May 2008

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Welcome to an OPEN HOUSE session of Introduction to Digital Photography one of the courses offered at SFX in Clapham South and taught by Karl Grupe.

While we have only two hours with you today we hope to cover some truths and misconceptions about digital photography.

On tap for today is:

Is digital photography working for you? Most of us have made the transition over to digital from film, but still experience no improvement in our work. Why is that? What did we think digital meant to us? What did the salesmen say? What do we actually own and how can we use it?

So let’s start jammin’.

What is photography then? What are we doing? What is the process?


All along the process we have control or we don’t have control of certain technical components. Control allows us to cheat a bit on reality — over emphasise, exaggerate, illustrate — all things which take us away from simply documenting and into photographing.

Before we look at some digital work let’s look at some cheap plastic camera work — nothing digital here just plain light, film and a pinhole into a light tight box — Toy

Now that you see what can be done with plastic cameras let’s look at what you have — digital compact or DSLR. What is it good at? For that we go to the link taking us to the course material and the components which we need to learn and work with.

Knowing your gear, what its good at doing and what its not and using it to your advantage. That’s a secret worth knowing.

Finally — the most expensive cameras and lenses in the world DO help — but preparing, watching, seeing and REACTING is the work flow of a photographer.

Good luck!

Well first off — CONGRATS to you Man U fans in the course — hopefully you enjoyed your moment last night and now are ready for some photography!

I will be with you again after the break – which by the way is next week – so you have Julia tonight. This course was selected as one of the popular and successful courses to be spotlighted at this week’s Adult Learners week — so I am down the road playing ambassador for the course.

Tonight you should have reshot the work you brought in last week. The idea behind the assignment is that once you review, you correct and improve and hopefully that was the case for you. Reviewing the process and approach is all about gaining experience in a field or subject area, and each time you photograph a topic – from flowers to people — there will be a new set of circumstances which will challenge you — thus forming a knowledge base. If you look at how professional photographers approach their work they will say that research and preparation made it possible for the shoot to be successful. They may also tell you — and this is the case for sure with many wildlife and nature photographers – that they had to come back to a scene more than once and reshoot it. It is then in the reshoot everything came together, all at once, in a matter of fractions of a second. The point is they were ready, they were prepared.

In this way I hope you found repeating the assignment enlightening in terms of a more acquired knowledge about your subject and your approach. In this repetition you are forming the basis of becoming an “expert” in your field and that will account for something should you approach it again in the future.


In class assignment – 20minutes

On a sheet divided into two columns like last week, look at your work and decide where new problems came up, and which problems from the first approach you were able to change into solutions. Spend some time now on this before we go on to the next part.


What REALLY COUNTS in this exercise is finding solutions to the challenges to improve your photography. What this spells out is some times the problems can be with the camera — technical bits and pieces like metering and shutter speed and aperture stuff — what you are learning about in this class – but also it can be things which have nothing to do with the camera — they are in real time and you have to make practical, creative (or both) decisions in order for the photograph to become successful. Things like:

  • changing the time of day you chose to shoot
  • the time of year you chose to shoot
  • the selection of the background
  • the angle or quality of the light
  • the quality of your subject
  • your point of view
  • the fashion of the times
  • your subjects interest in being photographed
  • the time you have to work with a subject
  • the security around a subject
  • your confidence and knowledge of a subject

(NOTE – This would be a good point for anyone in the class to add their experience and what affected their own work to the class and discussion can take place in how you solved it. )
The point is that photography is so much more than just what is going on in the camera. It is about what is going on IN FRONT of the camera. The camera can be at times the last part of the equation — it can simply be the device which freezes everything you set up in the experience. Its role is nothing more than a recording. If you look at it in this way you understand that good photography is not so much about having the best cameras and lenses but about how you arrange those things happening in life and freeze it. So the responsibility of good photography lies not only in knowing how to calculate light and arrange shutter speed and aperture — but how to arrange and design.


