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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Old 11-08-2016   #41
David Hughes
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Darthfeeble View Post
It's the 21st century now, if no one has noticed. I would like to see a camera that you couldn't teach the basics on, everything I have except the point and shoots and the phone all have M on the camera and M on the lens. I agree that this is the way to start someone but to dredge up old cameras and chemicals when they are harder and harder to come by and more and more expensive is silly.
Hi,

But, how can you teach photography without mentioning film, chemicals etc? How to use a digital camera is a small part of it. Or am I thinking the wrong way and that where we came from isn't part of it.

I guess the answer is a de luxe course about photography and a cheap course about digital but I feel sorry for the instructor because I doubt if everyone will have the same camera and so how could he/she help them when things get weird?

We have enough examples of it on these forums and each time an expert in that camera has to step forward with the answer. I can't imagine one person dealing with all the queries, nor can I see the job of teaching being easy when everyone has a different tool for the job.

Regards, David

PS, Of course, the first couple of hours would be spent making everyone RTFM...
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Old 11-08-2016   #42
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This is an interesting thread.
I'm a poor teacher, but I got my 20 y-o son started in "real" photography with a Pentax Spotmatic, while I was next to him shooting a Zorki-1, explaining the options & choices of exposure settings. Up until then he had been insta-gramming with his cell phone, and it was obvious that he "had the eye."
I stayed entirely out of the art of composing, giving him freedom of creativity, and just talking about technical aspects when each new set of scans arrived. We have no darkroom and use a quick & dirty mail order lab.
After 6 months he bought a Olympus digital "semi-pro" kit.
Now at 1 year in he has earned a bit of gas money with some band sessions, a few individuals who wanted photos, and a local public event taking group photos, gathering contact information, editing his shots and delivering by email.
He's still shooting film, instant photos with a Polaroid SX-70, and digital.
BTW, he is a Junior marketing major at the local University.
There are a lot of paths to get there. We could have started with wet glass plates.
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Old 11-08-2016   #43
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I think the high cost of film is way overstated. We have a fleet of 65 Pentax K1000's at my school and it costs between $400 and $600 to keep them in tip top shape each year. The students bang them around in backpacks and take them home on breaks. How much does your digital camera ofr phone cost? you are tempted to upgrade after year one, and threatened by planned obsalescence in 3, by 5 years, the cost of repair makes many of them unrepairable, sonce there is little resale value. We can buy a replacement K100, for less than $100 and it will last for decades into the future. I've been a digital artist since 1995. When it comes to B&W, usong my ZoneSimple technique with film and then scanning gives greater highlight and shadow detail without the artificiality of HDR. Andreas Gursky whose large print (not a fan) sold for 4.3 million dollars a few years ago. He uses film and scans it. Unless you are looking for a film effect, I perspnally see no adantage to shooting color film over digital. Since 2003 I have owned six digital cameras, all over $1000 each as well as a few others just to get new features. There are nany hidden costs to going digital that aren't being considered, because people would have a computer anyway. Even media storage keeps changing and the cost of moving an enormous number of digital image files, as software and storage become obselete, should also be considered. I have every negative and slide I have ever made, wich costs me pennies to store in comparison. If you are passionate about photography, it is not a cheap hobby. The future of photography isn't machines, it's each photographer's unique personal vision.

Last edited by Charlie Lemay : 11-08-2016 at 13:19. Reason: line break
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Old 11-08-2016   #44
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I am talking about a local community college, not a ritzy East coast prep school where the estimated cost of attendance is over $60,000/year.
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But.........
Old 11-08-2016   #45
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But.........

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Hughes View Post
Hi,

But, how can you teach photography without mentioning film, chemicals etc? How to use a digital camera is a small part of it. Or am I thinking the wrong way and that where we came from isn't part of it.

I guess the answer is a de luxe course about photography and a cheap course about digital but I feel sorry for the instructor because I doubt if everyone will have the same camera and so how could he/she help them when things get weird?

We have enough examples of it on these forums and each time an expert in that camera has to step forward with the answer. I can't imagine one person dealing with all the queries, nor can I see the job of teaching being easy when everyone has a different tool for the job.

