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February 25, 2018

REVIEW: Nikon School Photography Classes


Recently, I was lucky enough to experience Nikon's traveling photography school during its stop in Orlando. The class series runs over the course of four days, but each class is priced, scheduled, and themed individually - ranging from a few hours to all-day. I found the "Elements of Photography" course to be the most inclusive, and probably the best option for an amateur seeking a well-rounded foundation of skills to build on. This course is broken up into four topical sections (exposure, control, light, and creativity), presented over the span of seven hours with a lunch break. 


The class I attended was led cooperatively by Reed Hoffman and Michael Schwarz. Their decades of diverse experiences really combined to make for an intriguing blend of techniques, tips, and knowledge.The facts and suggestions that formed the course content were a balance of creative personal passion and fine-tuned technique - presented in a way that made sense and drew interest. I did get the distinct impression that many of my fellow students had at least a fair amount more experience than I did, and at first that was slightly intimidating. However, Michael and Reed were able to craft their delivery in a way that encompassed definition for the less-experienced while also including the trial and error methods for success that more seasoned photogs were sure to appreciate. Throughout their lectures, they shared examples of their own work that put the lessons into perspective. THIS was the specific approach that spoke to me, and it helped me to comprehend some basic terms and skills that I've struggled to grasp. They regularly referred to the balance of creativity and technicality that makes for good photography, and their presentation of the course was the most brilliant example of that perfect combination.


Nikon's official description of the course provides the following topical outline: 
  • Exposure—ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed—how to get a proper exposure and be more creative
  • Taking control of your camera—understanding what all of the modes and settings are used for in order to take photos and make them more unique
  • Managing autofocus to your advantage
  • Understand the quality of light—learning how to modify light and use a camera’s built-in flash or an accessory flash to take well-lit photos
  • Workflow basics—shooting JPEG vs. NEF, basic editing using Capture NX-D software
  • Sharing your images via built-in Wi-Fi or by using Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Adapters
  • Fundamentals of shooting video
  • Explore creative types of photographs—High Dynamic Range photos, Time-Lapse, Night Photography, Light Painting, Underwater pictures, Close Ups, Black & White and more.

...But that really is a very basic summary! I had a couple of concerns going into the class. For starters, I was worried that the quality of the information would be minimal. So many topics were covered in ultimately a short frame of time. That raises the concern that crucial details would be lost to the rush. Surprisingly, this wasn't the case. While I won't say that a total novice will walk out of here ready to sell a million dollar photo to National Geographic, a person with a reasonable understanding of photography and an eye for a good shot can certainly get a great foundation of knowledge that Google searches and discussion forums can subsidize! (Speaking of - there is an official Facebook group for Nikon School students - wonderful resource, and the instructors remain active here as well!) This course provides you a starting point to build from, and the motivation to practice. My second concern was that this would essentially be an extended Nikon infomercial with little value beyond a sales pitch. Well, if you think about it... Nikon is already a well-regarded name. Do they really need to waste effort on such an oddly-veiled tactic for no other purpose than a traveling commercial? Of course, Nikon products were the basis of the examples, and this makes good sense for many reasons, but the knowledge and tips that were shared applied to photography in general. There wasn't a blatant, cheesy pitch interwoven through the entire course, and the focus genuinely was on the skill of photography. Personally, I found this to be refreshingly endearing.


As far as my overall take-aways from the course... I have often been told that I have a good eye for photography. My skills are "okay", but I rely heavily on having a cooperative canvas. Toss a curve ball my way, and I'm likely to be sunk. I photograph a very diverse range of scenes - personally, for my "day job" as a marketer, and for this website. I can rarely afford to be stymied by a challenge, because I encounter far too many of those! Many situations I am tasked with photographing are one-time opportunities, and I am devastated when I can't get it right. I'm ashamed to admit that I've had a decent camera for a while, but I always set everything to auto and let it fly. This left a lot to chance, and many times, I found myself disappointed in the result. I'm anxious to explore camera settings a bit more, now that I have a grasp on what they mean. I am particularly interested in photographing sunrise and sunset scenes, so I've looked up the best places to find them locally, and a range of suggestions on settings to use (including those obtained in our class discussion). I'm creating a photo schedule to test out my newly-learned skills in these and other settings and situations... and I'll be trying it all out on a camera that Nikon is kindly loaning me. I see some very interesting pictorials in our future - and just in time for some stellar upcoming events! In the interim, I was out this weekend when I stumbled upon a small carnival. All I had with me was my mobile device, but it does allow for some ISO and aperture settings. So, I took just a quick moment to snap a picture of a very vibrant piece of one of the rides. First, I took one as I usually would - auto all the way:


Then, I spent two quick seconds making a simple adjustment or two based on what I learned in class, and I tried taking that very same shot again:


Not a flawlessly perfect image, but the difference is clear - and before this class, I never would have known how to do it! 

If you have the option to attend a Nikon School course, I highly suggest you do so. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of experience, you have plenty to gain from these courses. The instructors have a vast array of knowledge they are only too happy to share. For personal or professional tweaking, this opportunity is every photog's dream.