Photography Workshop - Discovering Birmingham Through The Lens of My Camera

Thursday, 7 June 2018

It's fair to say that we've been guilty of sticking to the safety of automatic mode in the past. All we really knew was this: aperture priority can help you blur a background and shutter priority can be useful for taking pictures of waterfalls. Well we thought it was about time for that to change, because what's the point of buying an expensive camera and then only using a tiny percentage of it's features. I (Will) took a friend up on the offer of coming along to his photography workshop in Birmingham where the aim would be to improve on both the artistic side of photography, looking at composition tips, as well as the more technical side, focussing in on all the settings and dials on our cameras.

The day started in a coffee shop, where I rather embarrassingly discovered how little I knew about my camera. We started off learning all about how to get the correct exposure on a picture, breaking it down into three areas: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Once this was over and we had explored the settings on our camera we were assigned our first task - takings pictures of signs on aperture priority. Having learnt that a lower depth of field and low f number (higher aperture) would help to focus in on a subject and blur the background, I tried to put it into practise.

We headed in the direction of Birmingham's iconic Selfridges building and the bullring to have a go at taking some architectural photos, something I'd never really tried before. It was then that I learnt two really important composition tips that I'd previously ignored:

1. Avoid screaming babies

2. Fill the frame

Screaming babies was what James, our teacher, called the little annoyances in the corners and sides of photos, that you may not notice when taking the photo but somebody else viewing them will spot in an instant and it will spoil the photo. This could be the arm of a person walking by, a tiny corner of sky sneaking into a photo of a building or even your own shadow. Just like a screaming baby, you really have to pay attention if it's yours otherwise you'll tend to block it out and it'll only become evident to somebody else.

Filling the frame might seem like an obvious tip but its something I had never really considered. I realised that whilst travelling I would have the tendency to get everything into the frame, even when it didn't quite fit. After taking some photos of Selfridges I realised that when you really zoom in to a building and get up close to repeating patterns you can come away with some impressive photos.

We then took another break to review our photos, go over some more tips and tricks of the camera and replenish caffeine levels before heading out again towards the cathedral, where we were given another challenge - 'you are only allowed to take five photos inside the church'. 

The thing about digital photography these days is that you can take thousands of photos without much thought going into them and you might walk away with one or two good ones. By restricting the amount of photos we could take, it really made us think hard about every little technical and compositional tip before taking the photo. We had roughly 20 minutes, here are a few of them...

We then pressed on through the city, now with the aim of using shutter priority mode. By taking photos with a slow shutter speed you can get a great blurred effect on moving objects. This is particular useful if you want to capture motion within a still image, for example photographing a waterfall or a fast road. The opposite setting, a quick shutter speed, allows you to freeze motion in a shot, which can be useful when taking photos of sport. We took a spot on top of a bridge and had a go messing around with the shutter speed on our cameras.

After crossing the bridge we came to a red brick wall which would make a good backdrop for some portrait photos, so we switched our cameras back to aperture priority and got practising. We were encouraged to get close and think about different angles from which to take our photos.

'Panning' isn't an easy photography trick to master we were told. It is almost the opposite of what we were doing on the bridge with the cars - instead of taking a picture of a moving object keeping the camera very still, we were told to move the camera at the same speed as the moving object, in order to get the subject in focus and a blurry background. The result was far from perfect but I was pleasantly surprised with myself!

Our next location would be the canals. Birmingham has more canals than Venice, 9 miles more to be precise. These canals make a great spot for some grungy, arty photography and we were there to practise taking photos in black and white. 

After a fair bit of walking and hundreds of photos taken, we took a final break in the Symphony Hall building before making our way back to New Street station, passing the new library building on the way.

I felt like I learnt so much across the day and that my photography skills have improved somewhat. When you're constantly visiting amazing places in Peru for example, its not so hard to take what you think are great photos, but to be able to take photos you're pleased with in around where you live is certainly more of a challenge, but something I fell that I have achieved today!

JCL photography is ran by James Lawrence who is a semi-professional photographer. He runs workshops throughout the year with only small classes of 3/4 students at both beginner and intermediate level. The class I took part in was at beginners level and I couldn't recommend it more. James was able to answer everyone's questions, (no matter how bizarre and specific they may have been!), he took us to great locations, gave us a vast amount of shooting tips and had a really impressive powerpoint on his ipad to show us examples and talk through the theory. We were also given handouts on the day and have been emailed weekly projects to help consolidate what we've learnt and increase our retention rate. 

If you're interested in taking part in one of these workshops, please email James for more details I'm sure he'll happily answer you're questions and let you know when the next one will be taking place.

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James has also written an excellent ebook all about getting to know your camera, composition tips and developing your creativity, all for the price of a coffee! Click here to buy and download it and use the code: 6JHY9R8CUO to get a 25% discount.

What Camera Do You Use?

I took all of these photos using my Sony a5000 which is a compact system camera (CSC) or mirrorless camera. These cameras are great for travel photography in my opinion, as they are small but still hold a similar power to a DSLR. I've only got the kit lens at the moment but there are dozens more you can by to increase range, get a lower aperture or get more in your picture. As with all camera makes, models get updated all the time and I believe the newer version of my camera is the Sony a5100.

Thanks for reading!


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