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Thursday, April 1, 2004

Discovering A Workshop

Improve your photography in the classroom and in the field

With sales of digital SLRs now reaching 50 percent of all SLR sales and climbing rapidly, we've truly entered the digital age for photographers. What does this mean to anyone interested in attending a photo workshop?

First, it doesn't mean you have to shoot digital. Most workshops and tours welcome all types of photographers, and some still emphasize film. Workshops are about learning to be a better photographer, no matter what level of photographer you are or what kind of technology you use.

It's true that digital technologies allow for new learning possibilities, however. For example, many instructors are finding that digital projectors offer new ways of presenting material. A photographer can quickly add images to instructional slideshows that feature the location the group is visiting.

The fully integrated digital experience in a workshop or tour takes learning to a whole new level. When most students are shooting with digital cameras, some interesting opportunities arise:
•Students see each other's work in the field, even while shooting the scene. You can expect lively interaction with the photography, students and subjects that simply isn't possible with film.
•Images can be seen in any location (provided you have fully charged batteries) because no lab is needed for processing.
•Instructors can see and comment on technique while the subject is still in front of the camera. They can see students' exposure or composition problems, then quickly view their next photo to gauge improvement.
•Lightweight laptops allow photographers to immediately download images so more people can see the shots, enlarged, while still photographing. The potential for discussion and critique on the spot is endless.
•Photos can be projected with a digital projector when the group returns to a meeting place with available electricity.
•Groups of images can be seen from all photographers. With software, the class can see an entire morning's shoot. Small thumbnails reveal trends, and dynamic photos jump out at the group. Individual shots can be enlarged as needed.
•Photos can be shared. Shots from the whole group can be pooled and burned to a CD so the learning experience can be continued back at home.

Another type of digital workshop integrates computer training on Photoshop or other image-processing programs. This intensive instruction can be a valuable way of learning to deal with images in the computer. However, these workshops should get you on the field shooting, at least part of the time, to synthesize the photography with the digital.

A real danger comes from a workshop that stays totally tied to the computer. It's too easy to lose sight of the real goal of a digital workshop—to become a better photographer. If sitting at the computer is essential to a particular class, great! But you need some time integrating photographic and digital thoughts, which can only come if you get outside and photograph.

There are also field classes where you can learn digital-processing tools and be in a wonderful photographic setting not tied to a workshop facility. The downside is that you aren't going to have much hands-on experience, since supplying computers for everyone usually isn't possible. On the other hand, you'll gain knowledge about working on photos in the computer while experiencing both mediums—the camera and the computer—at the same time. These workshops are a bridge between the photography and computer classes.

Don't be afraid of seeing varied approaches to the digital arena. There's a joke about Photoshop teachers: How many Photoshop gurus does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, plus a hundred more to tell the first another way to do it. You may find it interesting and intellectually stimulating to take courses from different photographers working in digital. Take what works for you from all of them, ignore the contradictions and have fun.

That's the bottom line: Keep an open mind and learn from the instructor, the setting, the students and the experience. Come with an expectation of gaining something new and helpful for your photography, and you're sure to be satisfied.




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