The language of photography

I’m learning a new language. I’ve previously tried Italian and the language of nursing, pedagogy, teaching, health economics, statistics, and research to name a few.

However,  my new language is about light, colour, contrasts and shadows. It’s technical too with shutter speeds, f stops, depth of field, ISO’s focal points and even hyperfocal. distances. There’s a whole lot of mathematics in this language including Fibonacci numbers, which even  Melvin Bragg has identified as being significant.  Rules abound; thirds, odds, symmetry, orientation and shape. And then there’s the equipment, DSLR’s, SLR’s, bridge, compact , small, medium and large format ones, mirrorless, and I’m sure there’s many more awaiting my discovery. Oh, and there’s accessories (bare necessities) such as lenses. It’s understood by the language experts, that the general lenses you get with a camera package are pretty nondescript, but they do give you a starter for 10. Then, when you develop your language skills further and know what type of photos you want to take you need to buy different lenses: prime, zoom, telephoto, wide-angle, fisheye, etc., all of which have different numbers on them to signify aperture and help with focal length calculations. Oh, by now you need a bag to carry them around. Perhaps a tripod to hold them steady when taking a long duration shot, say anything longer than 1/100th of a second.

It’s a challenge, and, that’s before you’re wanting to know which button, menu system or number on your camera you need to get a photo.

If you were writing a theory now around f stops indicating the size of the lens aperture I’m sure you wouldn’t start from here. When f2 means the aperture is larger than f8 and way larger (more open) than f22 which is a pinhole size, this is when  you realise that latin verbs are actually quite logical.

cropped-cropped-sam_0505.jpgI just didn’t get it until I saw some maths. At f1.0 there’s diameter of 50mm and a radius of 25mm with an area of 1,963 sq. mm  potentially in view. There is no way all of this can be in focus at any one time so only part of it will be focussed and the rest will be blurry. exhib 1This can create a great effect. whereas at f22 the diameter is 23mm, radius 1.1 giving an area of 4 sq. mm and therefore all of this can be in focus all of the time. I’m sure this differs with specific lenses but this is what helps me remember a little bit about focal length.

Oh, there’s so much more to this language. I’m reading a little book by Ansel Adams ‘The Camera’ where he asserts that there is a ‘magical potential’ to the creativity of photography and its outlet as a form of expression. He questions  the prevailing impression that the acquisition of equipment and the following of rules assure achievement. He quotes Edward Weston; ‘ composition is the strongest way of seeing,’ and sees rules as no more than artifice.

Well, I’m finding rules very useful as a beginner, a novice. However, I do relate to Adam’s when he says that his photographs ‘represent me, not photography.’ I’m certainly not fluent in the language of photography. Having just completed a couple of superb photography courses at  ‘The Artworks‘ in Halifax, W. Yorks., I’m just getting to recognise light and shade (I honestly haven’t really noticed it before), understand my camera a lot more, and have the confidence to get out and about and take photos.


My teacher reckons I have a way with taking pics of people. I’ve included a couple here for you to see and judge for yourself. If you want to see more of the photography work that goes on at ‘The Artworks’ they have an exhibition currently on until 2 August.

Go see.

Dipping into photography

My ‘perceptual consciousness’ is literally buzzing with learning stuff today. I’m writing this a little late tonight as I’ve just got home from a photography course at The Artworks in Halifax. More about this another day as I’ve yet to process all the information which is competing for my brain space at the moment. Oh, I will just mention though that on the website link above you’ll see that there’s a photography exhibition coming up very soon.

However, I do feel that the two photography courses I’ve done at The Artworks: Beginners and Intermediate, although I like to call the last one the ‘Not quite such a beginner course,’ have been true examples of experiential learning. I’m using Tom Boydell’s definition here, ‘ the learner is involved in sorting things out for himself’ through consciously generating cognitions, affects and conations. I identify with Boydell giving the student some responsibility, especially for the why, the purpose. I also just love the image of ideas as non-physical realities, flying about inside one’s mind and how this confusion is the very essence of the learning process. I’ve written before about troublesome learning spaces. I admit to being seriously confused by the buttons and menu systems on my DSLR camera. It’s taken me  8- 10 weeks to learn focussing, and this isn’t a reflection on the tutor or the course, it’s just that I needed experience and time for it to become internalised and part of me. Paul had lesson plans and objectives for each session, but as we began to share our images we discovered photographers, art, how to see beauty in images and developed the confidence to go out and take photographs. I’m sure we learnt far more through our meanderings and serendipitous conversations than he’d initially identified in those plans!

The goals set have been invaluable; week 1 let’s go out and take some photographs and then come in and share the one we like the best. How scary is that? It’s the first week! The homework that week was off the scary scale: take 36 photos. But guess what, most of us did! The following week the homework was to take just 1 photo. I know what you’re thinking “Simples,” but we were expected to explain the composition. The thing is that most of us have done our homework and, may have 3 photos to display in the forthcoming exhibition. Imagine that. After just 12 weeks! This has been a course where we’ve had a sharing and supportive climate. We look at each other’s photos every week and my fellow students and Paul see things in them we haven’t seen ourselves. We can be critical, but there’s always a reason for a photograph not quite ‘doing it,’ and we are beginning to see why.

I think we all ‘tuned in.’ Paul, created a climate where he knew and sensed what was needed. We ‘tuned in’ to Paul.

Oh! I mustn’t forget to mention coming across Fibonacci’s numbers. Paul did warn us that there’s a lot of maths in photography.

I realise I need to include a photo or two now, so here you are.

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