Taking an intensive beginner photography course with LiveStudios
Most people take photos to capture moments – be it for personal memories or work-related purposes. But beyond the average photography that people do with their camera phones or compact cameras, I want my photos to tell a story, to portray a message delivered via an entirely comprehensive thought process behind taking that photo.
There are different types and genres of photography, meaning different things to different people for different purposes. What differentiates the photos is perspective – What one photo means to you may be nothing to someone else; for example, photos that make many people go “Wahhhhh” are popular shots that may hold no meaning to you.
I’ve always liked capturing moments – A little background of my humble photography journey:
I was always the girl in class that had a camera with her – from those disposable cameras for school excursions and outings, to instant Polaroid joycams, to pink plastic film cameras. I got my first digital camera in 2001 (the Olympus CAMEDIA C2020Z) then on to a series of digital cameras including the RICOH Caplio G3 model M, Sony DSC T9 and the last digital camera I had was the Panasonic Lumix LX3. I still have my whole box of negatives from the film camera days and whenever my friends want photos they come to me to get them!
I bought my first DSLR – the Nikon D60 – in 2008 to complement my journalistic work and subsequently changed to the Nikon D90 in 2009. I had the 18-55mm VRII kit lens with the D60 and I got a 70-200mm VRII zoom lens for it, but I got tired of changing lens especially when shooting motorsports. I can’t change lens quicker than the cars, so when I got the D90, I upgraded the 18-105mm VRII kit lens to the 18-200mm VRII F3.5 lens. Recently I just got the 50mm F1.4 lens – a prime lens with a fixed focal length. My photography is mostly for cars and motorsports, and I do a lot of panning where one race weekend can take a few thousand clicks from my camera.
I have never attended a photography class before, although I always had the intention to. I always wanted to buy the manuals, the books or attend those free Nikon photography classes. But I delayed that intention and procrastinated until I managed to grab a friend with me to attend the Weekend Intensive Beginner Photography Course B23 by LiveStudios Interactive Photography so I can explore the capabilities of my camera deeper and also improve my own skills.
LiveStudios is a Singapore-based company that specialises in ‘live’ photography, where their team of professional photographers use wireless-enabled cameras that immediately project photos onto a mega screen within seconds of the shutter. Serving as a form of entertainment for the event, these photos are then printed out on credit card-sized photocards as souvenirs for the guests.
Conducted by the boss Willy Foo, founder and CEO of LiveStudios, we spent 12 hours over the weekend (10am to 5pm on Saturday and 3pm to 10pm on Sunday) understanding the basics of photography. It’s usually a 3-hour class over 4 weeks but this time it’s all into 2 days, which means having quite a bit to absorb! Fret not, the class was delivered in a comprehensive yet entertaining way and it didn’t turn out overwhelming or confusingly head-scratching.
Day 1 was mostly theory and simple photography exercises around the classroom. We were introduced to photography, what the different types of cameras and lenses are and then we went into the fundamentals of how to take a photo.
There are 3 basic variables that make up exposure (the brightness, not the colour): Shutter, Aperture and ISO.
Shutter speed is essentially how long the lens is open so it controls how long the light enters and hence has the ability to freeze or blur motion. If you encounter handshakes in your photos, keep the shutter speed at 1/focal length (that is, how many mm your lens is at) or faster.
Aperture is the opening of the lens and controls how fast the light enters. Aperture is indicated in F numbers in an inverse manner so the smaller the F number means the bigger the aperture. Just think of it as a tap filling up a pail of water – the smaller the tap opening, the longer it will take to fill the pail up. Similarly, smaller aperture (larger F number) means less light. Controlling the depth of field, a bigger aperture (ie. smaller F number) means having a shallow depth of field and less things in focus. So if you want to achieve more background blur (bokeh), increase your aperture (ie. smaller F number).
ISO is how sensitive the sensor is and the higher the ISO, the noisier your image gets (sometimes you notice how your photos turn out grainy?).
Understanding the relationship of Shutter + Aperture + ISO = Exposure, all you have to do is balance the variables. Sounds easy in theory but takes lots of trials and errors to make it second nature!
I got this lucky shot in just 2 tries:
Some questions you might want to ask yourself when trying to get the right exposure for your photos:
1. Is it too noisy?
Look at your ISO – generally, if the setting you’re in is bright, use lower ISO and vice versa.
2. Is it too bright or too dark?
You can play around with the shutter, aperture and ISO. Note that if you change one, you have to compensate it with another variable.
3. Is there motion blur?
Check your shutter speed. To minimise handshake, shoot at 1/focal length or faster.
4. Do you want more parts of the scene in focus?
Use aperture – small aperture (large F number) gives a greater depth of field and more things will be in focus. Good for landscape photography!
5. Do you want more or less bokeh?
Again, use aperture – increase your aperture (ie. smaller F number) for more background blur (bokeh). If you are shooting portraits for example, you would want the subjects to be sharper and the background to be more blur, so use a larger aperture to have a thin focus, thus the background which is not in focus will be thrown into a blur.
Next, we learnt about basic focusing – the standard way is to centre your focus on the subject, half depress the shutter, recompose (ie. shift your subject to the left or right or wherever you want in your photo) then squeeze the shutter by gently sliding your finger off instead of letting go of the entire finger and jerking the camera in the process. There is a minimum focusing distance for your lens, so explore that and you’ll know how near you can go to your subject.
Getting to know our cameras better
Willy then took us through the scene modes and the shooting modes of our cameras. Most of the time we should be shooting in Aperture priority (A mode where aperture is fixed) and if the shutter speed is too low then increase ISO to compensate. For me, I use Shutter priority (S mode where shutter speed is fixed) when shooting motorsports. Manual priority (M mode) will give you full controls over aperture and shutter. When there is inconsistent lighting, use A mode over M mode.
