Photo Class

I'm taking photography classes at a sleepy little art school here in suburban New Jersey. I've picked up little tricks so far, like make sure that your digital camera is set to take raw format pictures and not .jpegs. Also, the AV setting on the camera is better than the automatic setting. However, we haven't learned more than that yet. Actually, we haven't even taken any photos ourselves yet. After six hours last week and three hours today, I've mostly been looking at the instructor's pictures and pictures of his favorite photographers. 

The instructor was a big shot in the late 70s and early 80s and those are the photos that he likes. Graphic images with lots of tricks with the lenses. 


This stuff has gone out of style. I think I had similar images on posters in my dorm room. 

I prefer street photographs. I even like the grainy stuff that is coming out iPhones. Of the oldies, I like Walker Evans the best. 


I like the freaks of Diane Arbus.


And my absolute favorite is Sally Mann.


The instructor is sad and a little bitter that his style of photography is no longer in fashion. He says that photo editors would rather go with the younger photographers who shoot bored and angry models and then the editors and the photographers do coke together. The guy does know his gadgetry though, so I'm picking up on some lens geekery. Apparently, my camera is pretty crappy and he wants me to buy a $1,000 camera. (No.) My fellow classmates are sweet, so I'm enjoying myself. 


23 thoughts on “Photo Class

  1. Photographers are bitter like everyone else who used to produce physical content that’s become digitalized. Writers, journalists, recording artists, . . . . I’m waiting for the effect to filter into the movie industry (and it has, in the form of streaming, and the desperation of theaters, but not yet completely into content providers). It might never affect big movies, ’cause of the groups required to assemble movies, but it will affect documentaries and small films (but then, they never paid anyway). I expect education to be effected more than it has been as we move forward.
    I agree I don’t like the lips and also remember the 80’s and the pictures. I think those pictures might have gained popularity then because it was a sweet spot in printing technology — where photos still had to be printed, but when we’d gained the ability to print high saturation color. So, those pictures became popular because it’s the first time they could be generally distributed (hence our dorm room posters).

  2. Cameras do make a difference, but only to a certain level. My current camera is a high (but not highest) end Caanon (the 5D Mark II). It has improvements over the old 5D (lower ISO, bigger screen, better onscreen info about the shooting parameters, and, a big but unused feature by me, the ability to shoot video).
    I also have the 70-200 2.8 L lens. That makes my camera a $5000+ kit, potentially making it worth more than the car that I drive it around in (well, at least sometimes, since the camera retains its value better than the car). It is worth it, though, if you want to try to take pictures like Sally Mann. But, then, you have to lug 10+ pounds of gear and learn a lot about how to use your camera. I don’t know enough yet, and should take a class. I know too much for a novice class, though, so I’m trying to find the right class.
    What do you shoot with?

  3. PS: (or is it PPS, since I already wrote two comments).
    I think instructors should, in general, tell you how to use the equipment you have rather than telling you to buy new things. On the other hand, sometimes there is instruction that is truly incompatible with the equipment you want to use (in which case it should be listed as required equipment). My most recent encounter was a student who wanted to use acrylics in a landscape painting class in which the technique being taught was “luminous oil painting.” It cannot be done with standard acrylics, and the instructor did not know how to do the technique with special acrylics that are supposed to simulate oils. So, simply the wrong class.

  4. I have a n-kon d700 with a 50 1.4, 24-70 2.8 and a 80-200 2.8. I have everything I need and have no intentions of upgrading anything. I started on an c-non xti and then a 40d but this camera/lenses were worth the 6k. I can take stunning images without trying and when I do actually try the improvement is amazing. I think you can pretty much get almost a pro-level camera now for 1k. That is the amazing thing about how much things have improved.
    RAW you will need to edit everything in photoshop or something like it, since it is unprocessed but the end results, fab.
    ALso, find a local camera shop. To upgrade my equipment I went to my local shop and traded it all in and got a credit. Also, used lenses from a local shop can be much much cheaper than buying new. My camera bodies have all been new but the lenses are typically used.

  5. I have a Nikon d40. The instructor said I could hand it down to my nine year old. Ack.
    Apparently, this guy has been put of business by flicker and amateurs with excellent cameras. In the past, only geeks like him could take sharp pictures. Now, anybody can.

