So recently I headed to Yosemite National Park and the Ansel Adams Gallery, which offers free camera walks, as well as photo classes and multi-day workshops for a fee, taught by staff photographers. Many of the iconic Yosemite photos I adore were shot by Adams, who died in 1984, and I thought a lesson here would be the nearest thing to learning from the man himself.
I wanted to maximize my hands-on learning experience with the pros, so I signed up for the 1½-hour adult camera walk and a four-hour "basics" class, both taught by Christine White Loberg.
FOR THE RECORD:
Yosemite photo classes: An article in the Jan. 8 Travel section on photography workshops in Yosemite National Park referred to an F-stop as a camera's focal length. F-stop settings describe the size of the lens opening that allows light into the camera. —
On the adult photo walk, Loberg took us to scenic locations within easy walking distance of the gallery in Yosemite Village. Loberg, who is also a part-time park ranger at Yosemite, pointed out animal habitats and identified native plants. She also shared with us some of Adams' photos and his artistic philosophy.
She said Adams often used musical analogies when discussing photography, comparing a negative to a music score and the resulting photograph to the performance of the score. Loberg also showed us how two photographers can take very different images of the same tree, depending on whether they use filters and how they use the light. I began to see myself as the artist and my camera as a tool.
When I learned that the kids' photo walk involved sitting or lying on the ground in order to snap the perfect shot, I opted to take it too. The highlight was learning how to shoot "trick" photos so that it appears that a person is drinking from a distant waterfall or that a "headless" person is sitting on a log next to his head. This class made me understand the importance of finding the best angle for a photo and the difference shooting from above or below can make.
In Loberg's Basics of Digital Photography class ($95 for four hours), she taught eight beginning photographers, ranging in ages from 14 to 60-plus, how to use the manual settings on our digital cameras (both point and shoot and single lens reflex). Here are a few highlights:
• Shutter speed determines how fast a camera's aperture closes. A slower shutter speed, such as 1/15 or 1/30, is great in low-light situations but requires a tripod or a steadier hand than most of us possess. Faster shutter speeds are better when you are shooting "hand-held." If I were shooting a campfire scene, a slower shutter speed would be best, whereas it's better to use a faster shutter speed to shoot a waterfall. I also used the continuous shooting mode while photographing Lower Yosemite Falls.
• Use your digital camera's histogram to adjust your shutter speed, F-stop (focal length) and ISO (which determines your camera's sensitivity to light). The histogram is a graph that illustrates how much light (highlights) and darkness (shadows) are in an image before or after you shoot it. The website eHow discusses using a digital camera's histogram (http://www.ehow.com/how_4523400_use-histogram-photography.html); your camera manual may also provide instruction.
• Adjust the Auto White Balance setting on your camera to heighten the primary colors of red, blue and green. Forest images can pop with green or blue highlights. Increasing the red in the White Balance can create a sizzling sunset image.
Loberg taught me to see my camera as a paintbrush. Although Half Dome has been extensively photographed, I now can put my own artistic spin on this and other Yosemite icons.
Spending a few hours in a photography class on a vacation might empower you too. I finally feel as if I can take a bow for taking a good photo rather than letting my camera bask in all the applause.
To learn more
For information on photography classes offered by the Ansel Adams Gallery, go to http://www.anseladams.com.
The free photo walks are offered at 9 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and are limited to 15 people. The children's photo walk — which is open to adults — is offered only in summer. Call (209) 372-4413 to reserve space.