I've had a good beginner's DSLR for awhile, a Canon EOS Rebel T3i with an 18-55 mm lens. It's got good reviews as hobbyist camera, and even without any real knowledge of photography, I've managed to get some pretty good shots out of it, like here:
But I had a lot of mess-ups and a lot of "meh" shots (if we were still shooting film it would have been a lot of expensive "meh"), and I knew for certain I wasn't using nearly all the features that the camera was capable of. I wanted better pictures at personal events. I wanted better pictures for the blog. Also, I work in public relations. It's fairly typical for an organization to have outrageously expensive photography equipment around with no one who can use it, and to refuse to hire a photographer. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been at an event as a writer, had someone shove an $8,000 camera in my hand, and say, "here, you can take the pictures." As if they assume an expensive camera operated by an idiot will still guarantee fabulous photos. Um. Sure.
It took a while to find a photography class I could handle. By that I mean the time commitment and cost. There were several expensive, semester long, three times a week, graded classes around at our local university and community college, but I didn't want to dive in quite that deep at first. Finally I located a 4-week, one night a week class hosted at our local botanical center. It was taught by a freelance professional, and was limited to 12 people per class. I was sold.
The instructor was excellent, and he had such a great way of breaking down all the individual technical components of a good photo, that suddenly, all the dials and buttons on my camera started to make sense to me. That's a lot of progress in my book.
He spent a lot of time explaining to us the function of f-stops, or aperture, and it's effect on depth of field. In our homework assignment above you can see how, with increasing f-stops, the background comes more and more into focus. For some reason, just learning this one function was the great "A-ha" moment for me with the rest of the camera. I'm still a beginner, definitely, with lots left to learn, but this one piece of information has me off and running, and I feel as though my photos got a lot better.
The photos in this post are not post-processed or cropped. While I realize they are far from technically perfect, they're better, and I know what to do to improve them. That's a good thing to learn from any class like this.
And since we were taking our class at a botanical center, of course the photos assignments were all nature shots. Not a bad thing, though I'd like to learn better indoor photography for the blog too. I realize that's a different animal entirely.
The only negative thing I learned through taking the class is that my ability to commit to this sort of thing outside work and family responsibilities is minimal. It took a lot of juggling elsewhere to get to a 2 1/2 hour class every week. And do the homework. That part was disappointing, since I've been considering some bigger commitments, like graduate school. Clearly I'm not cut out for being spread thin. Maybe it's my current stage in life, but the thought of taking on anything bigger than this is overwhelming.
That said, I'm still looking to sign up for the intermediate version of this class, which starts in August. I'm so glad I took the chance on learning something new.