Missoula, Montana–based Rocky Mountain School of Photography hosted a Photo Weekend April 21–22 in Bellevue. After two days of focusing intently on photography, I’m feeling inspired and full of new knowledge I can’t wait to put to use. It’s so refreshing being surrounded by photographers and listening to professionals share their wisdom.
The conference offered a couple sessions to choose from during each two-hour block, and the courses I selected for Saturday included Processing Your Images with Adobe Lightroom, Photo Basics II, and Understanding Light. I won’t be recapping the sessions in whole; rather, I’ll just hit on the highlights.
Session I: Processing Your Images with Adobe Lightroom
Instructor Tim Cooper began the session by sharing a general good practice in photography: do the best you can in-camera, then use software such as Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance your photos, rather than to fix problems (though he conceded this is sometimes unavoidable).
Tim covered Lightroom’s development module, which includes cropping, red-eye removal, spot removal, color balance, hue/saturation/luminance, and some local adjustments. It’s a useful and versatile program, and I plan to download a trial soon! Photoshop may be more powerful (especially when it comes to local adjustments), but most of the editing I do is covered in Lightroom. Some of it even looks simpler and more straightforward, like straightening a picture.
A major point of emphasis in this session, and throughout the weekend in general, was shoot in RAW. There’s no reason not to (unless you seriously don’t have the hard drive space). You have so much more flexibility with RAW, which, by the way, is a nondegradable file type, unlike JPG.
Session II: Photo Basics II
Doug Johnson recapped his previous session, Photo Basics I, which focused on aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Then he dove right into exposure modes, metering modes, how to read a histogram, bracketing exposures, and focusing modes. It was an informative refresher on some topics I’ve personally had trouble wrapping my mind around, especially metering modes.
The types of metering modes include multi-segment (also known as evaluative to Canon users), center-weighted, and partial and spot metering. Multi-segment evaluates everything in the frame, center-weighted evaluates the center of the frame, and partial and spot allow you to pick a specific part of a scene to meter.
Part of photography is about outsmarting the meter, because it’s calibrated for average tones and will underexpose bright scenes and overexpose dark scenes. With spot metering, you can select an average tone in the scene, such as blue sky in a shot of a snowy landscape, which the camera will naturally want to underexpose to make up for all the brightness of the snow.
Speaking of exposure, Doug says the histogram is the best way to judge it. It shows the distribution of tones in an image, with shadows/pure black on the left, average tones in the center, and highlights/pure white on the right. It’s not a good idea to rely on the LCD screen of your camera, since it’s small and hard to see in certain light. That said, the histogram is not the be-all and end-all, but being able to read one and adjust your image as needed is a useful skill to have.
Session III: Understanding Light
The last session of day one was all about light. Tim Cooper talked about brightness and contrast, hard and soft light, how the angle of light affects a subject, how to modify light, how to use flash, and the different colors of light. He also talked up Seattle weather. A bright, sunny day might be nice, but an overcast day, or a day with sun and clouds, is ideal when photographing outdoors, he said, and Seattle has plenty of those!
Some key takeaways: soft/diffused light wraps around subjects and is usually more pleasing than hard light; shadows provide depth and texture; and side light often results in a more interesting composition. When it comes to photographing people, front light illuminates a face but shows less detail, whereas side light shows more detail and shape. Backlighting a subject is often the best choice if you’re photographing people in bright, harsh sunlight, and fill flash can be used to counteract shadows on the face.
Finally, the color of light was covered in detail. Mid-day light appears white, sunlight is yellow, cloudy light is blue, and open shade is really blue. Artificial light has a range of tones, depending on whether it’s tungsten, fluorescent, etc. Usually the best approach is to change your white balance settings based on the scene you’re photographing. If you’re outdoors in sunlight, use the sunlight white balance. If you’re in shade, use the shade setting. Tim advised against using the auto setting in most circumstances, but it can be good for night cityscapes. Custom white balance, using a gray card, is another option for tricky indoor or mixed-light scenes.
Light is obviously a huge topic, and Tim covered much more than I touched on here. He ended the session by encouraging us to study light and shadows wherever we can in order to master it. I’ve already found myself more aware of shadows, as well as leading lines, which Tim discussed in Sunday’s session on composition. I’ll have a recap of Sunday’s classes and critique soon!
“Photography is a very nice blend of art and science.”
“Coca-Cola red is absolutely the best gray card you can imagine.”
“There are very few things in your camera bag that are smarter than you. Your flash is one of them.”