Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Project Based Learning

Well another year has started and we should all have made, and broken, our resolutions by now. Now that we are all smarter and thinner, and now that we have quit smoking and eating, what should we do with the rest of the year? Time to think about photography again.

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions but I do every year try to improve my photography. I started doing photography after a very long absence and new to the digital world in November of 2008 before leaving for a trip to Australia. I used the trip to re-acquaint myself with the camera, its functions and to learn what I could about digital cameras. During the winter I played around with Digital Editing and tried to learn as much as I could.

In very early spring I decided I needed a ‘project’ to force myself to learn as much as I could in a specific aspect of photography. This project based learning I picked up in the computer world. Doing a project is a great way to force yourself to learn, but, what would the project be?

Having picked up a few new bird feeders and already having an interest in birds and wanting to learn more about birds I decided my project would be Bird Photography. This simply didn’t mean just going out and capturing a few snapshots of birds feeding on the feeders but rather I would attempt to ‘master’ bird photography. I would learn about birds, their behavior and where to find them in the lower mainland.

I would then get out as often as I could and I would do it until I had a collection of exceptional bird images. Part of the process included capturing birds in flight, birds nesting, birds in their natural habitat and birds in flight. I would try to capture a variety of birds from shore birds to songbirds and raptors. I would then make sure that I would be able to extract the best possible images I could which meant not only shooting RAW, but learning everything I could about RAW, Importing, Editing, Color Balance, Sharpening, and other aspects of digital editing and finally learning how to print high quality images. All with birds. I dedicated all of 2009 to this and I succeeded. I sold several large framed prints of birds and even had one bird image published. Task accomplished.

It was no easy task, as there was a lot to learn with regards to bird photography. I spent hundreds (yes hundreds) of hours out shooting but I did befriend an incredible Red Tailed Hawk I dubbed Sid. After several months I was able to get within several meters of Sid and he let me stand there with my camera while he would continue to hunt for prey. I was lucky enough to photograph him on several occasions catching and eating several rodent species! An incredible experience to see up close made even better since I was able to capture it on film, or rather in digital camera.

Then, being new to the digital world I had a lot to learn with regards to the digital editing aspects of photography. New software, new processes, all new skills made easier when done on our rainy West Coast days.

Although I ended that year being a better good bird photographer and being fairly good at digital editing, I still had lots to learn. To this day I continue to photograph birds out of sheer passion and for the love of it. I also continue to spend hours trying to improve both my Bird Photography and Digital Processing skills.

In 2010 I choose another project, Flora Photography. Whereas I was shooting outdoors before and mostly with moving objects, I would now be able to shoot indoors, outdoors, and stationary plants and flowers. I would also be able to shoot with Flash and Studio Lighting. New camera skills and techniques to learn and new artistic and composition rules to master. Another great opportunity. I was able to shoot indoor plants on rainy days, head out on sunny and overcast days and shoot through the seasons of spring, summer and fall. It was another great learning opportunity and an even more successful year if you measure success in sales! Task accomplished.

We are now in 2011 and I have dedicated this year to learning and mastering B&W photography. This should be fun as it partly takes me back to my B&W roots of shooting film for the newspapers and the art I created in the early to mid eighties. I will now again need to learn or see things in a new way artistically and compositionally. I will have new camera and digital editing skills to learn including new printing skills.

I look forward to this challenge I have given myself for this New Year and I hope that you take on a challenge of your own. Next post will be a guideline on how to choose a project and some things you can do to help you succeed.

© 2011 François Cléroux
(Version 1.01 - January 2011)
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