Regards, David

PS, Of course, the first couple of hours would be spent making everyone RTFM...
Are the tools that different? As long as it is a reasonably sophisticated digital, it will have a full manual mode and in that is everything the student would need. Did you have to learn Daguerotype, or Colodian (sp, I know) process to learn your craft? I certainly didn't in the classes I took in the 60s and the ones in the late 70s. We used the tools that were current then and were relevant to us.
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Old 11-08-2016   #46
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Were I teach has nothing to do with what I teach. Your comment is irrelevant to the discussion, faberryman. I taught the same way for 18 years in a very low budget local tuition driven college that folded.
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Old 11-08-2016   #47
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At the college level, the programs are generally geared towards sending graduates out into the workforce, at least that is the case here in Canada. As such, most of the programs focus on the tools of the trade today, digital cameras.

Teaching this sort of stuff myself, it would take up a lot of valuable time to teach the students film based photography, time that should be used to make them proficient with the tools most clients expect the pro to be using.

The idea that starting with film, or basing the program on film, somehow ensures a more competent photographer is based solely in sentiment.
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Old 11-08-2016   #48
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charlie Lemay View Post
Were I teach has nothing to do with what I teach. Your comment is irrelevant to the discussion, faberryman. I taught the same way for 18 years in a very low budget local tuition driven college that folded.
With a "fleet of 65 Pentax K1000s" and the budget to maintain them?
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Old 11-08-2016   #49
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Another thought: Isn't it the picture that is supposed to count? I am enough of a luddite to think that it's not photography until it is up on the wall. How to operate the tool is a relatively easy teach, craft a good picture is much more difficult I would think.
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Old 11-08-2016   #50
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I never learned anything with film. S16 amd later auto. By the time you press the shutter and have film developed, scanned, printed you don't remember what you were doing with camera.
Only after I purchased DSLR and switched it to M with manual ISO, I finally learned about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Only then I understood exposure, DoF and so on.

The only thing you could learn with film is how to take pictures for months on one roll.
I think teachers are just lazy to go through hundreds of pictures instead of few per student, this is why they still pushing for film.
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Old 11-08-2016   #51
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In the college I taught, students supplied their own film cameras, most free to them from the closets of family members.
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Old 11-08-2016   #52
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My issue isn't so much the film-vs-digital aspect of it. I'm more concerned about a simple, manual camera with straightforward controls: A shutter speed dial, an aperture ring, a focusing collar, and a DOF (depth of field) scale on the lens barrel. No such cameras are made for digital.

Whether film is actually ever used in a photography class, having some old manual cameras as teaching aids to help illustrate the basic controls of image-creation might be helpful, with exercises designed to facilitate such understanding. If the students got the basic concepts from handling and familiarizing themselves with these old cameras, it might help them to realize how simple the basic controls are that underlie all the multi-mode complexity of modern cameras.

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Old 11-08-2016   #53
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As much as I love film and my experience w/it in the 1970's and beyond..and yes the film reality is so much fun on a deep level..waiting for the results and wet printing etc..not reproducible nowadays..as there is digital now ..as the hub of everything..
I just cant see how film would remain a valuable teaching resource except for a special film class or similar..
Generally too slow and too much trouble..dangerous chemicals..ruined film..
I just cant see film as relevant for beginning students anymore..
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Old 11-08-2016   #54
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The bulk of the students that go through our program can expose manually, use handheld meters, Arris, LED panels, print and so forth. They can fire up the dslr and shoot manually with the best of em.

It's not my preference but there is no clear advantage to the old manual debate. They need to be proficient on current professional tools.

Quote:
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My issue isn't so much the film-vs-digital aspect of it. I'm more concerned about a simple, manual camera with straightforward controls: A shutter speed dial, an aperture ring, a focusing collar, and a DOF (depth of field) scale on the lens barrel. No such cameras are made for digital.

Whether film is actually ever used in a photography class, having some old manual cameras as teaching aids to help illustrate the basic controls of image-creation might be helpful, with exercises designed to facilitate such understanding. If the students got the basic concepts from handling and familiarizing themselves with these old cameras, it might help them to realize how simple the basic controls are that underlie all the multi-mode complexity of modern cameras.

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Old 11-09-2016   #55
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Hi,

If we are going to talk about photography as it is practised these days then we don't really have to mention prints do we? But should teaching be about what people do? Imagine teaching spelling based on what students do for spelling...

Anyway, as it is done means no prints and a smart phone. I've noticed at large events that smart phones seem to the the most used, there's one or two with dSLR's a few with smaller digitals and a few waving tablets about. At posher events lots waving tablets and a lot more dSLR's. About once a year I see someone with a film camera.

Teaching photography in this country, UK & England specifically, means a 2 or 3 year course leading to an exam at age 16 called the GCSE and then a two year course leading to an A (advanced) level exam at 18. To get on to the A level course you need the previous one and maths and English etc at a fairly good level.

