Basic Modules - 'Course 0'

The idea in these five modules is pure technique -- no subject-driven modules at all. This is so that you can use pictures of whatever subjects interest you, and we can form a rough idea of your photographic priorities and (dare we say it) abilities.

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0.1: The Focal Point

In the Focal Point module, and anywhere else that is convenient, look at pictures of complex scenes -- gardens, street scenes, even complex still lifes -- and decide which ones work best, and why. Then, if there is a focal point, identify it, and ask yourself whether it is the principal subject or merely a stopping-off place for the eye.

If it works without a focal point -- and it may, because just about every 'rule' in photography can be broken successfully -- then try to figure out how. Maybe it is so simple, so graphic, that you can grasp the whole thing in a single moment. Or maybe it uses repetition, or symmetry (there's more about these in the first 'Composition' module in 'Quality'): there are plenty of tricks that work.

Then send us pictures with a focal point. If you reckon you can get away with it, you might also care to include pictures with no focal point, as long as they still 'work'. The aim of Photo School Extras, after all, is to get you thinking about shooting, as well as to get you out taking pictures.

0.2: Focus

After you've looked at the focus module, look at your own pictures to see how you normally use focus. Do you go for 'deep field'? Selective focus? Or a sort of middling aperture that will allow you a reasonable shutter speed? Would any of them have been improved with a different attitude to focus?

When shooting or selecting pictures to upload, we'd suggest that you send examples of both 'deep field' and selective focus, as well as possibly one or more pictures with something in the image area that is so far out of focus that it is only recognizable through context -- something like Louise's hand in the last picture in the module. You might also care to revisit chiaroscuro, which also deals with focus, indirectly.

In particular, if you want to do any portraits for this module, we'd suggest that you try them both as 'deep field' (everything in focus from front to back) and in the traditional manner, with just the eyes in focus and a very shallow depth of field elsewhere. Think too about how sharply the background is focused. You might care to do something similar for still lifes.

0.3: The decisive moment

What we're looking for here is pictures where if you'd shot earlier or later, the picture wouldn't work as well.

Remember, though, that a 'decisive moment' can be anything from a fraction of a second (for reportage photography) to hours or even days (many still lifes), and that often, there may be more than one 'decisive moment'. Take a look at 'Street Photography' too.

We'd suggest that you include one or two 'failed' pictures next to their corresponding 'successes', and possibly two or three examples of different, successful 'decisive moments' with the same subject.

0.4: Perspective

This may seem like an odd subject for 'basics' but it is an interesting technical/aesthetic challenge, as we hope the module shows. Also, as already noted, it gives us a good chance to see what sort of subjects interest you.

For the assignment, we'd suggest exploring 'stretched' (wide-angle) perspective; 'compressed' (long-focus/telephoto perspective); and such forms of perspective as aerial, texture and receding planes.

You might also care to try to create a photograph of a three-dimensional subject so that it looks as flat as possible; you can get some ideas for this from the chiaroscuro module (immediately below) as well.

0.5: Chiaroscuro

This isn't, despite its normal translation, just 'light and shade': the old photographic term 'Rembrandt lighting' is rather more useful. As well as looking at the module, take a look in some art books to see how painters have used this sort of light, including of course Rembrandt himself but also (among others) Caravaggio, Wright of Derby and Goya.

For the assignment, we recommend that you shoot the majority of the pictures with strong chiaroscure, plus a few -- one, two or three -- as flat and graphic as possible. You might also care to look at the module on narrative, record and graphic pictures for further ideas.

For our money, chiaroscuro normally works best in colour, especially warm colour, but this may simply be a result of conditioning from pictures such as the (so-called) 'Night Watch', more accurately called the Company of Frans Banning Coq. Why not try to persuade us otherwise with some black and white? Remember: our advice can be as much use if you react against it as if you follow it. The main aim of the Photo School is to encourage you to think, and to help you realize what you want to shoot.

Go back to Photo0 School Extras first page or to the index of Extras modules.

or go to the unillustrated list of modules (in either alphabetical or date order)

or go to the illustrated list of modules

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© 2007 Roger W. Hicks