I’ve had some splendid photography tutors including, amongst others, John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays. I recommend a trip to LPH for anyone wanting to move up a level.
I have never, however, been through a formal course so decided to enrol for TG089 Digital Photography. This is an 8 week course offered by the Open University and sponsored by the Royal Photographic Society. The aim was to fill the gaps in my education and try to approach things more professionally. I have no intention of earning a living from photography (although the odd sale signifies the creation of something worthwhile) but thought a more academic view would help. This is to report on how it went.
The TG089 course
The course material was delivered in 8 weekly on-line sessions, each with a coherent theme. Although some of the facts creaked a bit with age (comments about equipment get very old very quickly in an environment where there are weekly breakthrough developments in technology) the subject matter was sound and well delivered. I learned new words and came to understand ideas more fully than I had previously.
There were no real surprises but considering things in a logical order was worth the time spent. I guess there were some things that were not of immediate practical value. The formula 1/u + 1/v = 1/f was included was included to try to explain the properties of a lens but I will never find a reason to use it. I would have liked some additional input on ideas such as the Golden Ratio with examples but I can find that out myself from google.
Benefits of the course – Peer Review
The ability to upload pictures every week and have them judged by other students was of real value. This was most helpful when the reason behind any of the suggestions was explained. For example, “I would crop off a bit from the left hand side” wasn’t very useful. Better would have been something like “there clutter on the left hand side detracts from the purpose of the image and cutting it out might help place the subject at the lower right hand third point.”
There was also the occasional failure to stand in the shoes of the photographer and try to understand what they were trying to say. For example, I know that the most dynamic place for the landscape horizon is on a thirds line but when you are in Norfolk and the overwhelming impression is acres of sky it is legitimate to emphasise that by lowering the horizon. In general, other students did their best and all feedback was appreciated, and formulating feedback for other people is an incredible learning experience.
Room for improvement
A big gap was that there were no tutors. Questions could be left on bulletin boards in the hope of receiving a relevant response from the board moderators but answers to questions were sketchy. I received no direct feedback on pictures from moderators.
For example, in the session covering Depth of Field the student was left with the impression that everything would be sharper by using the smallest possible aperture. The boards started to be filled with pictures taken at f/32 and f/45. I asked to what extent lens diffraction would have an impact at such small apertures and never received a satisfactory answer. The first response suggested that this was beyond the scope of and introductory course without addressing the question. The second was from a moderator who often said that the ability to visualise the finished picture was more important than all of the technical know-how in the world.
This flew in the face of the message of the course. Everywhere else emphasised the need to balance the creative eye with an understanding of how to achieve that vision. I pretty much fell back on my own resources for answering questions after that.
The final assessment was of 10 images. We also submitted a written explanation and some text to explain why the images had been chosen. This helped demonstrate an intellectual understanding of the material. Although it wasn’t a requirement, I’ve shown the potential hanging plan here. Also included are my ten images and the written work submitted, and the feedback. Despite considerable confusion amongst my fellow students, all of the information needed to complete the course and submit the assessment material was provided. I thought the example answers for the written questions were stilted and unimaginative but got an “excellent” outcome by using them as a template.
In general, I’m pleased to have done it and now have regular contact through social media with other people from the course. The on-line material was well done and interaction with other photographers and their work was invaluable. I guess the moderators were working within their brief (and they included some accomplished individuals) but either through under resourcing or an over personal view, I didn’t find much that they did very helpful.
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