For one day only
How much can you learn in a single session? TONY writers attend some super-short classes to find out.
Fri Aug 5 2011
Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
How to Use Your Digital SLR
What I learned
Before this seven-hour crash course, which is held one Saturday and one Sunday each month, I knew little about photography, aside from how to operate the meager Canon PowerShot point-and-shoot that I tote on vacations, so I was intimidated as well as excited walking into the classroom. The instructor, professional lensman Maynard Switzer, began by schooling us on the general single-lens reflex (SLR) camera setting groups: mode, focus and meter. The class members brought their own gear, which was evenly divided between Canons and Nikons, but Switzer diligently explained the nuances of the two manufacturers' devices, noting the varied terminology and placement of menu options. He walked us through the best uses for each key setting and pulled out images from his own portfolio to illustrate his points. Visual examples helped solidify the importance of seemingly small variances in the way a camera's functionalities were set.
Throughout the lecture, the group members were free to ask questions, which Switzer answered patiently and thoroughly. Along the way, he also imparted several expert tips to ensure optimal photos, including how crucial it is to check the histogram on each shot: "Most of the data for images comes from the rightmost section of the chart," he said. "This means you want the graph to be the fullest on that side, but without hitting the edge of the screen."
Though I felt much more knowledgeable by the time the class ended, I still wish the seminar had included some dedicated time for testing our newfound skills "in the field." It's one thing to understand the terminology and how to adjust settings on a schmancy camera, but it's another to be able to put that information to use and actually snap an improved picture. An hour outside using the camera, followed by a group critique, would have significantly enhanced the overall experience. The class also assumes that you have a basic working vocabulary, so if you don't know your aperture (diameter of the lens opening) from your ISO (the rating of a film's sensitivity to light), you'll probably get lost quickly.—Sarah Bruning