Friday, 1 February 2019

London Institute of Photography

Last week I shimmied over to the London Institute of Photography on Brick Lane to do their beginners' course. I've been taking photographs pretty much all of my  life,and it's been something that I've hugely enjoyed doing. I've owned a succession of fairly respectable cameras, but I've pretty much always kept them on automatic or some other-semi automatic programme that did all the thinking for me. I haven't troubled my head with the physics of how any of it worked. And I've been delighted with myself on those rare occasions when the planets have aligned and I've bagged the odd decent shot here or there.

But last week all of that changed. I explored the mysteries of the exposure triangle, learnt how to pan, investigated how to achieve shallow depth of field with good bokeh, and how to get greater depth of field for landscape or street photography. It was an eye-opener as I discovered more and more of what my respectable but not-very-fancy camera could do, and how the art of taking a decent photo actually has more to do with technique than simply being in the right place at the right time.

Our teacher was the hugely talented Eliska Kyselkova, who combined great knowledge with huge reserves of patience, and seemed to know exactly where to find everything on everyone's camera. Eliska was unfailingly supportive, and had a very generous knack of being able to find something positive in everyone's work.

We had class-room theory and then, from time to time, we took our theories on walk-about around the streets outside. And this is one part of London where you've got a perfect image around every corner, just sitting there waiting for you to snap it. From Spitalfields Market to the lovely 18th century houses of Fournier Street to the Nomad Community Garden off Brick Lane with its incredible graffiti art: a treasure chest of fabulous images to capture.

Over the course of our class-room lessons we also looked at the work of some of the masters. Amazing and tangential fact: did you know that Henri Cartier-Bresson only ever used a 50 mm fixed lens? I'm a bit of a lazy zoom fiend, but Eliska encouraged me to use my feet instead of my zoom, walking to frame on 50 mm with a larger aperture setting. A game-changer!

We looked at some amazing long-exposure photographs where the shutter speed has been measured in months and years. Have you ever looked at the incredible photos that were commissioned when the MoMa was built in New York? They're so ghostly.

It was fun trying out slow shutter speeds, on a more modest scale, to pan the traffic afterwards to capture a sense of movement. My efforts aren't up there with the MoMa photos but it was an interesting challenge. I felt more self-conscious about panning people walking past, but then that's always the greatest challenge with street photography, and one of the reasons for my attachment to my zoom lens.

My group (there were 6 of us in total) were just about the friendliest bunch you could hope to do a course with. We all trooped off together every lunchtime to feast on noodles and compare notes. It was obvious, however, that some of my class-mates were far from novices!

I shot in RAW for the first time. Although I have to confess that I still don't know how to develop it: that's safely filed away for another course. If you fancy doing a course to cover the technical basics of digital photography I thoroughly recommend LIOP, and there are a host of other fabulous-looking courses to check out beyond the beginners' class. They also do a series of really interesting lectures on Friday evenings, which I will definitely check out too.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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