So 4 or 5 years training in all. And that means plenty of time to do it properly.

If anyone is interested the GCSE version is covered here:-

http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/art-a...ht-based-media

And a typical A level page is here:-

http://www.cwc.ac.uk/Courses/Pages/A...otography.aspx

(Some of you will see a reference to the K1000, which is why I picked it.)

They call them colleges these days but in my days you stayed at the same school but had a bit more freedom and smaller classes (12 to 18 students). Most of the modern colleges I've seen are buildings beside the old schools so it very nominal as all the kids do is move across the site and the school puts up a new signboard... (The teachers salaries don't go up, btw.)

I'd like a bit of background as to how it is taught in the USA as their schemes seem to dominate these forums but I know nothing about them.

Regards, David
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Old 11-09-2016   #56
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You can generally get a Certificate in photography by taking 10 photography courses at a local community college, or an Associates degree (A.A.) if you add 10 additional courses in English, math, and other requirements. The Certificate is designed for one year, the Associates degree is designed for two years, but both often take longer because not every course is offered every semester and scheduling conflicts inevitably arise. In addition, many of the students are working and going to school part time.

In the university system, you can get a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in four years. Note that a university degree generally requires 40 or so courses, only half of which of are in your major, in this case in the fine arts. Not all of those courses would be in photography, as there are other requirements like drawing, art history, etc. A Master of Arts (M.F.A.) requires another two years in your concentration.

That is just a rough sketch. Not all schools offer photography, and the requirements vary.

Of course you don't need to do any of that because if you open a studio or sell your work in a gallery nobody asks to see your educational credentials. You generally need an M.F.A. if you want to teach in a community college or University.
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Old 11-09-2016   #57
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I guess, one really important question is, how old the students are:

How many people do care whether or not these little screens do damage the eye of a person that is still growing?

(Wait: Does anyone know exactly, at which point of time the eyes' growth is finished? Hm?)

Well, more and more parents (among them many who don't need glasses themselves) are very very surprised when they have to bring their children to an opthalmologist.

And, the result is: the better informed parents decide against «I-Pad» (etc.) teaching, and this should be the same case regarding cameras: the smaller the screen, the worse for young persons' eyes.
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Old 11-09-2016   #58
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Many thanks.

The last line is very true, especially the word "generally" as it's very noticeable here that some degrees mean you can earn two or three times more outside school, that is compared to a teaching post's pay. So, they tell me, almost anything goes in some areas.

Add to that the fun and games they are having changing everything every week and you can see why most of my friends in the academic world have decided to retire early. You should hear some of the rants...

Regards, David
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Old 11-09-2016   #59
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I teach film and digital classes at a community college, and our program still starts out with film. Most of our students rent Pentax K 1000 cameras and 50 mm lenses from the school, while a few have the "family camera". The K 1000's stand up well to student use, and they do help to make clear what the basic controls for photography are. Many of my students really enjoy the hands on aspect of film processing and wet printing and go on to get their own darkroom equipment after graduating, although some find it frustrating at first. Most low end DSLRs that I have handled have poor viewfinders and getting control of f/stops and shutter speeds is made difficult by the single control dials that most of these cameras have, so I think that students learn more about the basic process from film cameras.
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Old 11-10-2016   #60
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Hi,

I guess that taking the lens off a K1000 and working the aperture and so on makes it easier for you as then you are no longer talking about an abstract but about something they can see and understand.

A lot of digital cameras don't even let you see the aperture blades, if they have any. And, of course, you can go on and expand the idea later on when 12 or 5 blade lenses come into it and those little combined shutters and aperture things like diamond shaped openings etc, etc.

And I'll also guess that getting a decent picture from something as 'old' and 'primitive' ;-) as the K1000 must give them a lot of satisfaction.

Regards, David
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Old 11-10-2016   #61
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My perspective on learning photography is skewed since I was self-taught in the early 1970s by reading monthly issues of photo mags and those Kodak booklets the camera store sold. As such, I tend to believe learning the basics with film, chemicals and working in the dark is The Best Way to do it. But I also accept that I'm looking at things from a perspective that is much different from today's norm. So maybe it's unrealistic to expect a foundation in photography today to be based on what I learned nearly a half century ago. Until the next technological development comes along, digital is the norm for photography today and the foreseeable future. The basics of light, exposure, etc., are the same but the tools and the working methods are completely different.

