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Learning to light again

Don's success with lighting workshops and the Strobist's globe-trotting teaching trips made me realize that we haven't figured out yet how much the switch to digital is changing photographic education. Don's workshops are hands-on: You work with him, review techniques and sharpen your skills that day. This is possible because you can look at your image right away in the preview and then get a final product later that day via Photoshop and an inkjet printer.

Those of us trained in the antedeluvian days of photography learned to shoot a much different way. We didn't learn to use lights because that meant Polaroids, and what kind of student can pop $800 for a barely-useful 35mm Polaroid back (plus dedicated camera body) or lay out ten times that for a medium-format system?

Even in natural light, the process was slow, making instant evaluation and guidance impossible. In the old days, it went:
  • Shoot
  • Rush back to the school lab
  • Develop (God bless 110 degree Rodinal!)
  • Contact
  • Evaluate
  • Print
If you were good (and I was) those last 4 steps should take you less that a half an hour, not including the drive back to the school lab. For one print. And your instructor could help you (maybe) on only the last 2-3 stages.

Now the feedback loop has shrunk considerably:
  • Shoot
  • Look at your preview
  • Shoot some more
  • Plug in camera to laptop
  • Download
  • Adjust in Photoshop
  • Burn CD/Email to client.
Total time? 10 minutes. Tops. And it's all done on-site, with your instructor looking right over your shoulder, guiding you every step of the way.

Photo instruction used to include a large element of self-teaching: Your instructor could not help you shoot because he couldn't be there throughout the lengthy process from setting up the shot to the final print. Now all of that has changed, and one-on-one (or one-on-few) instruction is not only practical but desirable for both teacher and student.

“Learning to light again”