Photo School: creating a self-instructional course

In 2007 we introduced Photo School Extras, a structured course with personal tuition. The module you are reading now was first written a year before that, and was designed for people who wanted to use the Photo School without further input from us. Obviously it has been heavily modified in the light of Extras, but we believe that there may still be plenty of people who want to do it without the effort and expense of Extras. So here are our thoughts:

What do you want?

There are two questions here. The first is what you want from your own photography, and the second is what you want from this site.

 

 

Hill and Moon, Wales

This is one of Roger's favourite pictures that he has ever taken, for all that he shot it in the early 1970s and despite the fact that this was taken from a Cibachrome print because a publisher lost the original transparency years ago. For that matter the quality would be better today too: as well as being second-generation (print from slide) it was shot with a 1936 Leica IIIa and contemporaneous 5cm f/3.5 uncoated Elmar. So what does he want? More, better, simpler landscapes.

What do you want from your own photography?

No two photographers follow the same path, but for most who are any good, there are two components that feed on one another: the technical and the aesthetic.

In one sense, the technical is easier to master. There's only a limited amount of relevant theory, and after that, it's practice. The important thing is not to get so bogged down in theory and technique that you lose sight of taking pictures, a fate which sometimes overtakes those who become obsessed with 'testing' new films and developers (or scanners and equipment or anything else).

At any one time, therefore, you have to ask yourself what you are not happy with in your own photography: what is holding you back?

 

It is always tempting to imagine that there is some sort of new equipment or technique -- a 'magic key' or 'silver bullet' -- that will miraculously improve your photography. There isn't. Practice, and increased knowledge and understanding, are all that will.

Above all, improving your photography is very unlikely to be a question of buying new equipment. If you don't agree, you might want to look at the free module called 'How Many Cameras Do You Need?' -- though another free module, Saving Money, also points out that some cameras are better suited to some kinds of photography than others.

 

 

Courtyard, Gran Canaria

 

Do not grow overly precious about black and white films and developers. Many photographers would be pleased to get this sort of print quality from arcane films and cult developers. This is Ilford XP2, commercially processed and printed on Sterling paper. It printed better on Sterling than on Ilford Multigrade IV, it is true, but matching film to paper is something you seldom hear from the more vocal advocates of specialist films and developers.

Frances shot this with a Nikon F and 35/2.8 PC-Nikkor, an expensive, specialist lens, it's true, but one she knew she wanted as soon as she tried it.

 

All that will improve your photography is taking pictures. If you aren't satisfied with the technical quality, look at the technical modules. If you aren't satisfied with the aesthetic quality, look at the aesthetic modules. But do not spend so much time doing either that you neglect to take pictures.

What do you want from the site?

We try to put up an average of two new modules every three to four weeks, one paid, one free. If there is a module that you would like to see, but doesn't exist yet, then contact us and tell us. Preferably a paid module, of course (we are trying to turn this into a site that gives us a modest income) but we'll listen to requests for free modules as well. The Hybrid Darkroom is an example of a free module that was suggested by a subscriber. For fairly obvious reasons we give preference to subscribers' suggestions. We can make no guarantees, but if it is feasible to do so, we'll try to meet your request sooner or later.

Planning a course

Once again there are two questions: where are you know, and where do you want to get to?

As far as we can see, we get three kinds of subscribers. Some use digital (we use it a certain amount ourselves) but others have (like us) been using film for a long time, and yet others are just getting into film for the first time, or at least, are just beginning to take it seriously: obviously, Welcome to Film and Black and White may be of interest to the latter, and Our Darkrooms and Our Materials may be of interest to both. All four are free.

Where they (you) want to get to from there is another matter. Some are perfectly happy to remain amateurs who take pictures for their own pleasure and hardly ever show them to anyone else. Others are more interested in exhibitions, websites and publication. A few are even interested in turning professional, and although we have mixed feelings about this, there are modules on the site such as White on White (paid) which contain professional tricks of the trade that are seldom discussed.

Working backwards

What we suggest, perhaps paradoxically, is that you work backwards. Pretend that you already know it all. Choose the module that comes closest to your particular area of interest. Read it.

 

If you are better at whatever we cover than we are, and learn nothing at all from the module, we apologize: you have wasted your money, though we have always found that all but the very worst books, or magazine articles, or web sites can tell us something new. We'd be surprised if there weren't something new that you can learn from us, even if you are a better photographer than we are.

If, on the other hand, the module raises questions to which you do not know the answer, then look for another module that answers those (or alternatively, if there isn't one, write and suggest it as noted above). Read the module in question. Then go back and read the original module, or another one that gives some other information that you want.

This is the great advantage of this site: it's a bit like an encyclopaedia, so you can read it in any order, and re-read it, and test yourself against it, to see if you know more than we do. We hope it's enjoyable too.

 

A bright future awaits you on the colony planets

 

As well as looking at the modules, look at the galleries. If you see pictures that you like, hunt around to see which modules they appear in most. Frances shot this picture -- which reminds her of Bladerunner, hence the title -- in Beijing in 2005.

The bottom line

We make no bones about it. We think this site is more interesting and better value than the vast majority of books and magazines on the market. In order to make it work, we need quite a lot of subscribers. The number of people subscribing is rising at quite a cheering rate, but the more subscribers we get, the better we can make the site. We are more than happy to listen to our readers/subscribers -- so let us know what you think, and we'll try to deliver it. You can't say fairer than that.

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© 2007 Roger W. Hicks