Nearly a half century ago, I would never have considered learning how to coat glass plates or how to use mercury vapors to make a daguerreotype.
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Old 11-10-2016   #62
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Hughes View Post
Hi,

I guess that taking the lens off a K1000 and working the aperture and so on makes it easier for you as then you are no longer talking about an abstract but about something they can see and understand.

A lot of digital cameras don't even let you see the aperture blades, if they have any. And, of course, you can go on and expand the idea later on when 12 or 5 blade lenses come into it and those little combined shutters and aperture things like diamond shaped openings etc, etc.

And I'll also guess that getting a decent picture from something as 'old' and 'primitive' ;-) as the K1000 must give them a lot of satisfaction.

Regards, David
I fully agree, I have experience with someone who learned to use my Nikon FM2 simply because seeing a couple of times what's happening when rotating a ring on the lens, open more light in, easy like this.
Now using Nikon D5... the aperture concept has now become an abstract concept...

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Old 11-10-2016   #63
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A demonstration with a manual film camera body showing the shutter working and holding up a lens and showing the aperture moving suffices.
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Old 11-10-2016   #64
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A demonstration with a manual film camera body showing the shutter working and holding up a lens and showing the aperture moving suffices.
Hmmm, but the instructor/teacher/professor has a year to fill in and he'll need something as a filler.

As the best instructors have something to change the tempo and liven things up when boredom sets in...

More to the point, this is about photography, not how to use the latest gear. Get too specialised and you'll have courses for Canon owners with Macs and then one for Canon owners with Windows 7 and so on. The variations are endless.

Regards, David
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Old 11-10-2016   #65
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And, the result is: the better informed parents decide against «I-Pad» (etc.) teaching, and this should be the same case regarding cameras: the smaller the screen, the worse for young persons' eyes.
cf.: http://drdunckley.com/2016/10/01/tec...w-big-tobacco/
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Old 11-10-2016   #66
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Quote:
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I guess, one really important question is, how old the students are:

How many people do care whether or not these little screens do damage the eye of a person that is still growing?

(Wait: Does anyone know exactly, at which point of time the eyes' growth is finished? Hm?)

Well, more and more parents (among them many who don't need glasses themselves) are very very surprised when they have to bring their children to an opthalmologist.

And, the result is: the better informed parents decide against «I-Pad» (etc.) teaching, and this should be the same case regarding cameras: the smaller the screen, the worse for young persons' eyes.

I spent 4 years as a public school teacher. I DESPISED iPads. Our school district bought several thousand of them, and we were expected to have kids use them to do some assignments, online tests, and research for writing papers.

The problem with them was not that they hurt kids' eyes. The kids were all addicted to their smartphones anyway, so we weren't really doing any more damage having them use iPads. The problem was it was damn near impossible to keep the kids from watching youtube videos, playing video games, and even trying to look at porn (which was blocked, thankfully, but they still tried) instead of doing their schoolwork.

Very little real work was ever done with them. We have too much tech in schools and not enough teaching.
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Old 11-11-2016   #67
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Thank you, Chris, for your very good additional informations.

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I spent 4 years as a public school teacher. I DESPISED iPads. Our school district bought several thousand of them, and we were expected to have kids use them to do some assignments, online tests, and research for writing papers.

The problem with them was not that they hurt kids' eyes. The kids were all addicted to their smartphones anyway, so we weren't really doing any more damage having them use iPads. The problem was it was damn near impossible to keep the kids from watching youtube videos, playing video games, and even trying to look at porn (which was blocked, thankfully, but they still tried) instead of doing their schoolwork.

Very little real work was ever done with them. We have too much tech in schools and not enough teaching.
It's sometimes really frustrating, no: infuriating!, how public funded money is wasted!

Well, as you know, I live in a «nanny state» (as many US Americans of the not-Democratic spectrum love to say) but, nevertheless, in my country parents have the freedom to decide whether or not «tablet teaching» takes place. (In Austria it needs a 2/3rd parents' majority if a teacher wants to use I-Pad etc. — and since for very recently, the Federal Ministry decided that not the public but the parents have to pay for these gimmicks, I expect more and more of them will refuse.)

Certainly, this computerised stuff is detrimental to learning. And I'm sure, exactly the same applies when we talk about learning photography.
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Old 11-11-2016   #68
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Certainly, this computerised stuff is detrimental to learning. And I'm sure, exactly the same applies when we talk about learning photography.

