ICP Exposure, Light, and Composition

Never Not Learning

I recently took a course at the International Center of Photography (ICP) to more deeply explore exposure, light, and composition. This was my first time taking a class at ICP, and really my first classroom experience for photography in general. I would strongly endorse all learning opportunities—always will—and this is no exception. Even if photography is still somewhat of a hobby, learning best practices and new techniques was a remarkable experience.

“Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst.”
—Henri Cartier-Bresson

The focus of the class was on lighting, and how to use your surroundings and your time photographing to achieve the creative results desired. Sure, there were more basic lessons on manual shooting and the exposure trifecta (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture), but the more hands-on work with studio lights, and the enjoyable play-time around NY made this course worthwhile.

The studio time saw us creating prime lighting with what we might have around a basic room, learning to figure-out a lighting solution without the necessity of purchasing expensive equipment. With just a couple of desk lamps, a bed sheet, and a window, we created portraits that conveyed different emotions, through harsh or soft lighting. We practiced the millimeter work—the multi-angular options that are essential when we have a single light source, and when we want to create a dozen different looks.

Along with the classroom lessons came a few tips and tricks to how to operate the lesser-used camera settings, quotes from famous photographers (which I’ve included my favorites), and a long slide-show of our professor’s photography accompanied by explanations on why some work and why some don’t. I understand that artists are a special breed, and at any setting they want to show their work… Unfortunately, these slide-shows were long and unwieldy, mostly unnecessary. I understand why the artist-teacher wants his work seen and I see the benefit of showing real-life examples, I just don’t think we needed hours of it.

“You don’t take a photograph,
you make it.” —Ansel Adams

My favorite part of the course was experimenting with the new-found knowledge in an interestingly lit space, which in this scenario was the famous Grand Central Station, NY. With its dim lighting, yellow tinted lights, and excessive movement, the world-renown train station was a challenge to master.

There is so much to think about when working in a space like this—from what the camera needs to do, to what you hope the scene does for you—it was definitely a lesson in patience as well as technique. Once I took my time to find the right locations, adjust the settings, and just sit and watch the people, I was able to shoot some interesting photos that I’ve been wanting for some time. I’ve been used to shooting crisp city-scape or street scenes that I abandoned playing with low-light and movement. Luckily, this course reminded me of what the outcome can look like, and I couldn’t be happier with some of these photos.

“If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.” —Garry Winogrand

While I might have known a few of the lessons going into the class, it doesn’t mean that it was wasted time. Re-educating, revisiting, and remembering the essentials can have its benefits. I’ve been so used to shooting straight manual for some time that I had neglected shutter-priority or aperture-priority modes, which can be a huge help when shooting for a specific result. Sure, I can achieve the same shots through manual mode, but this is more about learning how to work smarter, even faster, while still achieving the desired result. I was able to play with slow-shutter speeds and movement so enjoyably in Grand Central because I was reminded how useful shutter-priority is.

A big lesson during the course—and another beautiful reminder—was the importance of creativity in photography, of the art behind creating a great photo. How to properly work a machine is one thing, but having the ability to find and create the right photograph is another. I’m still gaining tons of experience every day I go out and shoot, but I am lucky to have some creativity in my blood and a decent eye that has helped me out quite a bit up till now.

“If your photographs aren’t good enough,
you’re not close enough.” —Robert Capa

So, like I always say, never stop learning and growing. Keep putting yourself in new situations and immersing yourself in new experiences, jump into a classroom and learn something for the fun of it. Never stop revisiting the essentials and never believe you know it all—you’ll quickly be reminded you don’t. In the end, we should all keep making ourselves better selves, am I right?

— Nahuel F.A.

(You can also see my Grand Central Station set on Priime.)

One Comment on “ICP Exposure, Light, and Composition

  1. Pingback: Why Focus on Photography | Nahuel F.A. All Day, Every Day

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