Photography Fundamentals Workshop

I just finished teaching the first offering of Photography Fundamentals Workshop Level 2, a workshop for beginning photographers in the Photography Club of Sun City-Hilton Head (PCSCHH).  It’s time to reflect on the effort and to decide whether it is a worthwhile endeavor.

I joined the Curriculum Subcommittee of the PCSCHH earlier this year with the express purpose of helping develop an educational opportunity for beginning photographers in this club.  The subcommittee addressed this task with the understanding that the workshop should be active rather than passive and that the sequence of experiences should facilitate students’ learning how to use their camera(s) to best advantage in making images.

A number of hurdles presented themselves immediately, not the least of which was that interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) such as digital single-lens reflex (DSLRs) and mirrorless ILCs present a set of controls and language(s) that do not necessarily apply to point-and-shoot cameras and other fixed-lens hybrid cameras.  In addition, many new photographers tend to use “the camera they have with them,” ie, their cell phone camera, and these devices often have many different controls than traditional interchangeable-lens cameras.

In addressing these hurdles, we developed a level-one workshop for cell phone camera users in addition to the level-one workshop for ILC users.  In these level-one workshops, top priority is given to getting the students in touch with their cameras.  Class assistants were recruited to enable one-on-one assistance for Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Panasonic LUMIX camera models, and students were urged to take photos using all presets and automatic modes available on their camera models.  Student photos were evaluated (critiqued?) as part of the in-class exercises, and additional homework assignments produced images that were critiqued at the beginning of the following workshop meeting.

The level-one workshops were scheduled for three-hour periods over a sequence of four weeks.  Significant time was allotted for actual walk-around shooting in each of the four sessions and evaluation/critique was offered for all images produced and submitted by students.

The level-two workshop syllabus continues the model of shooting and critiques with the emphasis on students learning how to use the semi-automatic shooting modes (Program mode, Aperture priority mode, and Shutter Speed priority mode) before progressing to topics such as Manual mode, Exposure Compensation, and the interpretation of histograms.  A very modest introduction to post-processing techniques is provided to end the workshop activities.  These activities span three weeks of class time, again drawing attention to students learning their cameras and practicing using them.

No level-two workshop has been developed at this time for call phone cameras.

And what of the evaluation of this effort?  No formal evaluation has yet been initiated since the education committee has decided that the evaluation format used in the past is inappropriate.  At the end of the last workshop period, I asked for discussion and feedback from students in the level two workshop, and some discussion followed.  As expected, response to the class/workshop varied among camera brands and models.

Formal feedback so far has been primarily of the “Good job!” category, but feedback such as comments on the imprecise language used in homework assignments (“I didn’t really understand the assignment.”) was really helpful and I will definitely restructure those assignment sheets before conducting this workshop again.

My evaluation is that I should have had more assistants committed to helping with the one-on-one instruction of operation for Panasonic LUMIX, Sony, and Nikon D3xxx/D5xxx cameras.  I could not provide meaningful instruction on the Sony A6000 since I had never seen one before the class began, and we could not find class assistants for the second and third workshop meeting.  I also was not prepared to instruct the LUMIX shooters since I had not used one, and the studio monitor was not familiar enough with the camera controls to instruct the student adequately.  Two students had very advanced cameras (Nikon Z 7 and Nikon D500) and their instruction requirements were almost entirely different from that needed by the students with the D3xxx/D5xxx models.  In short, more class assistants with wider experience with cameras would seem to be the solution to this shortcoming.

On the positive side, I saw definite growth in the photographic skills of the students over the three weeks of the workshop.  They became more comfortable with their cameras and their images became more sophisticated as the workshop progressed.  Overall, I judge the effort to be well worth it and the workshop offering must be repeated.

About Tom

Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Appalachian State University.
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