I gave a talk to a photography class of 20+ students at Penn State – Berks campus this morning. The teacher, Jeff, selects one photographer each year to speak about their work and approach to the medium. I learned that most students were using “point and shoot” cameras to learn photography. While this would have never worked when I was in college, I do believe that most of these cameras today are more than capable learning tools.

In most respects these simple cameras are more complicated and more geared toward learning the medium than the truly simple Fujica ST605n classic 35mm with which I leaned photography. Even basic digital cameras often come with exposure overrides, white-balance controls, histograms, and of course instant feedback. The tools have changed, so why shouldn’t the learning process change as well? I was asked by a student at the end of my talk whether I thought the way I learned the medium (B&W darkroom, then color slidefilm, then digital) was a better way to learn than digital from start? I’m happy that I learned in the progression that I did, but I certainly don’t think I would feel deprived if I were starting out today learning only digital.

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6 thoughts on “Penn State – Berks: What I learned in class

  1. The students were fortunate to hear from such a fine photographer! I am old-schooled enough to have learned how to develop film, but I’ve got to say I thoroughly enjoy the digital age, I just never had enough patience for it.

  2. I bet it was an interesting talk. I agree with you on today’s digital cameras. There’s little truly “basic” about them. Even the simplest models have so many tweaks & possibilities!

  3. The only downside of learning photography as digital only is that it may increase the likelihood of photographers to pay less attention during the “capture” process, thinking any mistakes can be fixed later in post-processing, or on the spot by adjusting exposure, white balance, etc.

    The pain I experienced of not seeing my mistakes until way after I could do anything, over time, made me slow down & more fully consider what I was doing. It’s not the mistakes that are avoided being the main benefit, it’s the opportunity to see the situation more deeply & possibly consider/envision a new approach.

    If a photographer just reacts to fix a mistake on the spot (or assume it will be fixed later), he/she may think they’re done & just keep on moving along. I expect the “slowing down” process is a lengthy one for some people, & digital as a medium runs counter to that. This is absolutely not to say that a 100% digital learning experience makes it impossible, but the lack of pain (a wonderful motivator) may make it more difficult to achieve for some.

  4. Marty – Always a thoughtful comment man. I do think that I work as though I were using slide film which requires absolute perfection in the field. Were I to start today with only digital format……you may be right.

  5. I agree with Marty. I think it is better to start out with traditional b&w darkroom and progress to digital. I’m very blessed to go to a school who offers photography courses that start with 35mm b&w darkroom to color darkroom to digital. I never realized what all is put into a picture untill I took these classes. At first I was very impatient and would come back with very little good negatives and wasn’t patcient enough to take my time in the darkroom. But 35mm has showed me to slow down and I’ve ended up with better darkroom picture as well as digital. I don’t use a point and shoot digital camera for my photography but I do use one for every day things and I think that having darkroom experience has also helped with my simple photographs. I find myself hitting delete a lot less. I think it is important to learn on 35mm cameras and work in the darkroom. I’ve very much been considering going to Penn State Berks its a wonderful college my only draw back is my avalibity to a darkroom.

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