Patrick was supposed to attend as well, but unfortunately he lost his camera charger. Adding in another cancellation brought the final student count to three: myself, Ben, and a Chinese girl named Julia. Though this was probably disappointing to Peter, it meant that he was able to invest more time in each of us than he could have otherwise.
The eight-hour day started at 10:00, when we met at CultureYard for an hour or so presentation by Peter on the fundamentals of good photography. Some of the stuff early on I knew already, but a good 60% of it was new information, or presented in a way that made me understand it in a new way. Presenting the balance between ISO, shutter speed and aperture as the “ISO triangle” helped me to better grasp how to shift these different settings. I had heard of dividing a photo frame into thirds, but when he showed several examples of pictures overlaid with a nine-box grid, it snapped into focus. He pointed out that the intersection of the lateral and longitudinal thirds divisions, where the center “box” made by the division of the frame into thirds had its corners, are called the “golden points” and that they are where you want the most interesting things in your photo to be. Many cameras have a grid overlay option to see those in your viewfinder before snapping a photo, but unfortunately Canons (I have a Canon EOS350) do not. Before this workshop, I always shot in large-file JPEG, but from now on I will shoot in RAW. I learned how to set permanent under and overexposure. I figured out why my viewfinder always made shots blurry – I had inadvertently set the vision correction dial up a few notches, and when Peter showed me what the dial did, I turned it down to zero and now I can see perfectly clearly. I learned how to spot focus and spot meter. I learned that by keeping the camera in aperture priority mode and keeping ISO as low as possible unless absolutely necessary, I could spend less time fiddling with dials and more time taking great photographs.
This was all before going out into the hutongs of Dongcheng and actually snapping photos!
There were two photo-shooting sessions. The first was before lunch, the second one after. The first session was spent in Fangjia Hutong and on the walk from CultureYard to there.
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Here are some of my photos from that shoot:
After we reached the far end of Fangjia Hutong we returned to lunch at CultureYard while Peter coached us on our photos and what to do to improve them. This was such a valuable part of the workshop for me. He had his laptop screen hooked up to the big TV, and so we could all see in high detail the photos we had just taken. We used Adobe Lightroom (oh how I wish there was a quality equivalent for Linux!) to process the photos here. When I uploaded my photos, I went through and marked the ones I thought were keepers with a green flag, and then Peter went back and marked the ones he thought were keepers with a yellow flag. He gave feedback on the composition, focus, and content of the photos, and when something could be improved to make the photo work better, he used Lightroom’s tools to change color balances and do some cropping. I was surprised how sometimes, working hard to capture a certain image did not bring out what was desired, while some images snapped in haste turned out fantastically. We saw what was good about each others’ photos too, which was fun and helped our understanding. Personally I thought that among the three students, I had the weakest photography. Julia took extremely compelling pictures of people, and Ben made litter, trash and forgotten signage look textbook-worthy.
After finishing lunch and the review of our first session photographs, we went to snap some more in the more touristy Guozijian Hutong, and finally just inside the border of the second ring road, Wudaoying Hutong a.k.a. the “New Nanluoguxiang.” A selection of my shots from that session:
We finished up in a cafe in Wudaoying, where we reviewed our photos on Peter’s laptop since we had gone over time.
All of my photos from the shoot can be found here.