Amber was gifted a 1:1 Beyond Auto day and I know it’s a big step for her. She is enthusiastic and has been taking pictures with a digital SLR for a while now but lacks confidence in getting the shot. She has taken a few that she really likes but is never sure what it was she did to get it and at other times the photo just doesn’t look how she wants it, out of focus, over or underexposed or just uninspiring. Frequently the temptation to switch it over to full auto or even just take the shot on her iPhone is strong.
This is actually a super common story. Camera owners that love photography that fear what might happen if they spin that dial from the auto green box. Apart from looking the part, it could be argued that now that mobile phone cameras are so capable, unless you take control of the features it’s not even worth having that lovely camera of yours. The good news is that getting off auto is not as scary as it might first seem. It won’t explode if you press the wrong button and in a digital age, it costs nothing to take as many bad shots as you like. The Beyond Auto course is designed to help photographers along the way and provide a short cut to perhaps a year of experimentation by taking folk right to it in a day!
I met Amber in the cafe at Portreath and we chatted over coffee and cake about the kind of photography she likes and would like to create and some of the challenges she has come up against. I dig the computer out and we work through some of the underlying theory, the essentials that demystify the camera process. We talk about controlling light, how auto mode is actually very good most of the time but not in certain situations. By the time the last of the latte is drained, Amber has got a good grasp of what the aperture does and how that works with shutter speed. Time to head down to the beach to put things into practice.
We start with focus, controlling the camera’s autofocus points, to take the chance out of the success of the image. Once she has tack-sharp focus every time we move onto the depth of field (or as I like to refer to it “depth of focus”). Already she is using technical knowledge to support the artist’s imagination. A snap of the seashore does nothing. A shallow depth of field shot of a quartz vein running through blurred dark rock becomes a compelling image.
Having started small and close with macro shots we walk on and scramble up the cliffs a way to get a great vantage point. We talk about composition, the ‘rules’, front to back interest and colour theory. All these things can seem like another language and discouragingly complicated but on the beach, taken a chunk at a time, it all makes sense. Just before her brain does go pop we re-locate to Godrevy and have some lunch.
This is an amazing place to take photographs, particularly seascapes, and this afternoon’s project is long exposures. We are in full manual now, taking full control of every aspect of Amber’s camera. Using neutral density filters we can reduce the amount of light coming into the lens which means we can keep the shutter open for longer and this gives the effect of the moving waves smoothed out capturing the essence of movement. Without really fully knowing it Amber has gone from being a bit nervous about her camera in the morning to confidently setting it up on the tripod just were she knows will provide an excellent composition and setting the camera up to create an image that tells the story of her choosing.
We finish up in yet another cafe to briefly look at the role of the digital darkroom and how this can enhance our images before looking through some of her best shots. I leave her with a few thoughts on how best to progress her photography now. She has come on in leaps and bounds and the great thing is now she has a solid grounding in how her camera works she can confidently go off and experiment and make some fantastic images but most importantly have some fun trying.