When I finished grad school two years ago, I swore up and down I was done with school forever. And ever amen.
Well, this fall I broke my word and signed up for a photography class through UFM in Manhattan (it’s basically a community skillshare organization). And although the window A/C unit and old institutional building smell of the UFM conference room brought on flashbacks of my night classes in Eisenhower Hall, I managed to not immediately bolt out the door and run away as fast as I could.
(I jest, of course…kind of. Grad school was harrowing.)
The class ran through the month of September and was taught by a Manhattanite landscape photographer, Scott Bean. He’s really good at making Kansas look beautiful, and if you’re into landscapes or Kansas, you should definitely check out his work.
I didn’t necessarily sign up for the class to learn new things—I’d been through most ‘introduction to photography’ material in online courses, but I was pleased to pick up several new tips and tidbits, plus relearn a lot of things I hadn’t thought about or tried since learning them the first time.
Mostly, I was looking for a reason to practice and perhaps meet some fellow photographers—and I definitely accomplished both of those.
I even met a fellow blogger, Jill Carr, who’s just starting out with a food blog called Our Beef Kitchen. Basically, she’s an up-and-coming Ree Drummond.
The biggest draws to the class, though, were Saturday evening field trips to a few photogenic Manhattan locales.
Tuttle Creek Dam
For our first trip, we met below Tuttle Creek Dam (home of Country Stampede). I was a bit distracted, as I was trying to keep up with the end of the Husker – Oregon game (this was before we lost to Northern Illinois, when there was still some hope of having a good season).
Losing probably didn’t put me in the best mindset for taking beautiful photographs—perhaps that explains why my best sunset shots were of grasshoppers, creatures which I hate very much.
Washington Marlatt Memorial Park
The second field trip was my favorite…and not just because dogs were running around off-leash everywhere (though that was definitely a factor). We caught a gorgeous sunset over a little piece of prairie and practiced shooting in high dynamic range situations.
I went out with my spiffy new lens—a new 50mm prime. It wasn’t super well-suited for sweeping landscape shots, especially when I was trying to capture the leviathan clouds looming above me or fit in any significant portion of the sky and still have a horizon line (I had to basically set my camera on the ground for some of the pictures). But, hey, new toy. Obviously, I had to take it for a test drive.
It worked quite well for detail photos, though, like these pretty goldenrods and prairie grasses. And with a minimum aperture of f/1.8, though, it was perfect for flowers and other macro shots.
We stayed in town for our last outing. Though it was officially fall, there were still plenty of flowers in bloom, and flowers make for easy photograph subjects. It wasn’t my first trip there with a camera—we’d gone earlier in the summer when Josh’s parents were visiting—so I didn’t go quite as hog wild photographing flowers as I might have otherwise, but I did have fun playing around with composition, especially when the sun lined up with this fountain.
When we got there, Scott talked about trying to capture the whole experience of the fountain—not just the fountain itself (which was relatively uninspiring, especially with the light poles and telephone wires you could see in the background), but creating a feeling, visually expressing the sound of the water. Do you think I succeeded?
And just for fun: here are some of my more artsy photos that I had fun playing with in Photoshop.
The final verdict? School was pretty cool this time around.
HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE
When you have both very bright and very dark areas in your frame (for instance, when you’re shooting at the sun), cameras are often unable to capture details in the dark areas AND the light areas. Typically, you have to adjust your settings to get the details you want either above or below the horizon and lose detail in the other. That’s high dynamic range in a nutshell.
Aperture is basically the size of the hole in your camera’s lens that’s letting in light. Aperture values are often referred to in terms of f-stops. Smaller numbers (f/1.8) = bigger hole = more light getting into your lens more quickly.
When it comes to creative control, aperture determines your depth of field, or how much of an area is in focus (this is strictly in terms of distance from your camera, not side-to-side area). Low numbers give you a shallow depth of field and blurry backgrounds, while higher numbers have a larger area of focus.
The focal length of the lens determines its “zoom” factor. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length, meaning they can’t zoom in or out. This can be a bit of a disadvantage, but prime lenses are generally touted for sharper image quality since you have less glass getting in the way. You can also generally find prime lenses with wider minimum apertures than with zoom lenses (unless you want to add hundreds or thousands of dollars to the price).