depth of field

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.)



Filed under london, photos, quantum physics, techmology

11 responses to “depth of field

  1. Adrian Adonis

    Happy Birthday NeNe!

  2. Sonya Hyde

    What kind of SLR do you have? Isn’t it a blast figuring out how to catch those moody slightly in and out of focus shots? Hm. Now I want to take another photography class…

    • yael

      Canon EOS Rebel… although now that I am pretending I am an SLR nerd, I am pretty sure the newest version is the 500? Regardless, I will never take pics as good as you and P!

  3. big pipes

    NeNe and Don Rouse share the same birthday! I’ll raise a toast to both tonight….Yael remember when you worked at the photolab in the Mall? I do.

    • yael

      Oh yeah, I always forget that- Happy birthday, D. For my mom’s 65th, we want Razz’m Jazz’m to play. Book it.

      As for the 1 hour photo… I am sure that is a blog post for another day. x

  4. Oh My, yes…. Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!!!

  5. mira

    Mr.crockett would be super proud.

  6. toshalot

    first i thought you’d forget a shout out to h.s. photography. i mean, how can you forget all mr. crockett taught us? and working at cpi one hour photo? you forgot that? it was my first job ever. and it was in the mall. and you got me the job. and seriously how did we know what we were doing printing photos one by one on that monster machine? and i worked there into my sophomore year of college. and my friends here in the bay still think i take the best photos. i attribute that to crockett, cpi and you, yael. as with many things in my youth, you told me i needed to get a job now that i was turning 18 if i was gonna stay “cool”. so you got me the job at cpi. what did “cpi” even stand for?

  7. yael

    I swear, I swear- I did not forget Mr. Crockett. I was hoping instead one of my “I bleed blue and gray” friends would weigh in with all our behavioral issues in 11th grade photography.

    And as for the 1 hour photo- I am sure there is a stand-alone blog post in there. I mean, people brought their nudey pics in for developing. It was so awesome to then ring up the transaction with a straight face. Also, some of the kiosk boys had crushes on me. But who dates a mall kiosk boy?! Otherwise you have to introduce your boyfriend as “oh he can put your name on a piece of rice” or “he sells clip-on hair extensions”.

    I have no idea what CPI stood for- that makes me laugh. But how about the fact that it was a mini-UN. I am glad I set you on your career path, toshalot. It is weird we were allowed to handle caustic chemicals as an after-school job.

  8. toshalot

    uhm. young mall workers always loved you. what about the kid who bought you a pair of sneakers? oh. that’s when you worked at pies on the run …

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