Photo School Extras


Several subscribers have asked us if it's possible to have personal critiques and/or tutorials. Until 2007 we cried off this: the work involved is considerable, and there's the question of timing. We travel as much as we can afford, and anyone who wants this sort of service is going to have to accept that there may be delays because of our travels.

But following a lot of thought (and some very good suggestions from one of the more persistent subscribers) we have come up with the following ideas:

We (and you) can do it in one of two ways. The first is a flat fee of $485 US, which includes two years of basic $29 subscription and also entitles you to eight 'lessons' with critiques (see below). If you are already a subscriber, we add the extra two years onto the end of your existing subscription but the enhancement takes place immediately. Why $485? Because it's near enough 250 pounds sterling, which is how we originally costed it.

The second option is $75 US (just under forty quid or 60 euros), payable in addition to your ordinary $29 annual subscription. This entitles you to a critique of up to ten pictures of your choice. Of course if you are feeling flush you can combine the two. Interested? Read on or go to the Index to Extras; Otherwise go back.



Kitchen, Mision de la Purisima Concepcion, Lompoc, California (Roger).


la purisma kitchen



Log in (and pay!) and upload your pictures here, using the password you will be given. Add any questions you want to ask: you will see where. Feel free to add covering notes about any or all pictures, but don't feel that you have to, and please don't send huge essays: a paragraph or two about each picture, explaining why you took it, or what you think is successful (or otherwise) , should usually be enough. The basic service is by e-mail but if you care to let us know your 'phone number and a convenient time to call, we may well be able to do it by telephone as well (or instead) at no extra charge: our own feeling is that you can learn an awful lot more from a conversation than you can from a letter, and it's generally quicker and more enjoyable. The call will be on our nickel, too: we have a phone package that allows unlimited calls, including most major international destinations, for a flat monthly fee.


shoes, temple


Shoes outside Tibetan temple, Himalayas

A lot of our pictures are collaborations. Roger shot this (on 44x66mm Ilford HP5 Plus using an Alpa 12WA with 38/4.5 Zeiss Biogon) and Frances printed it on Ilford MG WT, toned it in Fotospeed selenium and hand-coloured it with SpotPens. We don't have a problem with collaborations, but if you send in two or more sets of pictures by two or more photographers, all for one $75 critique, we reserve the right to say "Hey! No fair!"  But by all means check with us first...

The pictures can be any mix you like, old or new, and as already noted, you can if you wish base them on a Photo School Extras module -- though if you do, of course, eight modules will cost you $600 plus your regular subscription, instead of $485 including two years' subscription, so it's not an approach that will make much sense for most people. We would suggest that you restrict yourself to not more than three themes, because the value of a critique of ten completely unrelated pictures is likely to be limited. This is why we suggest that before you even consider this option, you should take a look at the free critiques module in The Photo School. Is a critique what you really want? If it is, what do you want to know? Are your questions technical, aesthetic, biased towards an exhibition, or publication, or what?


chania lighthouse




Consider also that $75 is quite a lot of money, especially if you don't want to hear what we have to say -- and it's non-refundable unless our immediate response on seeing your pictures is "Sorry, we can't help." Note that we'll always assume your request is serious: if you deliberately post awful shots, we may still assume that you know no better (there are plenty of bad photographers, after all) and that we can help.

Of course we'll try to be as helpful as we possibly can, and the vast majority of people say that our critiques have been helpful, but there's always the risk that it won't 'work'.

A certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing -- your response to us, our response to your response -- is of course included in the $75 but if things drag on too long we reserve the right to cry 'enough'.

It may seem that we are looking for problems here, and doing ourselves down, but we're just trying to keep to a minimum the inevitable percentage of people who were expecting more than we can do.

Remember that we are in France, one hour later than GMT, six hours later than US Eastern Time, nine hours later than Pacific (California) time.



Lighthouse, Chania harbour, Crete. Note that it actually does tilt slightly. And hard though it is to believe, the clouds really were like that: it's not been heavily dodged. (Frances)

Eight-lesson courses

These courses consist of a rolling sequence of assignments, based on existing modules as well as on new ones written with Extras subscribers in mind. All modules will also be accessible to other (non-Extras) subscribers. We thought long and hard about this, and realized that special modules just for the Extras subscribers would effectively double our working load in producing modules, before we even started to think about time spent on critiques and advice.