  6. I am taking an online four week intro to digital photography course. It’s quite good and I am learning a lot- great feedback on my photos from the instructor.
    I am using my husband’s Nikon. When he isn’t being corporate guy for paid work, he is photographer guy. He’s had some shows and sold some work. He’s enjoying me stumble through the early stages.
    I also take iPhone photos- both are great in their own ways.
    I agree – get some midrange equipment and after that it’s all practice in taking photos themselves. Some good advice that I received was to shoot digital like it was film. In other words, don’t shoot a thousand shots will nilly – have intent.
    I started a new blog and am enjoying using photos to help create original content.

  7. any good teacher should be telling you to invest in good “glass”. a really nice 50mm 1.4 lens will go a LONG way. Or even an 85 1.8 or a good 24-70 portrait lens.

  8. Jenny & I basically have the same kind of deal (except in Canon v Nikon).
    Here’s a review of the Nikon D40:
    I don’t know the camera, but the 2 issues that come up for me is the lack of autofocus on regular lenses (I love my 70-200 2.8L, and I suspect Jenny loves her 2.8L). The real beauty with those lenses is the low wide aperture + big zoom. You can take pictures in low light and get beautiful “bokeh” (i.e. focus on the face, fuzziness in the background). The other issue for me (because I use it a lot) is adjusting the exposure in steps, but that one is less serious.
    I think there’s something between the D40 & Jenny’s kit that might work for you, but don’t know about Nikon’s enough to make a suggestion. I do think that Ian might be able to do interesting things with a camera (with his artistic & spatial interests and skills).
    I do not fully agree with the advice to shoot in RAW. You should, if you’re planning on making one (or 10) beautiful pictures. But, if you’re goal is to document your family/get good — but not stand alone blog pictures, shooting in RAW means that you’ll end up with lots of pictures that don’t get processed. The files are also huge, and will fill up your media card and your hard drive. So, the rule of shooting in RAW applies if you’re making art, but less so if you’re using photography for other purposes.
    I think where I lie on the spectrum is a “keen amateur” (as I told the Stonehenge tour guide when he saw me taking lots of pictures with my big heavy camera). I’ve participated in one show and offer my work for the school auction and take pictures for the school (which is a nice free source of picts for them for publicity purposes).
    (Sandra, fun to see your pictures).

  9. Sandra, I’ve been looking on Craig’s list for that exact side board. Give it to me! Instead, I’m using two dressers. I did some dumpster diving years ago. Thinking about hammering sheet metal over the tops.

  10. Yes, on Jenny’s advice about the lens. A good lens matters more than the camera, once your camera can do the basics (i.e. adjust aperature & shutter speed & iso within acceptable ranges).
    But, which lens for Laura? The 24-70 2.8L N-kon seems too expensive at $1800. Is the Sigma lens any good? ($899) and how about the old 35-70? Does it work with the D40?
    I like this site for lens info:
    (though the site is good too, they are more generalist than Ken Rockwell).

  11. “I think instructors should, in general, tell you how to use the equipment you have rather than telling you to buy new things.”
    “…but it will affect documentaries and small films…”
    Actually, I wonder if this isn’t a golden age for documentary-making. I know that as a viewer, I watch a lot of documentaries and small films through Netflix that I would never ever have seen back in the three-channel days.
    “The instructor said I could hand it down to my nine year old.”
    My kids both have had digital cameras for a while (the oldest has had two breakages so far). It’s always fun to see the view from three and four feet high. We use some of their photos for our year-end family photo book that we give out to the adults in the extended family.
    “I do think that Ian might be able to do interesting things with a camera.”
    Very true.
    One of the things our 6-year-old does is to document every major block or LEGO project that he does. We put some of those pictures in the year-end photobook, too.

  12. Thanks bj – it’s been fun getting my own “look” post production. Some are iPhone and some are Nikon.
    Gee, I actually got out of my office chair to see what type of camera it actually is! Talk about lazy… it’s a Nikon D90 and the lens is a Nikon 28-105mm. Quite happy with it.
    Laura – isn’t that a great sideboard? It’s in mint condition. I found my sputnik pendant that I have in the kitchen at the same shop. Hammering the metal on the two dressers sounds kinda cool too.

