It was a bank holiday weekend here. Guess what? I also learned something new. I learned that the bank holidays in the UK are actually rooted in some historic or religious event. I never actually knew that because they’re just called “bank holidays” – not Memorial Day or Labor Day or some other day that everyone uses to go to the beach instead of a somber and sobering reflection on the sacrifices of millions for freedom and industry. I mean I should have caught on as 4 out of 8 annual bank holidays happen to fall at Easter or Christmas. So anyway, it turns out that yesterday’s bank holiday was once upon a time for Whit Monday. Something about the Pentecost, whatever that means. In 1971 the government changed it to just the “Spring Bank Holiday”. Look, I’ll take it. I’ll take the crap out of it.
So to take full advantage of the long weekend, I cashed in my wonderful birthday gift from Bryan: a photography class.
I was giddy as a school girl Saturday morning sitting in a room high above Oxford Street, clutching my digital SLR. The 2-day class did not disappoint. First of all, it was everything I love about this city. My instructor was Greek and my fellow students were from New Zealand, South Africa, Malawi, Greece and India. Everyone worked in banking it seemed, so the diversity was not perfect. But the second reason I loved the class was the instructor put out a sleeve of Oreos. I definitely ate most of them. Finally, I learned a host of things I wish I had known all along.
It is intimidating to consider the holy trinity of photography: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. And of course it’s all about light. It’s in some ways like learning a new language and when trying to wrap my head around the perfect set-up for a particular depth of field, you might as well ask me to conjugate a verb 17 ways in Icelandic. But no matter. I learned some foundational basics that probably seem elementary, but they were revelations for me.
Like focusing. This is not your point and shoot. Same frame, different focus.
And it’s been bothering me for years that I couldn’t take pictures where the foreground and the background are both in focus. Turns out it’s called a deep depth of field, and it’s not that hard.
I have a long way to go on aperture. We’re talking decimal points and also the F stop’s relationship with time and zoom. But just saying the words F stop take me back to high school photography. And I feel like I can get nostalgic for a medium I barely even embraced, just knowing that it’s sort of been rendered obsolete by technological advance. You see, much to the chagrin of two people in my life who know who they are, it turns out digital photography has surpassed the quality in resolution of 35mm film. And so the medium I mourn: darkroom developing.
I am sure people still use darkrooms for a variety of artistic reasons, but the developing process now is largely taught as learning effective use of a computer program. What do the dreamy loners do now when they can’t wile the days away under a red light bulb? Sit in front of a flat screen Mac and press the button that says “Sepia”? I don’t know.
We had to shoot the alphabet too. Can you tell?
So now I am left to practice. And it’s quite possible I will give up on just using the Manual setting. But Alex taught something else very important that will be the hardest lesson of all for me. He believes our downfall is that digital cameras have turned us all into Rambo photographers. We take 500 photos in a weekend and then barely delete any. I am the worst offender where that is concerned. Yes, there was a time when a roll of 24 exposures was a precious thing and you had to consider each potential shot and whether it was truly worth it. To me, there is a reason though that digital is an improvement. We no longer have to leave the capturing of a precious moment to chance. We no longer have to wait two weeks to see that we have a horrible double chin. Progress.
I am going to try though. I really will make an effort to be more choosy.
In the meantime, tonight’s practice session is a piece I like to call
Still Life: a celebration of green in the May 2010 transatlantic merger of two international law firms
(Also, Happy Cinco de Mayo to my favorite daughter of Polish immigrants. Love you, mom.)