Say “Cheese!”

Workshops help budding photographers get that great shot

By Patty Unruh

The Gilpin County Library presented the first installment of its 2013 Artists-in-Residence program on June 22 with Photographers-in-Residence John & Julie Black. Nine people attended the workshop conducted by the Blacks on what to know before buying a camera, types of cameras, how a camera works, and how to make the camera do what you want. It was the first in a series of workshops that the couple will be conducting this summer, all free and open to the public.

Other sessions will include photo composition (June 29), photo editing (July 20), post-processing software (July 27), taking portraits (August 17), and making your photo into something special (August 24). All sessions are on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

The Blacks held an exhibit of their own work at the library during April and May. John Black had made frames for the photos from aspen wood collected from their yard.

The couple, married for 44 years, got hooked on photography in May of 1983 during a camera safari in Kenya. They shared a Minolta camera and 30 rolls of 35 mm film, which they thought would be enough. However, they soon found themselves hunting for more film at ten dollars per roll. Now professional photographers, Julie mainly takes the photos, and John does the framing and matting.

The couple lives near Black Hawk and enjoys traveling the world to capture their artistic images, which include photos of France, New Zealand, and Costa Rica, as well as food, florals, city views, and abstracts.

Julie was really appreciative of her Sony camera. The participants in the group shared about their Nikons, Canons, and other mainly digital varieties, but one woman knew only that hers was “a black camera in the closet!”

Modern digital cameras are certainly different from cameras with film technology. John and Julie encouraged the workshop participants to have a plan before buying a camera. “What is your purpose?” John asked. “Is it simply family photos, or are you blowing up images into posters or making a special album of a trip or a wedding?”

Julie advised folks to limit the size and scope of their photo needs and evaluate what they may already own. She also reminded them to budget for the lens, case, batteries and charger, and software to manipulate their images. A diaper bag makes a clever camera case, she stated, because people assume it’s for a baby, so they won’t try to steal the cameras inside. People also need to assess how much memory their computer has and how big the hard drive is.

Julie encouraged everyone to research cameras on the internet or go down to a shop and try cameras to narrow down their choice. John noted that people tend to get a model with lots of bells and whistles, and then just end up using the auto feature.

“Julie and I belong to an RV group called the Boomers,” he said, referring to the generation born in the mid-1940’s to mid-1960’s. “Even though we all have technology, a lot of them are afraid of their cameras and don’t want to take bad pictures. But that’s what the delete button is for!” he laughed, adding, “Don’t be afraid to take bad photos or too many photos.” It’s not like the “old days,” when a person had to pay for a whole roll of film, even if it didn’t turn out well. John and Julie said that was one reason they loved digital technology.

Julie advised that the most popular type of camera nowadays is the cell phone camera. Other popular new models include the Android, which is a hybrid between a smart phone and a point-and-shoot, and the micro 4/3 camera, a compact camera with interchangeable lenses. The bridge camera fills the niche between a digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR), with its many features, and the simple point-and-shoot camera.

The Blacks addressed the technicalities of pixels, types of sensors, crop factor, optical versus digital zoom, focal length, apertures, shutters speeds, light compensation, and preventing red eye effect.

An especially important consideration was types of lenses. The purpose of a lens, they said, is to collect light that reflects off an object. Many digital cameras have interchangeable lenses. With a wide angle lens, subjects in the foreground of a photo are larger and distant objects are smaller. With a telephoto lens, all objects are about the same size. A macro lens would be used for extreme close-ups. A camera that has a standard or “kit” lens – 18 to 55 mm – would include a built-in lens that can give you a wide angle to a short zoom.

Not all lenses fit all cameras, John advised, so get one that matches yours. One drawback being able to change lenses, he noted, is that you can get dirt inside the camera and have a spot that shows up in all your pictures. You can get a cleaning kit and clean it yourself, or take it in for professional cleaning. Special equipment is necessary; don’t just take a bottle of Windex and a rag, or you can destroy your filter.

Digital cameras possess a number of special automatic features, where the camera makes decisions for you, electronically speaking. Or, you can use manual focus, telling the camera not to care, because you’re going to do the deciding.

Among the many amazing features of a digital camera is the auto shake, which stabilizes the camera if your hands are shaky or it is windy. Another is a light compensation feature, for use if you are photographing bright scenes with sand or snow. The camera will automatically underexpose such scenes, so you should compensate by using a brighter setting. Conversely, if you are photographing something dark, you need to use a darker setting because the camera will overexpose. You do the opposite of what you think you should do. John said, “It almost sounds like a government set-up.”

He suggested buying a notebook and writing down what features you tried on what photos so you can remember what you liked. “It saves a lot of time,” he advised.

Julie wrapped up the workshop with a discussion on what types of scenes may be photographed, such as portraits, landscapes, children, night portraits, party scenes, pets, blossoms, and food. Fast shutter speeds can be used for freezing motion in sports or other action shots. Some cameras will also do special effects, such as making subjects look miniature, transforming them into cartoons, putting one object in color and having the rest in black and white, and silhouettes. Some cameras can even adjust the sound of the shutter clicking so it can be barely heard.

Julie noted that the workshop on June 29 would cover what to photograph and how to compose the shot, in contrast to the technical side of things. “Today it’s science; next week it’s art!” she laughed.

John added that a highlight of coming workshops would be how to make something special of your photos. “You can make placemats,” he suggested. “It’s fun to do for friends and family and can really mean a lot.” It’s also relatively inexpensive – the couple gets sets of four made for less than ten dollars. Other items are mugs, posters, photo books, t-shirt transfers, and quilts with pictures of grandkids.

Other workshop plans include bringing in a green screen, special lighting, and a model during the portrait workshop.

For questions on the workshops, call the Gilpin Library at 303-582-0161 or email

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