I started "taking" digital photographs in 2005. I started "making" digital photographs several years later. When you first get a camera, you have a lot to learn. As you try to figure out all the settings and features of your camera, you point it at "stuff" and click and then look at the display to see what you got. I call this clicking and hoping approach "taking" a photo. And there's nothing wrong with that! It's how you learn. The great thing about digital, as compared with film, is that your experiments cost you nothing but time. Lots and lots of time looking at the photos you took, deleting the bad ones, tweaking the better ones.
Once you start to understand all those settings and features, you can make choices about what you want your photo to look like before you snap the shutter release. You can think about things like exposure and perspective and depth of field and make adjustments to get the photo you want. I call that "making" a photo creating something on purpose, instead of just getting lucky.
Over the years, I have snapped the shutter release tens of thousands of times on several types of cameras. Each one behaves differently and I like each one for different reasons. My skinny little point-and-shoot slips easily into my pocket for a long backpacking trip when I mostly want to capture memories. My digital SLR is the camera of choice, though, when I want shots for illustration or to make art (which is not to say that I haven't illustrated or made art with the point-and-shoot!).
Is this an interesting composition?
As I write this article, I am in the process of pulling together photographs for an exhibit that will be on display in the Lakewood Memorial Library Heritage Room in April of 2014. Most of the photos I will show will be relatively new. To fill a few gaps, though, I'll dip into my past photos. It's been fun to look through old work and new to make a coherent collection that will hang nicely together. I can see exactly where I finally understood exposure compensation. It's clear when I figured out how to reliably capture images with a shallow depth of field not just by accident. Sometimes I even find photos made using a technique that I forgot I had learned and I make a note to try that again.
It's been frustrating, too. I'm reminded of the time when I didn't make backup copies of my work and lost a year's worth of originals when my computer crashed. And I wonder how I should have tagged photos so I could find them more easily now. (I know I have a backlit photo of a certain flower ... but when did I take it and which external hard drive is it on?)
I was fortunate along the way to have wonderful, patient mentors who helped me learn who are still helping me learn.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, from 1:30-4 p.m., I would like to mentor those of you who have new cameras and trying to figure out those settings and features. I'd like to help you learn some things that will help you start "making" photographs. I'd like to help you write a roadmap of discovery that you can take with you after class so that you can keep on learning.
Given that you will all have different cameras, this will not be an easy task! My plan is to teach generic topics that all cameras should have, then pair you up with others in class who have similar cameras so you can figure out how your camera implements that feature. We'll talk about composition, light, exposure compensation, depth of field and more. We'll snap a lot of experimental shots and look at them on the camera display screen, critiquing each other's work. We'll help each other "make" pictures.
If this sounds like a barrel of fun, you can sign up at our website at jamestownaudubon.org, or call 569-2345.
Jamestown Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road. While our mailing address is Jamestown, we are actually in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa.
Jennifer Schlick is program director at Jamestown Audubon.