Lessons for Beginning Photographers: An Introduction

A friend asked whether I’d like to volunteer to teach a beginners’ photography class at a local detention center for youth who have been convicted of a crime.  I’m now in my second month of that assignment, and am enjoying it, not only because it gives me a chance to help youth at risk, but also because it demands that I reflect on my photographic practice, and be able to summarize what I’ve learned in simple language.

E900I’ve decided to publish for CyberKenBlog readers what I’ve been sharing with those young men.  The following post was my first class presentation.  If you are a beginning photographer you might be interested to follow the posts in this series.

First Steps in Using a Digital Point-and-Shoot Camera

Welcome to this beginning class on photography.

Photography is a modern art form. It was begun in 1839 by the Frenchman, Louis Daguerre, and has progressed rapidly since then.

Photography (photo + graphy) means “drawing with light.” Here is a sampling of the many ways photography has been practiced:

nature photography
landscape photography
studio photography
still life photography
street photography
event photography
documentary photography
portrait photography
architectural photography
abstract photography
aerial photography
underwater photography
microscopic photography
astrophotography
spectrographic photography
x-ray photography
infrared photography
kirlian photography

Up until very recently photography was done with photographic film, mostly black and white. Some photographers still prefer to use film, but most use digital cameras for the following reasons:

  • no need to buy film
  • you can see your work immediately
  • the convenience of processing and sharing photos

We will be using point-and-shoot cameras, those that require little manual adjustment for taking good pictures.

Some advantages of point-and-shoot cameras  are:

  • They are small and light, therefore great for travel.
  • They are easy to use
  • They are inconspicuous
  • They are comparatively inexpensive

The disadvantages of point-and-shoot cameras derive from the fact that they have small sensors, and therefore:

  • They cannot produce blurred backgrounds
  • Prints made from them must be kept small; or else one risks the loss of clarity.
  • Their lenses are generally not as excellent as those of more expensive cameras.

Most of the learning in this class will deal with technique: how to use a digital point-and-shoot camera skillfully. We will cover the  following subjects, which all relate to technique,  in this first class:

  • the names for parts and functions of a digital camera
  • how a digital camera works
  • holding a point-and-shoot camera properly
  • how to take pictures with the automatic setting
  • when and how to use flash

Your assignment between classes will be to experiment with your class camera. Take pictures! See what you can find of interest to photograph. At the next class meeting we will have a look at your work, and begin to learn about the following characteristics of good photographs:

They show good exposure. A good exposure is one which allows one to see adequate detail in the light areas and the dark areas of the picture, that is, details adequate for the photographer’s intent. A badly exposed photo will look too dark (underexposed), or washed out (overexposed). It will leave the viewer dissatisfied because detail that is important to the picture’s intent is missing.

They show good focus. A good photograph will generally have a center of interest, something that draw’s the viewer’s attention. If this center of attention is blurry, then in most cases it will not serve its purpose well. The viewer will most likely be put off by this blurriness, for it seems inappropriate to a center of attention.

They show good composition: Excellent composition is a subjective quality, but one which nevertheless makes the difference between just average photos and artistic ones.

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