Ibali Photography Collective: Week 2
Friday, August 25th: the second lesson of our photography workshop program in Cape Town
– Text by Gaia Rovelli, images by Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz
As we walk into the school, we recognize some of the participants. Among them, I see Kaylynn: following Dave instructions, she is picking up the camera she will be using from a lady in the hall. She carefully takes it out from the case, looking at it with fascination. Smiling, she points it at her friend for a couple of quick shots before the class. Her face shows the light of excitement, yet she hesitatingly looks at the camera: it really feels like there is a lot to learn.
Lesson Number 2:
Once again, we meet the participants in the geography lab, where our adventure started. The room flooded with light shining on the maps and “I love Geography” poster that hung around the room. As we dim the lights and shut the blinds, geography is no longer the topic in the classroom.
The group starts with a quick wrap up of last week’s take-away. As the students sits around the desks and take out their notes, Dave encourages them to think about what they learned last week. One take-away each, a brainstorming to refresh their minds, and the group was ready for new work. The kids are first going to go through some technical bases. To begin with, Dave explains that, even as a word, photography is made up of two elements: ‘photo’, which means ‘light’, and ‘graphing’, which stands for ‘drawing’. Indeed, today the class is dedicated to understanding how and why light is the most important aspect in photography.
The Magic Triad of Light
To begin with, the kids learn that there are three elements determining the amount of light that reaches the camera: the optical element (the lens), the mechanical element (cover and body) and the recording element (the sensor). Dave explains how the first two elements have always been important in photography, while the sensor has been developed more recently and it is typical of the “digital era”.
The students are fascinated by the idea of an element that detects and adjusts the setting of the camera automatically, helping the machine use the ideal amount of light. Thanks to the development of these three elements, modern and fancy cameras are more likely to adjust better to external light conditions. However, with the help of the workshop the students will learn how to set their cameras manually, no matter how modern the devices used are.
Light as Water
When we consider the importance of light, we have to take into consideration two questions. First, how much light do we want in our camera. This is the aperture. Second, how long do we want the light to come in for? This is called shutter. Dave makes the most common analogy to clarify the concept to the class: think about a tap. “If I let the water flow and I then I close it quickly I will not have so much water. And if I open it fully, letting as much water as possible flow, then of course I will get more of it. This is what shutter and aperture are.”
Exactly as the water flowing out from a tap, we can use our mechanical settings to determine the light with quick moves and deliberate decisions in order to get correct exposure. Of course, this is not the whole game: many other external factors determine light, for example, the photographer’s location. But before worrying about that, the students will need to worry about the camera in itself.
For the coming weeks, the camera will be their eyes. Indeed, this analogy couldn’t be more accurate: “The only reason why you can see in this room, which is relatively dark, is your pupil. You can think of the iris as the aperture, and the eyelid as your shutter,” said Dave.
Know Your Skills, Set Your Tool
A compact camera is what we call point and shoot: it’s what you do with it actually. And then you have digital SLR, what you might have heard about as ‘reflex’. On the cameras there are different setting modes that allow for different light settings. “Understanding how you control all this stuff will start to make the difference for you, as you will be able to make smarter choices.” Dave explains how the portrait mode is the best to take a picture of someone, showing some examples with the projector, “It blurs the background and the traits will be much more evident. Landscape mode is the opposite. It keeps everything in focus. And again, if you want to capture movement you can use action and sports settings.”
On the other hand, manual mode is much more complex, but the goal of the workshop is to be confident in using it. Dave draws a scale on the blackboard and tells the kids that they will weigh aperture and shutter exactly in the same way. “With manual you have complete control on everything: it’s a great opportunity…but you have to know how to do it!”
Time to Practice
Finally, the moment to take action has come, “Take your cameras and follow me outside of the room.” Dave looked around at the group and explained the task at hand, “You now have to take three pictures. You can take no more than ten steps before any shot, and you can go in any direction, starting from where you are standing right now.”
This exercise confronts the group with the challenge of seeing more than just looking, which they can now put into practice. For the moment the automatic mode will help them in their mission, while it is up to their skills and sensitivity to display new perspectives in an everyday context.
Ten Steps to Go
Even the corridor where they walk every morning becomes an inspirational playground full of opportunities. “Just use the automatic mode and then come back, so we can discuss about the shots that you took.”
The kids start moving around the corridor, Dave follows them and lets them do their job, offering any guidance if need. Some move in groups, others alone. A couple of them manage to get to the garden taking the longest step that they could. Others merely look for an original way to frame what was right close to where they stood. Some incline the camera, look through the windows or even lie on the floor to take their best shot.
Homework and more
The workshop concluded with their pictures being displayed: not only the ones taken this Friday, but even the homework they had been left with the week before. The group took part in a discussion and started to present individual perspectives and points of views to the collective. While this first task has confronted them in a more limited environment, it soon will be time for them to step outside the school and start some real reporting.
Next week the workshop will continue with some more technical insights and definitely more practice. Step by step, the Ibali Photo Collective is taking shape: participation and engagement are already making the difference. We now only have to wait for their work, and wish good luck to this amazing group of students!