When learning a language, studying conjugations and vocabulary will only get you so far. It’s far more effective to try conversing with a fluent individual and picking it up as you go. Our immersive courses take the exact same approach: within the first hour of Day 1, the students were out on the Berkeley campus, cameras in hand and taking pictures.
Michael Ashley presented the students with a challenge: document the C.V. Starr East Asian Library through photography. After a quick lesson in proper camera setup including white balance, ISO settings, and record keeping, the students began their task. By collaborating together (and with a little guidance from Michael and Connor Rowe), the students captured dozens of images of this unique building over the next two hours, in mixed lighting no less.
Back at the computer lab, the students loaded up Adobe Lightroom and imported their images while Michael explained the importance of embedding solid metadata such as copyright info into your work (for a mini-lesson on this topic, check out Michael’s post here). After lunch, we went through some basic batch edits with lens and color correction, and developed a workflow for pushing developed photos up into Flickr.
We wrapped the day up with a slideshow presentation of more advanced techniques in digital imaging, such as gigapan and focus stacking – techniques which in the following days the students would become very familiar with.
“The highlight for me was through the entire course picking up on the little bits that allow me to hone my photography craft even more. Aside from that, my favorite exercises were the studio related skills.” C.D.
As we covered field photography from pre-production to publication, we turned on Thursday to studio photography. While studios eliminate many of the challenges associated with outdoor photography (like shifting light conditions), the accurate documentation of artifacts comes with its own set of challenges and considerations. We compounded this with an array of small, detailed, and shiny objects for the students to try and work with.
After lunch it was time for something a bit different: focus stacking. Using software from Helicon, the team experimented with the process using a carved stone head. Though there was a learning curve to the software, they were able to produce a very good, focused image of the head.
It was back to Lightroom in the afternoon, and an education in more nuanced image development. While a collection of images from a single scene (meaning the same location, lighting conditions, and equipment setup) can be batch edited for white balance and lens correction, anything else requires adjustment for individual images. Our students learned to fine tune using exposure adjustments and sharpening, as well as my favorites, recovery and Hue/Saturation/Lightness.
We ended Day 2 with a discussion on digital preservation, an issue with no clear and easy solution, but well worth thinking about. As Danny Hillis of the Long Now Foundation and MetaWeb put it, “Thousands of years ago we recorded important matters on clay and stone that lasted thousands of years. Hundreds of years ago we used parchment that lasted hundreds of years. Today, we have masses of data in formats that we know will not last as long as our life times. Digital storage is easy; digital preservation is not.”
“The highlight of my experience was seeing the results of the Photogrametry for the shots I took of the CV Starr Library, Even through it wasn’t exactly fully developed seeing the dot cloud was very impressive to me.” R.D.
We took advantage of the sunny weather to try a little GigaPanning, and Connor knew of just the spot to do it. The fifth story balcony of McCone Hall on campus offered a 180° view reaching as far as the Bay (on less foggy days), as well as an interesting perspective of the East Asian library from Wednesday. Michael taught the students how to set up the GigaPan, and after they specified the parameters of their intended image…we waited.
This image took about 40 minutes for the GigaPan to capture. It’s best to use this time to do something productive. Michael demonstrated with his yoga routine.
On the way back to the lab, the students also got a lesson in photogrammetry. With a six minute explanation and a few dozen shots with an ordinary DSLR, they had what they needed to produce a 3D point cloud of the East Asian library.
One of the advantages of these immersive courses is that the students could pick the topics they wanted to focus on. By the last day it was clear we were headed back to the studio for some more advanced digital imaging techniques. The class revisited our little friend from Day 2, the stone head, for additional focus stacking. By now they were comfortable setting up the studio and software, but wanted to see if they could do better than the seven-image stack they had achieved before.
In Day 1’s lecture, Michael talked briefly about Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), and today the class got to experience the process first hand. While the software to build and view RTI images is open-source, the equipment runs upwards of 20 grand, an unrealistic budget for many. We made do with a marble, a set of poker chips, and a piece of yarn, and this MacGyver approach resulted in an impressive RTI image.
At the end of the day, we asked the class to evaluate their experience over the last four days. We are happy to say that the course exceeded the expectations of all the students. Here’s what they had to say.
“My overall experience was awesome. Never did I expect to learn so much in so short of time, and still remember it.”
“Michael knows what he is talking about, I don’t think there was ever an “I don’t know” uttered all week. Michael is also very personable and friendly which makes learning much easier.”
“I liked the near 1 on 1 atmosphere of the class and how every question was valued and answered. I also liked working as part of team to solve a particular problem and learn the techniques.”
At the end of the day, the graduates received their diplomas, having passed the course with flying colors. Everyone was eager to take their new skills into the field and we’re looking forward to the next few months to see what they produce. Great work, class, and we are sure we’ll be seeing your work soon!