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One of the great things that this blog has encouraged me to do is not only buy my first DSLR camera but to really start thinking about photography beyond a ‘point and click’ process.
However, as those of you with your own DSLRs might remember when you first got them, they’re not necessarily the most intuitive things in the world straight out the box and whilst they do often come with comprehensive manuals, who wants to sit there looking up every stupid acronym?
Learning to take a photograph isn’t just about understanding that AE on your camera standards for Automatic Exposure but it’s about understanding how to manipulate those settings to achieve the effects you want. Sometimes that is faithfully reproducing what your eye sees, sometimes that’s playing with exposure times and light levels to do something a little more creative.
For those of you not familiar with Craftsy, it is an online learning platform where you can buy video courses for a whole variety of crafty subjects, as well as feedback and support from the tutor running the course. For photography, this is an excellent format for learning as you just pause to check comparable settings on your own make of camera and it gives you flexible time periods for practicing the skills you’re learning, that are often weather and light dependent.
I decided to take Rick Allred’s ‘Basics of Digital Photography’ as a way of getting to grips with the settings on my camera and just being able to take photos that actually looked like what I was seeing. As anyone with experience of the ‘auto’ settings on DSLRs will tell you, sometimes it works great, sometimes you wonder what on earth the camera thought was going on. This course aims to get your shooting confidently on manual mode, as well as understanding the basics of composition.
What do you actually get for your money with this course? You can upload your photographs and get feedback from your fellow coursemates and Rick himself, as well as ask any questions you might have about the class content or the settings you need to take photographs of more tricky scenes, like lightening or fish swimming in a pond. There is a total of nearly 2 hours of video content split across the following lessons.
Lesson 1: Get to Know Your Camera
Lesson 2: Light and Exposure
Lesson 3: Shutter Speed
Lesson 4: Aperture
Lesson 5: ISO
Lesson 6: Shooting Modes
Lesson 7: Lenses
Lesson 8: Composition and Creativity
Lesson 9: Putting it All Together
These cover the very basics of learning about the ‘light triangle’ of ISO, exposure time, aperture size and how to change all of these, to enhancing and changing the types of photographs you can take with different lenses and filters as well as a little on thinking about the composition of a truly interesting photograph and creating interesting shots of more challenging spaces.
What is immediately obvious from watching the course is how much of a natural Rick is. His presentation style is very casual and relaxed, with a few wry jokes thrown in for good measure. All the lessons are incredibly well paced, and while you might find yourself intermittently pausing to check exactly where a setting is on your own camera, he often revisits concepts several times within a lesson and again later in the course so you do end up remembering everything.
Each lesson also comes with a ‘homework challenge’ to reinforce the concepts covered in the lesson and the course is structured in an incredible logical and sequential way. The early lessons focus on a lot of the terminology and understand the basics of lighting angles and the camera. However, instead of jumping straight to immediately shooting entirely on manual mode, introduces the several semi-automatic modes which are powerful tools in your own right but help you understand exactly how tuning each variable will affect the final shot.
What I really like is Rick will often take the same shot with several different settings so you can see a side-by-side comparison of how changing it affects the final photograph. This really is invaluable for some of the concepts I found trickier to immediately grasp, like how changing the aperture size not only affects the amount of light but also the depth of field in a photograph.
Although this course primarily on the technical side of ‘how to use your camera’, the final two lessons are all about composition and taking what could be described as more ‘artistic’ photographs. Hopefully by this stage you’re confident enough in the settings to start experimenting with these kinds of things and as Rick also shoots a variety of scenes through the course, from macro photography on flowers, to some of the fascinating Santa Fe scenery, you get some interesting tidbits on how you might want to use lighting for portrait photography or depth of field in macro shots.
In the digital age, where there’s a huge amount of information out there available for free, there’s not as much incentive to pay for content. However, what you get here is a professional product made by a professional. It’s accessible, well-thought out in terms of structure and delivery and most of all, it’s incredibly engaging. One of the biggest challenges of ‘self-directed’ learning is finding the motivation and the time to do it but Rick’s presentation style means each class is actually fun to watch, with a good few laughs along the way. Plus, it’s reassuring to see the professionals struggle to take the lens cap off as much as I do!
Overall, this is an excellent, enjoyable course that is perfect for beginners or as a refresher course. It’s a good, well-rounded course which is easily worth the money and makes a perfect starting point for doing a more advanced course on an area of photography you’re particularly interested in. I really hope Rick makes some more courses as this Is without a doubt one of the most effective uses of an online learning platform I’ve seen.
If you are confident enough with the settings on your camera that you feel you can absolutely control the outcome of a shot, then maybe a more focused course on the specifics of the photography you are interested in would be more beneficial but this is a fun, playful approach to the world of photography that is an excellent way to gain the knowledge and confidence to experiment.
If you want to try it, you can sign up for the course here.