  13. My husband is not at all bitter. He says digital photography was the best thing that happened to him. The ability to see a shot after you’ve taken it is so valuable (instead of waiting till you get back to the darkroom). He’s built a little side business on microstock photography.
    Before I dated my husband, I dated another photographer (I have a type?). He introduced me to Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Love their stuff.
    I have nothing to say about photo equipment other than that the only issue my husband and I ever really fought over was how much money he spent on camera equipment. We were in 6-figure credit card/student loan debt, and packages from B&H and Adorama were showing up at our door (and nothing inside a B&H box is worth less than $100). Once he started his business, we made a deal that he could buy new equipment with the profits. Since then, no arguments.

  14. D90 is a huge step up from a d40.
    I had a really nice used n-kon 35-70 2.8 that I bought at the local shop for 300 and it is the same quality glass as the 24-70 2.8. Sigma is no good. I always found that you need a brand lens for it to be what you really are trying to get. I bought a t-mron 28-80 2.8 and it was AWFUL. SLOW. But if you aren’t shooting moving kids, like me, it would work.
    You need to decide what you want in terms of what you will photograph. I do children. They don’t sit still. I needed fast lenses and a fast body and I wanted to print LARGE prints.
    Go on to Ken Rockwells site. He gives the best advice ever. Also, n-kon forums etc as well. I know they are getting ready to announce new bodies, which means a drop in the prices soon.
    And honestly, equipment matters which is why I have what I have. You don’t need as big a kit as bj and I have but a few pieces will help.

  15. “…the only issue my husband and I ever really fought over was how much money he spent on camera equipment.”
    That’s a classic issue with photographers. There’s even a Goofy cartoon from way back (maybe the 1950s) where we see Goofy (who has taken up photography as a hobby) buying out an entire camera store.

  16. Jenny – I know nothing about cameras beyond my first steps learning to use them in the past week or so! I just asked the man if I could borrow his camera…

  17. “…instructor was a big shot…”
    I see what you did there!
    For my college photography class, I used a Voigtländer that came back from Germany not long after Elvis did. Analog light meter, and the view finder didn’t change as you changed the focus. And the film advance didn’t always catch, so on occasion there would be inadvertent double exposures. Still, I took some of my all-time favorite pictures with it. (Some years later, the camera was stolen in Hungary; I choose to believe it has returned to its Heimat.)
    I liked talking and thinking about light, and composition, and ideas. That’s what’s stayed with me after all this time; well, that and fond recollection of doing my own b&w darkroom with the magic chemicals and stuff.

  18. I think for the purpose of documenting your family’s journey, the D40–the same camera I have–is fine. You’ll get more improvement from putting money into better lenses, which, in theory, should also be usable if you do upgrade to a higher-end Nikon.
    Your best investment right now, if you do not already have one, would be a speed lamp. You will see a noticeable improvement in your pictures immediately. I use the SB-600.

  19. I like your photos a lot. Good equipment is good, and yes, I lust after C-non L-lenses but your photos are only as good as you are. The equipment doesn’t take the photos, that’s you. There are awesome photographers who only use their iPhone.
    Get a medium good camera and learn to shoot in Manual. The latter will get you further than the prior. Read “People Pictures” by Chris Orwig. The book has 30 exercises in it, work your way through them. That’ll make you awesome.

  20. The T3i seems like a pretty good entry level SLR to me — it’s mostly a feature shoot out with the other comparable models (which use the same sensor, and thus, should deliver the same quality photos). It’s closest Canon competitor seems to be the Canon 60D. Here’s a nice side by side comparison:, though oriented towards shooting video.
    The comparison there basically suggests that you need to go and physically compare the cameras to see what works for you (things like the weight and shape of one and how it fits your hands, where the controls are, what kind of photos/video you will take). three things that might matter to me are the max shutter speed, shooting frequency and the 9 AF points. But, a lot depends on shooting style.
    The T3i has a number of shooting modes (i.e. portrait, sports, etc.). I never use shooting modes. I always want to know what parameters are being set for me, and so this is an irrelevant feature.
    I don’t know what the Nikon competitor of the T3i is, but I do think that investing in glass is the most important thing, and if there were an adequate Nikon competitor, and you were thinking of giving Ian your old camera, that buying a lens before upgrading your camera might be a good investment (and then, you and Ian could share lenses). But, that advice depends on knowing Nikon cameras, and I don’t. And, I have an embarrassing amount of money invested in Canon lenses, so I’m unlikely to make a major switch (though I did look somewhat enviously at the low light pictures a friend who made the switch to the Nikon D700 posted on his blog).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s