I completely disagree. Computers are integral to doing photography in the modern world, and any photo program that doesn't teach digital photography and photo editing is stealing the students' futures. They'll have to compete in an incredibly fierce market against people who do have those skills, and they'll fail without it.
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Old 11-11-2016   #69
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Quote:
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I completely disagree. Computers are integral to doing photography in the modern world, and any photo program that doesn't teach digital photography and photo editing is stealing the students' futures. They'll have to compete in an incredibly fierce market against people who do have those skills, and they'll fail without it.
I have expressed myself unclearly. By «computerised stuff is detrimental to learning», I meant: for the first learning process, and above all: for people under — say — 12 years, computerised stuff is not just unsuitable, it is detrimental to learning.
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Old 11-11-2016   #70
Bill Clark
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I'm an oldie moldie that started with film and manual cameras.

To me, in the 21st century, learning with film is like learning to drive a car with a Model T! Three pedals on the floor, yup, they were like that but find a car like that today.

Digital is what is used today with pros and amateurs. Some use film but those folks are a small minority now. To me, I can do everything with my DSLR and much more than I did with film. I can immediately learn with digital, see the results of my efforts, where with film I can't. How are you going to evaluate a students work if it takes a fair amount of time to develop and print/scan film photos? Let's see, after the film is developed and scanned/printed, go back, set this up, oh, where was the reflector, I can't remember how high to put the lights and she has different clothes on now! Try finding a histogram to read with a film camera. Back in the film daze I would use a Polaroid back to determine things. That's gone! Thank goodness.

And, I believe, the two other important steps to learn are the process and printing stages. For the process stage, I use Photoshop and learned the most about the program by staying up until the wee hours of the morning, spending a lot of screen time learning some of the techniques this program offers. I did take a few classes with Eddie Tapp that helped me. The learning curve took me a long time to get started but once I climbed it, man this is a powerful tool to use! There are a lot of programs that work in conjunction with Photoshop. I opted for a couple that would help me be more productive and I wrote a few actions to help me along.

The viewing stage is another matter. I decided to have a lab make the prints, for better or worse, depending how you think about this. My day has only 24 hours and I love photography but not 24 hours each day!

Some of the tasks used with film do cross over to digital and you can talk about this but I would focus teaching students about digital. Like all of us, they have only 24 hours to each day.
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Old 11-12-2016   #71
David Hughes
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Hmm, there seems to me to be two schools of thought; the first is about an apprentice learning the trade and then going to work alongside of the teacher and the second seems to be about a school or college teaching all about photography.

I'd expect the apprentice to know all about taking pictures and the boss's camera and so on, and the other student to know all about photography and taking pictures with a camera. (That means any old camera even though the plates aren't available and so on; you can't say you've done a course in photography and got the diploma etc without knowing how to use a common film SLR.)

But the problem seems to me to be that people - no one in particular, I'm just posting this as the next one after Bill Clark - think that you have to teach them how to make a wet plate/slide, then do it and use it and so on. Surely, all they need to know is what they were and how they worked and be shown typical examples of the cameras and photo's? In other words a talk about wet plates as part of the background knowledge most of us seem to have but don't necessarily practise.

As for film or digital, they both might be obsolete on Monday when something new is announced...

But they still need to know about them and how to use the cameras; I can usually pick up a camera and understand how to use it by looking at the controls, or lack of them, and so on. Some people seem to think that they should be taught how to use the latest and greatest and dearest and nothing else.

Anyway, it's just my 2d worth.

Regards, David
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Old 11-12-2016   #72
Bill Clark
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When I was a member of the PPofA and our local affiliate TCPPA, almost all of the young students have never used film or intend to. Our local group met at the Eden Prairie Vocational College and at one of our monthly meetings, a few years ago, they were shutting down their analog darkrooms. It was kind of sad to see Omega D2 enlargers, I think D2 at least they could take a 4x5 negative, on a cart to be taken away!

That's the way the staff saw the future of photography.
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Old 11-12-2016   #73
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I think both film and digital can be very useful to help teach/learn more about photography.

The immediate feedback of digital is handy for teaching the effects of shutter speed and aperture as well as being able to quickly show the different looks of altering focal length. Explaining the concept, shooting a couple of shots in class and then immediately projecting those pictures for the whole class to see is very effective. Ditto when teaching about lighting.

Letting students shoot like crazy and experiment can be effective *if* they are thinking about what they are doing and experimenting in that manor. Having hundreds of photos to cull through can also help a student find what they like and to hone in on their own preferences.

Film can help the students become more disciplined in their shots, in essence culling the shots before even shooting. The limits imposed by 36 shots and no feedback forces a student to think through the process more. It can also be useful for having them understanding the difference between what they think they captured vs what they actually captured.

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