Annapolis photo workshop gets participants camera-ready

Roger Miller and Jeffrey A. Wolk make photography sound easy. These seasoned shooters, who have nearly a century of experience between them, share some simple instructions: Relax, enjoy the scenery, focus and keep taking pictures.

"The most important thing about a camera is not to be afraid of it," said Miller, publisher of 34 photography books. "Just keep shooting. You will get some great pictures."

For those uninitiated in the intricacies of today's equipment, these two, both award-winners in their field, have put together a daylong photography workshop that promises candid coaching, technical assistance and lively dialogue. They aim to help their students emerge camera-friendly and eager to create art with the lens.

Wolk, an expert in photo processing, sees the camera as a means of artistic expression.

"We should not ignore the artistic side of ourselves," Wolk said. "With the camera, we can create art. It might not go in a museum, but we can proudly hang that art in our own home."

Miller and Wolk, who met through the Baltimore Camera Club, organized their hands-on "boot camp" workshop and set it in Annapolis.

"Come to Annapolis, and we'll show you how to use a camera," said Miller.

Kerri Sutey of Laurel, one of their first students, came to class last fall with a camera she bought for its "best digital zoom on the market" feature. But she was unsure how she could take advantage of all the gadgetry, especially during a trip to Africa.

"They both took the time to help me understand my camera," she said. "There were a lot of technical pieces, but the class was never dry. These guys made it fun. I learned all the different features and how to get the most out of them. Because of Roger and Jeff, I know how to make a camera come alive."

She returned from her 25-day trip with more than 5,000 pictures. She has already encouraged a few friends to take the course and might be a repeat student herself, she said.

Travel also prompted Sari Kiraly of Annapolis to buy a digital camera and join a class this winter. She came with an extensive background in film photography but had long shunned digital.

"I thought of it as cheating, especially the idea of fixing a picture," she said. "But I realized if I didn't go digital, I would probably never take another picture. I was a real neophyte who knew next to nothing when I went to the class. The how-to manual was confounding, but the workshop and the teachers were invaluable."

In one day, she learned enough to take more than 500 pictures on a trip to Tahiti, and she will be packing that digital camera on every future trek, she said.

The workshop starts in a popular coffeehouse with a slide show of the city's most scenic spots and then moves outdoors. Time is built in to process photos and review.

"We teach how to look, control your vision and how to use a digital camera," Miller said. "Our students range from teens to older people whose children have given up on teaching them today's technology. Maybe we are just language coaches, helping people understand the terminology."

Would-be photographers should not shy away from digital, the instructors said. Miller donated his old cameras and 400 rolls of film to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and embraced the new technology, although he defers to Wolk on questions about software and other more technical aspects of the craft.

"We think of this workshop as boot camp workshop on the digital camera," Miller said. "Digital has made photography much faster, and it has made the medium much more egalitarian. It is really the people's medium."

And what you don't like, you can delete, Wolk said.

There was never a question about where they would teach the class. Miller, 65, lives in Baltimore's Union Square neighborhood, and Wolk, 57, works and lives in southern Pennsylvania. But both immediately set their sights on Annapolis as the backdrop for their workshop.

"I live in Baltimore, but I am a cheerleader for Annapolis," Miller said. "I probably know every nook and cranny in the city, from its capitol dome to its waterfront docks. It is amazing how many people don't notice these sites. It is a treat watching eyes widen as we go into a garden or approach the Naval Academy gate."

Visitors who really want to see Maryland's capital should walk about the city, especially its narrower streets, Wolk said.

"Every time, you see things with a fresh eye, and there is a whole new look on how you take pictures," Wolk said. "We tell students to look around and really see what you want to shoot and find out what is best direction to shoot."

Their class tours nearly always stop at the William Paca House & Garden, where Miller has shot hundreds of photos in every season, including images in deep snow. His recent photo of actors portraying Paca and Thomas Jefferson hangs in the mansion, and many of his shots in the 2 acres of gardens are featured in his books. Jody Dalton, director of sales at the landmark, said the photographers are great champions of the city, and the workshop is spreading the word about what there is to see.

"Roger and Jeff are making more people aware of us, and this is a wonderful way to educate the public," she said.

Cameras seem part of their everyday attire and are ever clicking, in keeping with their "keep shooting" philosophy. An interesting clapboard home, a sloop approaching the pier, even a kitschy wreath all capture their attention.

Miller has been taking photos since he graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He has published several books of photos of Maryland's most scenic areas, including four on Annapolis. He is aiming his camera now at the U.S. Naval Academy for what will be a third anthology of scenes from that institution.

Photography began as a hobby for Wolk, who started his career in the printing industry. Now he runs Wolk Imaging, a business that combines photography and print.

"One thing about this career: It's constantly changing and you are constantly learning," he said. "If you are only doing what you did two years ago, you will soon be out of business."

He also teaches photography at the Community College of Baltimore County and has found the classroom can be limiting, given his subject matter.

"There is only so much lecturing you can do," he said. "I reinforce instructions with doing. Students learn by doing."

About 100 students have taken the class, which costs $225. The instructors are offering a special $95 rate for students who sign up by the end of April. Each workshop is limited to 12 participants.

The increasing success of the workshops has the instructors considering other locations for future classes, possibly in Baltimore, on the Eastern Shore or in Western Maryland. The state offers endless intriguing scenery for the camera's lens to capture, they said.

"Just bring your camera, your tripod, if you have one, and your laptop to process your images," Miller said.

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