If you do decide to subscribe to Extras, there will be a new batch ('Series', for want of a better name) of three assignments. Initially these will appear every six weeks to two months, though as the choice grows larger, they may appear only quarterly. You choose one of the three (or anything from any previous Series); shoot up to ten pictures, as with the critiques; and upload them to your personal gallery. We then discuss them with you.

What do you get for the money?

The very first thing you get is advice (if you want it) on what we think would be the most useful modules to take. Send us an e-mail -- preferably with a 'phone number, as discussed above under 'Critiques' -- telling us what interests you, and what you want to know. We've made up some 'sample letters to give an idea of the sort of information we'd find interesting or useful.

After that, you start on Course 0, the initial five modules, and it goes on from there.

Even if you don't subscribe to Extras, you can still do assignments based on exactly the same modules as those who do subscribe. The big difference, of course, is that you can't upload your pictures, and you won't get any critiques or suggestions for direction and improvement.

You can choose between having your uploaded images visible to everyone else who has chosen the same module, and having them visible only to us. We recommend the former. If you choose the latter, you can also choose whether or not to allow other course members' comments (or indeed, other coarse members' comments).


We recommend that you do allow others' comments: you never know what you might learn from other people faced with the same challenge. This is also why we recommend choosing something from the current Series rather than something from the past, but the choice is completely yours. You can change your mind at any time, switching between 'comments' and 'no comments', if you reckon others' comments are too unhelpful or if the comments you see posted about others' work would be useful to you too.

The pictures will remain in your personal Photo School gallery for up to three months or until they are replaced (if that is sooner); you will have a maximum of two modules up at a time, the most recent, and the one preceding it.


Re-enactor, Kent -- from the 'Re-enactors' gallery (Roger)



The meaning of 'assignment'

You don't have to shoot everything specially. Indeed, we recommend that a proportion of the pictures you submit for each assignment are from your existing body of work: at least one, and, if you wish, all ten. Not only does this give you a chance to show off existing work of which you are particularly proud: it may also help you (and us) to see if your work has been moving in one direction or another. Examples might include putting more or fewer people in your pictures, or a tendency to move closer to to shoot with a wider angle. Feel free to tell us about this, too, in the comments you upload with your pictures.


19th c bayonet


Why three choices and six weeks?

The reason for offering three choices each time is that different people want to learn different things. If you are a black and white photographer, for example, you won't want an assignment that cries out for colour, and vice versa.

The reason for six weeks is that we like to travel as much as possible. Depending on where we are, our other commitments, etc., you may get a response in anything from 24 hours to 24 days or more. If this sounds too casual for you, maybe you had better avoid the courses. On the other hand, a lot of people appreciate the way we really care about photography and will therefore put up with the delays.

Technique and aesthetics

All assignments are essentially aesthetically biased (composition/framing, use of colour/tonality, decisive moment, etc.), rather than technically biased. After all, it's a lot easier to judge (and comment upon) someone's technical ability from their 'real' pictures than it is to try to guess their aesthetic ability from empty technical shots. We may however throw the occasional technical challenge in, such as 'Shoot a picture with a very short brightness range' or 'Show us pictures with a very restricted depth of field.' Whatever the subject matter or assignment, we will judge your work both technically and aesthetically.


pump, woodpile




Pump, wood-pile, chopping block...

Roger chose to use an old, first-generation 90/2 Summicron on the M8 for this picture of a corner of our courtyard, to give a deliberate slight softness. He's still not sure whether it worked. There is always room for different views; what is important is thinking about what works and what doesn't.



Choosing modules


Everyone begins with one of the 'Course 0' modules, mainly because this gives us a good idea of the sort of subjects that interest you, and how you tackle them.

After that, you can pick up any of the three subjects in the six-weekly assignments Series, or (if you wish) any subject from any other Series of assignments including any of the 'Course 0' subjects. Initially, it should be possible to customize modules to suit Extras subscribers' wishes. In other words, if you have an especial interest in a subject, and we reckon it is of wide enough interest, we may be able to create a module based around that idea. As we acquire more Extras subscribers, this may become less feasible.

Changing modules -- and timescales

You can obviously change your mind about which modules to do at any time until you have posted all eight modules that you have paid for. You may care to attempt several modules simultaneously, delaying the choice of which to upload until you have completed them all (or maybe, until you have completed the first one you are happy with).

