and identifying what you want to do, you will master it. Keep at it!
      Thanks for the comment,


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