In class assignment 2

The “decisive moment” is a term coined by photographer Henri Cartier Bresson. The idea is that there is a moment in time, in any activity where the camera can capture the alignment of life in such a way it becomes nothing more than art. I am paraphrasing it here, but is the basic idea.

Hopefully this site can be pulled up MAGNUM, and his portfolio run- PORTFOLIO .

As you look at the images examine how simplistic they are — this was not with digital photography… it is simply arranging the technical bits to meet the ambient light bits and then taking the photograph. These examples show how important knowing and arranging life into the camera is in the construction and success of a photograph. Please read his quote on the left of the screen — it sums it all up.



You have two weeks to get this done so you should be able to do this.

You are to use your cameras in automatic mode for this one. YES AUTOMATIC!!!  The reason is that it will free you up from any sort of technical thinking and have you focus arranging real life in to photographs. The only thing is to shut off your camera flash and capture everything under existing light conditions AND if you can change your camera to black and white mode and shoot all the images in black and white.

Use your camera to photograph images recording life and living. Looking for the DECISIVE MOMENT, capture images at the peak of their happening — when the moment  recorded tells us a story. This is your first time at this so treat it as an experiment, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just watch life going on and select areas of it where you see something happening or about to happen. Look at the HCB work again and again and interpret and apply. Let it communicate to you and then go out and see if you can create it yourself.

For our next class a portfolio of 15 images are due.  All black and white and in Flickr ready as a slide show.

Have fun with it folks!



Wow— I like this new format for showing off the courses on offer at CSM. Great job and idea.

So for those of you interested in workshops/ courses I am leading for the summer —

Art of the Snapshot (pg 37) Mon – Fri 10:00 – 16:00, 1 week, 21 July – 25 July ’08

Photographer’s London — DATE TBA

Photography and the Narrative (pg 38) Tue – Fri 10 – 16:00 4 days, 26 Aug – 29 Aug ’08

Toy Cameras (pg 39) Mon – Fri 10:00 – 16:00, 1 week, 11 August – 15 August ’08 (see book)

Join quick and early. Summer courses go quite fast.


This one just came in from Rob — Thanks Rob —


Howdy gang.

Well first off sorry I could not be with you tonight. However  you have “good cop” Julia in my place and she gets to see all your work you produced last week — hope she is impressed!

Today you should have two things — a daisy image and a still life example you shot over the week — both on Flickr.

First let’s look at the daisy. What you need to be observing is now that you were able to create your own maually and technically correct photograph, how did you go about composing it — how did you organise the information on your “canvas” – the viewfinder. Did you simply point the camera at it and shoot or did you get in there and make a photograph? How many of you began to think about the importance of composition?

Take some time to walk around the class and look at the Flickr images on all the computers. Look at how people arranged the photograph. Look at the details — look how the grass falls, and the lines of the stems cut across the picture. Look at the quality of the daisies- are they full and vibrant, radiating life and health, or are they dried up and looking tired. Look at the camera angle — is the photographer an ant, climbing through a jungle, or are you a six foot giant looking down on these tiny buds and finding pattern. Did you do a portrait of a daisy or a landscape of daisies? How many of you photographed in portrait mode and how many of you in landscape mode — and did either support the composition of the work?

Phew — we got alot of mileage out of those little flowers — so now we can move on to the homework assignment. Please load up your image you took on your own and have it in front of you. Take a plain piece of paper and draw a line down the middle and write out two columns — see the sample below.

With you image up there on the screen, start listing the points in each column. Be as detailed as you can be. Really spend the time to think through the technical challenges and triumphs and then all the other factors which entered the equation — from creative to logistics. And if you did not do the assignment then you will also be able to do this as well because the reasons you didn’t will be answered under the “challenges” column.

Once you are done and you have talked through these as a class with Julia don’t throw this paper out — this will be a scorecard for you to reflect on as we go through each assignment and you can measure your progress or what things changed or remained the same from assignment to assignment.

So during this discussion meter reading, shutter speed and aperture control and maybe even ISO will be the hot topics to discuss. Julia will assist you here.

