Ibali Photography Collective: Week 3

Friday, September 2nd: the students from Muizenberg High School met photographer Michael Edwards, who shared some useful tips insider advice.

– Text by Gaia Rovelli, images by Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz

Before our first guest speaker arrived, Dave explained the metrics of exposure on a camera and sent the students on a task in order to experiment with light metering, sparking creative juices for the further workshop of the day.

  

Meeting Edwards’ photography

This week the students found two special guests in the geography lab: Mark Fisher, a videographer filming the best moments of the class, and Michael Edwards. 

Mike Edwards, a high profile South African photographer, is the first guest speaker to join the project – and we were honoured to have him. Mike started his workshop with a quick chat with the class: getting to know them better and finding out what they liked the most about photography.

The students, who are starting to get used to these questions, answered with little hesitation, “I like to capture the moment”, “I like to take pictures and then show them to people”, or again “photography is a big part of what I dream for my future career”.

Mike was also curious about their future plans and ambitions, and checking who in the group would consider photography as a future career. He pulled from his own past experience and advised them, “Go out and try to do it. If I look back at my photography class, I am the only one who pursued his dream, and travelling was essential to reach my ambition!”

Some Takeaways from the Real World

Mike introduced his past works and experiences, demonstrating his passion in documentary photography and how his career had evolved in different stages. He told the class some anecdotes about difficult or famous clients he had to take portraits of, his experience in corporate photography and his best professional quality as a photographer: adaptability.

Despite his inspirational words, Mike did not deceive the group. He was concrete and frank, and he underlined that dreams can be achieved, but they do require a lot of effort. Photographers need to be open-minded, flexible and deal with clients, “It is not always possible to work and get by with the style of photography that you love. Compromises are part of the job.”

On top of technical abilities, he underlined one essential skill a photographer must have. Photographers need to have a nice attitude and be a person that people would like to work with. Indeed, nobody wants to be portrayed by someone they do not like, “If this is something you are very interested in, I suggest you get involved in more programs like this one, continue to put effort and time and be a nice person.”

 

The Camera Obscura

The most exciting moment of this workshop was when Mike showed the kids some old-fashioned photography equipment he had brought with him. From his bag he took out a large, rusty looking box with a long black body, resembling an accordion: an original camera obscura. Mike showed this camera obscura to the kids, explaining how complicated and time consuming taking pictures used to be before digital innovations.

He then showed some of his works, and had the students observe and discuss the different effects that they could achieve with shadows. In harmony with Dave’s lecture, he pointed out to the class, “Photographers are technicians who work with light.”  According to Mark, the most surprising results can be achieved in portraits, “You can make them amazing or they can come out just horrible according to how you set the lights on their faces.”

The Art of Getting Confident

A fundamental skill for these kids to become photographers is to gain confidence in their photography skill. This means being able to see the composition you want before shooting. However, this does not mean sticking to the rules. Mike encouraged them to try and experiment, and to always push their boundaries.

“Break the rules! Photography is creative and fun. You can break one rule and it comes out horrible so you learn and then break another rule and it may come out great.”

Indeed, photography is something subjective. To illustrate the concept, Mike passed around a picture and a makeshift frame for a quick task. The kids had to position this frame on a wider poster, so as to crop a smaller shot they would take. As everyone made their choice, Mike pointed out that almost everyone had picked a different composition, “There is no right or wrong, you can portray what you think and feel that is good and be brave. There is nothing worse than a photographer looking around and wondering what he should do.”  Again, confidence makes the difference. Mike encouraged them to be proactive, creative, daring with composition by playing with cropping and colours as well as with black and white, “all these elements can make an average shot brilliant.”

   

Five Photography Tips from Mike Edwards

As the class approached to an end, Mike asked the guys to take pen and paper and write down his five final remarks to become a great photographer:

#1 Discover the Macro

“Try and experiment with Macro lenses. With these you will be able to shot 2 centimeters away from your subject. You can engage with your product, be it food or nature…it is brilliant.”

#2 Use your aperture

“Try to shoot with an aperture around 1.4. Remember: the lower the number, the higher your aperture is. You will realize a bigger aperture can make things jump out from the scene so easily, letting the background be out of focus.”

#3 Play with angles

“When you shoot always look for different perspectives: get on the floor, lie on your back…Don’t be shy, or lazy and dare!”

#4 Interact with people

“This might not sound so easy for those of you who are a little bit shy but believe me when I say that magic happens through photography. Use it as a way to get in touch, talk to people, engage. Smile back to your subject, be natural.”

#5 Create

“Go and find a 4 x 5 meter area, look around and challenge yourself to take the 20 most amazing pictures in that space. Initially without your camera. Go back again, at different times of the day, in different weather conditions and so on. Everytime, visualize your picture. Finally, embrace your camera, go back and shoot. This is the easiest way to discover yourself!”

Get ready for Week 4

Mark left the kids with a final friendly advice: to find what out what they want to do in life and to pursue it. Of course he realizes that it is easier said than done: but if these kids will be resolute and work hard, they will have the opportunity to achieve their goals. He smiles to the class, “sooner than you would realize you become the photographer arriving from Cape Town…and you will be working with a lot of people!”.

Next week the kids will meet for the fourth workshop and go through the shots taken at the beginning of the workshop and explore further the concepts of shutter and aperture in practice.

The lesson of today surely gave them food for thought, and in the coming weeks we are definitely expect their first creative works.

Stay tuned and keep following the amazing adventure of the Ibali Photo Collective!

You can still support the project with your old cameras or in-cash donations! Find out more about how to contribute!

Learn more about Michael Edwards Photography!