You may also decide that while a particular module interests you, it is not feasible for you to do it immediately. No problem. The only time constraint is the two-year limit. If you want to start thinking about a module now, with a view to completing it and uploading it in six months' or even a year's time, that's no problem as long as you still stay inside your two-year limit.

An important aside here is that once you have finished a module, you may decide you have learned all you are going to, without any need for a critique. That's fine by us, and leaves you with another module to tackle, at no extra charge.

How fast do you want to complete the course?

The speed at which you work is up to you, with one limitation: the course subscription expires after two years, so you need to get your 8 modules done in that time. At the other extreme, you could in theory shoot eight modules in a few days, though it would take us a lot longer than that to respond to all eight.

A more usual approach (and the one we envision) is that you pick up a subject from each Series of Extras modules as they arrive, though you may choose to miss the occasional one or even two, whether from pressure of work or simply because the subjects don't interest you. That's why the $485 fee includes two years' subscriptions, not one.

3 boats

River Boats, South India

As we say, we like to travel -- and travelling helps us learn how to take better pictures. This one is from about 1997, shot (by Roger) on colour negative film with his Leica M4P and 35/1.4 Summilux, then scanned with our first-ever scanner, a Nikon Coolscan.

If you upload two (or even all three) options from a single batch of choices they will count as two (or three) modules against your 8-module subscription. You can also, if you wish, repeat any module from the past, including those you have already chosen, and those from past Series. If you reckon that you have new and better ideas for the same subject, fine: repeat the module. It still counts as a new module against your 8-module subscription, but if you reckon that's more use than a new module, that's fine by us too. What we are trying to do is to make the whole thing as flexible and customised as possible, without having to make an individual course for every single Extras subscriber.

Although you have a free choice of which modules to pick, we may sometimes suggest the modules we think may be most useful to you. As with the rest of our advice, you can pay heed or not.

As already noted, you can upload up to ten images per module for an e-mail or (if feasible) telephone critique.

The pupil and the teacher

It is a poor teacher who does not want his pupils to be better than he is. Our aim is not to teach you to take pictures like ours. No: we are more ambitious. We want to teach you to take your pictures, that are better than ours. We have already helped some photographers to do this; some of them have gone from amateur to professional, while others have been published in various places.


We are not the best photographers in the world, but we are pretty good -- you must agree, or you wouldn't have read this far -- and we do have an immense amount of background knowledge. Also, being a great photographer, and being able to teach what you know, are not necessarily synonymous. Some teachers turn out clones of themselves (in all fairness, because they attract pupils who want to be clones of their idols); some have a very rigid view of technique or equipment, summed up as "My way or the highway"; some can't teach at all. We reckon we're pretty good all-rounders, a bit like your best (and often favourite) teachers from your schooldays. You don't expect your physics master to be a Nobel prize-winner, but every Nobel prize-winner can point to a teacher whose enthusiasm and skill started them personally on the way to the Nobel prize.





We're always willing to try things. When we tried Hollywood-style portraits we soon found that the (often formulaic) lighting was a lot less important than the format. Shooting on 8x10 inch imposes certain rules and disciplines that don't really apply (or apply less) with smaller formats, though you can come closer with 5x7 inch/13x18cm (as used here) than with 4x5 inch, which in turn gives a more vintage look than roll-film... Shooting Hollywood-style portraits with 35mm or digital is very difficult indeed, though it gets easier if you have experience of the larger formats.




The bottom line

The fee -- $485 -- is quite a lot of money. On the other hand, it's probably less than a typical week-end workshop, unless that workshop is in or near your home town. To the cost of the workshop, after all, you have to add the cost of getting there; of a room for a couple of nights; and of food and drink. You soon hit £250 or $485, especially if (as so many photographers do) you take a companion with you as a little break. Some people will find workshops more congenial; others will find Photo School Extras more congenial, and almost certainly more convenient. So why not give it a try?

One other point is that we do not envision Photo School Extras ever becoming a large, anonymous mail-order mill. We genuinely do not want more than a hundred subscribers a year, as this would mean we could not give them the personal attention that we believe is the essence of Extras. To sign up, click here. Before you do, you might care to look at the the Index to Extras modules; the latter will of course expand with time.

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

or go to the illustrated list of modules

or go to the home page


© 2007 Roger W. Hicks