For next week then — the assignment is to go out and shoot the same thing again — the same topic and this time pay attention to the weak areas and try to resolve them. This work is then to be posted for next week on Flickr — and we can look at the before and after.

See you next week.

Great class last night folks. Hope you enjoyed it and took away some of what was said.

First it was very important to establish the ability to SEE instead of just look at something. Even something so ordinary, if you spend time observing and developing a curiosity for it, you can take that and trasnform it into something wonderful. And many of your drawings reflected that. They were very good.

It didn’t matter in the quality of the drawing – what mattered was the process behind it — the perspective that you took, the observation that you made. This is the real creative process. Just because you feel you can’t draw does not take away from the creative path you took to get your message you message “out there”. This is why being shy or making excuses for lack of a skill can be a dangerous thing because it erodes any attempt at communicating. Its like having an idea but refusing to talk about it for fear of how you are going to say it. But once you get it out there, in the open, then it will shaped itself.

Next we looked at the “focal length” or viewpoint that each of you took. some went wide while others went for that close up sort of “shot”. Some filled the page while others took a portion of it. Some were technicians while others were abstractionists. And some struggled because you wished to be technicians bit felt you did not have the skill to apply to your desired look — ahh a common complaint that transfers over to photography. This is where trial and error are important tests along the way of communicating an idea. Photography is not a perfect science. It requires test, observation, mistakes, and accidents until you arrive at what it is you wish to communicate.


We looked at documenting a subject and creating an emotional statement based on that same subject. We began to observe and list how we add elements to a subject to draw out an emotive reaction from our viewer. People will be easier than still life because people have have expression which is an expressway to communicating a feeling or emotion. Still life is much more difficult to work with — you have to turn the inanimate into something living, breathing.

For next week — have two photographs — one a simple document snapshot of what it is you will be working on to creating an image filled with emotive context and then the emotive shot itself. A kind of “before and after”.

Good luck with it —  and remember you are EXPERIMENTING HERE — this is the only way you develop yourself as a photographer — there is no right or wrong in this — no exactness — it is like trying to produce music — it may come in a flash of inspiration or be something that takes weeks or months to develop. The main thing is to simply be doing. The rest will uncover itself along the journey.

See you next week.

This in from Sarah – one of my students. Thank you Sarah.

Postcards from the Park photography competition — go check it out over HERE. I got the address right off of Google but there was a broken link thing happening when I tried it. Maybe that will be fixed asap.

The closing date is August 1, 2008 and believe it or not they are taking in MOBILE PHONE photos as well. Wow!

These photos of course will be turned into postcards and be part of a national exhibition.

But a good place to see if you can get yourself some publication and as I always say — just get it out there.



UPS shows up and I miss him. Instead I get my neighbor shouting across the drive “HEY!” as he waves the brown flat package. Heart starts racing. I know what it is. First impressions about Blurb – the packaging is great. My book is treated with respect.

(open package and sealed in plastic wrap is THE book….looks nice in plastic… open plastic and there it is….hmph…turned out better than i thought).

What a fantastic exercise this was in creating this sort of product. I am very pleased with Blurbs service, product and result. I hope my students feel the same when they look at their work in print.


I apologise for the image if its looking a bit rough — a camera phone image it is and I had to shoot it on VGA mode.

Well this years BAPLA show came and went. It was in Islington Business Center, which was aptly named “The Greenhouse” for its brightly curved ceiling and warm humid air in the building. I have to say that I REALLY enjoyed myself there this year. I came away from stock photography and picture libraries feeling a great sense of community. Once you strip away the corporate image houses from the playing field you enter a world of people who seem to just really love looking and trading pictures. It seems like a nice place to be again. I am not saying the big guns have no love for imagery — I know plenty of people who have worked for them and love what they do. And Alamy was there and with their 11.65 Million images and counting — and that’s no small turkey. But there was this humility there today and that I really like. I felt hopeful — something which I haven’t for some time in this industry. It was also great to once again see catalogues and paper products dominating the display tables and not the silver coasters, known as DVD’s and CD’s, being handed out.