Exposure compensation with EV
In A or S modes, you can use +/- EV to tell the camera how dark or bright you want the scene to be. For example, the t-shirt in the photo below is dark so the camera would automatically make the scene brighter (left). You then use – EV to tell the camera that you want the scene to be dark (right).
Conversely, if you are shooting a white wall or snow, you want to use + EV to tell the camera that the scene is supposed to be bright, otherwise it will automatically make the scene darker. In instances where you find yourself limited by EV (when in A or S mode), take the readings from there and switch to M mode then play around with the variables to achieve your desired exposure.
Moving along, we learnt how to read histograms and we went into colour of photo next.
White balance will help to neutralise the colour cast. The 3 commonly used white balance settings are:
For the bluest effect, move towards lower colour temperature; for warm yellow, move towards higher colour temperature. It’s a personal preference here – some people might want to shoot what the eye can see, while others prefer a ‘cooler’ feel to the photo and may want to shoot at a lower colour temperature.
Sometimes, we want to make the subject in focus very sharp and have the background as blur as possible. To maximise bokeh, just remember this: minimum distance from camera to subject and maximum distance of subject to background. That means, longest focal length, largest aperture, minimum focusing distance and furthest background!
Composing a photo
Photo composition is generally guided by these factors: Rule of thirds (dividing the image into a 3×3 board), leading or converging lines to lead the eyes to the subject, framing, symmetry or diagonals. How you decide to compose your photo is part of the thought process behind taking the photo…
Day 2 of the class started at Clarke Quay where we had our practical session!
Practising high contrast shots with EV
Practising composition of photos
Practising panning shots
For panning shots, make sure your body completes the 180-degree follow-through turn. The photo only starts being taken after you press the shutter so even if you’re not pressing the shutter, just follow through with the motion.
Practising slow shutter shots
For this shot, I used a shutter speed of 1/2 (in S mode) to try and capture blurred images of the moving people, while those stationary will come out sharp. Get yourself into a stable position first to avoid handshake.
Practising silhouette shots
Shoot at the sky in A mode first. Once you get the colour of the sky you like/want, take the readings and then apply them in M mode. To get a silhouette shot, the light has to be coming from behind the subject.
Practising how to shoot through a glass
To get rid of the reflections when shooting through a glass, get your lens as close as possible to the glass surface, touching it on the glass even. Then get a black surface to block the external light.
Willy doing a demo:
I shot these crabs through the glass tank:
Shooting during Magic Time
‘Magic Time’ is the time before sunrise after twilight dawn, or after sunset before twilight dusk where the sky gives a very nice blue. Use the Lighttrac app on your iPhone to get the timings so you can set up and prepare. Sunset is very short (in equator it’s about 1 min 45 secs) so ‘Magic Time’ is very short (about 10 min in equator) - from when the sun touches the horizon to when it goes up or down completely. Don’t waste time trying to run to multiple points to get it – Just decide on what angle you want and stay in that area.
Notice how the hue of blue changes as ‘Magic Time’ ends its run…
After the practical session we headed back to their studio for a little more theory on some simple introduction to flash, tripods, printing, photo-enhancing software and online resources for our continued learning in the comfort of our own home.
It was a long weekend but now, I better understand the basic concepts of photography and there is no end to learning. This class just brushes the tip of the iceberg, opening up the world of photography to all of us in a less intimidating way. You don’t need to have an ambition of becoming a professional photographer to attend such classes – it’s more of being able to understand your camera better so you can make the best out of it within your own capabilities. You don’t need a DSLR or some high-tech camera for this beginner class – any camera with M mode suffices.
I will keep putting what I learnt to practice and hopefully, adjusting the settings for the right exposure will soon become second nature to me – akin to shifting gears in a manual car (ie. automatically knowing what to do without having to pause and think).
I meet many photographers in my line of work, all with different styles and talents. I get advice and tips from everywhere and sometimes I get varying suggestions about the same thing. Ultimately there is no right or wrong, and while there are basic methods to taking a photo, how you want the photo to be taken to deliver a particular message is down to your purpose and intention.
It’s all about perspective!
Some advice before you go for this class:
- Wear dark-coloured clothing as you might want to climb on parapets to get shots
- Wear shorts or pants as you will be squatting or sitting for shots
- Ensure enough memory space (I was shooting with a 32GB SD card), or bring along a spare SD card
- Ensure your camera batteries are charged, or bring along a spare battery
- Try to travel light for the practical session outdoors
IN A NUTSHELL:
- Class size is kept manageable so each person gets ample one-on-one instructor time
- Notes are available online so you don’t need to scribble away furiously during class and can pay attention properly
- Does not enforce a particular style of shooting and encourages you to develop your own style of shooting with the basic techniques of photography
- This is an intensive course so it might take a little while for a complete beginner to warm up
- Students of the class hail from all walks of life with varying photography objectives and levels of understanding so those with more knowledge have to be patient (Just re-familiarise yourself with the concepts again then!)
An essential photography 101 course for anyone who wants to take photos, regardless of purpose but for the sole objective of learning how to use your camera to take the shots you want.
Weekend Intensive Beginner Photography Course B23
Course Duration: 12 hours over two days
Registration Fee: S$300
Look out for their upcoming courses here.
52 Niven Road
Tel: +65 6250 0791
Office Hours: Mondays to Friday, 12pm to 7pm
For more of my photos taken during the class, view here.