I do have one beef though, so bare with me. I am going to vent here. Maybe eveyone was too nice, like sweet lambs in the field not knowing a wolf was among them — but there was. Amidst all the libraries and agencies who were respecting and contibuting towards the industry with a respectable pricing margin so that everyone wins, Mr. Microstock and his crows were huddled and waiting. Booooo to you Mr. Microstock guy!! You sit there with your polished image selling for a quid or less to the photographer and you think you have it made. I have words for you. You’re a parasite, coming in at the bottom of the barrel because you think cheap is better. Trying to collapse the market with your “let’s make loads of money by profiting off the less informed or the fame starved photographer” business ethos. Of course there are winners in the the micro stock market game. But those success stories are a head fake against what is really happening within the market – especially to those new to photography or to stock. The next “stepping stone” for young photographers is a stock library where you pay to be on their site and in return for an image “sale” is a byline. See how long you stay swimming in that pool folks. Had photographers known a bit more and refused to sign up to the microstock model then it would never have existed, and we would not see the next drop in the level of earning power for the working photographer. I hope this cockroach in the industry starves to death with photographers wising up. Otherwise we are all going down with it into the garbage where it came from. But I have been in the industry long enough to witness that there are too many photographers who are taken advantage of, giving away huge profit margins for whatever reason. I am sorry folks, but I cannot understand why a photographer would be happy with a 20p sale on an image they worked so hard for. Of course if the numbers are there and you rack up 2000+ sales then the volume saves you. But if its volume you want then I guess you approach photography from a different level than I see it right now. Maybe its the same as food. You go to a restaurant and have the food cooked right there for you, or you buy the restaurant’s brand straight out of the freezer at your supermarket and cook it at home. It’s then only all in the taste.

Now that that is off my chest. Stock is still being bought through the rights protected small guy and the rights protected big guy. This made me happy. VERY HAPPY. And people are wanting to pay for it – so thank you to those clients. So to you new photographers looking to get into the market — respect yourself and find a library that will give you a fair deal and what you deserve. If we all do this Mr. Microstock guy will be like some tumor which came and went. And so tonight I go to bed thinking that, hopefully, there is still a long way for microstock to go to be a serious pain in traditional stocks side.

Over and out.

Good work today gang.

Just a recap — you experienced the following:

Observing ambient light to make a calculation about your ISO.

Adjusted the ISO to set your camera sensitivity and give you a better window to work within.

Relied on your camera meter to tell you if the current shutter speed and aperture measurements were in the ball park or way out there.

Selected shutter speed, aperture or a combination of both to create your exposure.

Not bad for class 2!!!

So now for the week ahead.

Please post ONE daisy photo on flickr. And over the week create, IN MANUAL MODE, a still life image and post on flickr. We are looking for a couple things here to suit the brief. First making sure that you can operate comfortably in manual mode and use your meter and make the correct adjustments. Next, we are looking at where your compositional skills lie.

Have fun with it, spend time really looking and studying your subject — because now — with manual operation — you are becoming real photographers.



Ok now that the PR is done let’s continue. Last week I believe you were not able to access this for reasons beyond both Julia and my control — but here you are now (I hope!).
This will be your space to come and visit over the remaining weeks ahead to collect assignments you have missed or to just keep in touch with what is going on with workshops or other things photographic.

The link above – SFX | Intemediate Digital Photography is yours.

Last week you were given a few tasks so we could see where strengths and weaknesses lie as a class. After marking all the papers the two common areas are in metering and focal length.  We will begin the course by examining each of these in isolation.

Before we do that though, (thought you’d get away from it eh?), you also have an assignment due. For those who missed completing it I’ll take the time to say it here –it’s very important to have work completed because this course revolves and evolves around your response to the briefs and the work we have at hand to examine. Photography is all about the product — in this case imagery – so having product here on time is paramount.

Tonight’s schedule is looking like this:

First – we go through the written work and take a peek at what you know or don’t know. Some areas were not so black and white/ right or wrong answers — I was looking for your knowledge base and if you were in the ballpark or outside waiting for the ball to fly over the fence.

Second – You will be exhibiting your work that you photographed over the week. The things to take away from this exhibition is to first expose your creative (as well as technical) side to the class. Start getting into the feel of realising that as a photographer you are also communicating and your approach to your communication is very important. Observe how others approached the assignment and what processes they employed at getting that shot you may envy. Think through what forces were working for or against you on this assignement and take note of them so that in future work you can avoid the same pitfalls. If I use myself as an example– I cannot shoot when very hungry – especially when travelling. I feel defeated and tired and not inspired because I am hungry. Also I cannot work well when I need to be somewhere else shortly. A recent trip to Scotland showed that my photography changed from the technical medium format art work I was looking to shoot to the more personal toy camera approach because I was in a rush to get back home.

This assignment will be obeserving first if you understood the requirement — next it will observe how you creatively worked with the properties involved.

This should take you to the end of the class. If it doesn’t then please give a read to this before we move into studying focal lengths. If it does then FOR NEXT WEEK PLEASE READ.

Oh — all of you should have received my email earlier today. It is your class list so that in the future if you need to ring someone about homework — they are only a few finger tap tap taps away.

See you next week.

Rainy weather plan: Topic: Purchasing a Digital Camera.
Confused over the options that exist for buying a digital camera?

Looking to upgrade but not sure into what?

Photography is developing into a serious hobby and you are now looking to buy something with more creative potential?
We look at the categories of cameras which are out there – from digital point and shoot to high end DSLR and how you can make your purchase more fulfilling by understanding your needs and sourcing out the correct camera for them.


Sunny weather plan: The Outdoor Portrait.
With the weather now brighter and warmer, after a 45 minute discussion looking at examples indoors, we move to the gorgeous outside to examine what are the important aspects that come into photographing portraits in the outdoor light. We look at subject matter, location, equipment, light, camera angles and body expressions.

Feel free to bring a friend to have as a model!

See you soon!


Welcome to the first class. Unfortunately I am unable to make it here tonight but you have Julia at the helm for the first class so you are in good hands. (Julia you can use this place to brag about yourself here!) For the next ten weeks this space will be your place to find notes and get an idea of what has been going on — just in case you missed it. So please mark it down in your notes. To see a selection of notes from other classes — you can see it under this link.

I understand that tonight is a full house so we best get busy.

We have to go through some admin stuff first — so that means checking all the following boxes:

1. Fire exits and procedure.

2. VERY IMPORTANT – toilets

3. Smoking

4. To break or not to break – now that is THE question.

5. Class start times and end times and importance of getting the homework done for your own learning.

6. If there is any one needing additional assistance in terms of learning to speak to Julia at the end of the class.

7. Oh yes — almost forgot — eating and drinking in the class — but please not around the computers.

8. Handout of student ID cards — if they are available.

9. No class May 29th — MIDTERM.

10. Passwords for computers.

( I think now will be a good time for everyone to introduce themselves ).

Done that — Ok.

Well here we go … learning about these amazingly complexed tools in our hands in the form of the camera.

Before we begin though thought you might like a look ahead to our weeks together.

W1. Introduction/ Exploration/ introduction of vocabulary/ registration to online gallery.

W2. Shutter speed explore/ lab 1.

W3. Shutter speed review/ lab 1 due/ Aperture explore/ lab 2.

W4. Aperture review/ lab 2 due/ Metering/lab 3.

W5. Lab 3 due/ Focal length/ white balance/ image type and file size.

W6. Visit to professional lab.

W7. Aesthetics and Concepts – lecture in composition with “line” lab.

W8. Line due. Review and discuss/ Mood in photography with “colour” lab.

W9. Colour lab due/ Light in photography with “light” lab.

W10. Light lab due/Class reviews and comments/Exhibition.


We begin the course by introducing the terminology and concepts behind the following:

By the end of the class most of you will able to successfully produce your first manual exposure and understand what was technically happening between the subject matter and the available light and the combination of iso, shutterspeed, and aperture you chose and metered for.

Your homework over the next week is to set up a photographic account to view your images in places like Flickr or something similar.

Have a great week!