Learning new things is the best retirement activity. We Active Older Adults (see previous post) have to keep those synapses firing, and that’s not just a cliché. Learning keeps us connected and, in the digital age, there is always something new to learn. I am occasionally surprised to learn that some really smart friends of mine have never sent or received a text message, cannot download an attachment on their computer, or have never heard of Face Time or Skype (the “grandkid connector”). I recently gave myself another opportunity to learn something new. That opportunity is detailed below.
When Easin’ Along went “live”, one thing became readily apparent from the start, and it’s a fact that I receive more comments from the pictures than I do from my writing. To say that I am a better writer than I am a photographer is not saying much, but I feel strongly that a blog like Easin’ Along needs pictures…good pictures.
Everyone has cameras, and I’ve had dozens. I had a Kodak Brownie when I was a Cub Scout and snapped about two rolls of Black and White photographs, then put it away until it was obsolete. When Helen (adorable wife) and I got married, I came across a fancy looking German camera that I loaded with film and took on our honeymoon. We came home and I dropped off the film at a developer, and then returned to learn that not a single picture came out.
A few months later we moved to Germany to start a tour with the Army, and discovered that everyone in our new circle of friends had cameras…fancy cameras. Purchasing a premium brand camera was very tempting because there were great buys on good equipment from the PX on the Army base. Nevertheless, my honeymoon experience had left me a little wary so I decided to be a little cautious. While my friends were dropping names like Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, or the treasured Hasselblad, I chose to plunk down about $30 on a Kodak Instamatic.
We carried that little camera all over Europe and took hundreds of great slides and never had a problem. We still have those slides sitting in the attic (which is a problem), but it taught me a great lesson about picture taking, and the lesson is that, just like every other endeavor I have pursued from boating to gardening, the simpler, the better.
Near the end of our tour in Europe I felt like I had to take advantage of the significant discounts on camera equipment and purchased a Pentax and a couple of lenses. Although the pictures I took had a noticeable upgrade in quality, the purchase at that time wasn’t really justified because I never learned how to use it as anything more than a box camera.
In the past, the obstacle to learning how to use a powerful camera was always a numbers problem. Taking pictures with sophisticated equipment involved numbers, and numbers is a language in which I am not fluent. Every time I would make a serious attempt at learning the finer points of photography, I would be assaulted with F stops in decimals, shutter speeds in fractions, ISO’s in hundreds, and focal lengths in millimeters. Bringing all of those factors together would make my teeth hurt, and I would go back to the old box camera settings. Enough already! Ultimately, I sold the Pentax, along with a really good Nikon given to me by my father-in-law.
Eventually however, I awoke to the dawn of the digital age. The transition to digital photography has made it a lot easier for me not only to use better equipment, but also created a desire to learn to take better pictures.
A few years back, I was doing some inspection work for a company that required photographs as part of the inspection and, I was given two Canon Power Shot cameras by that company. These cameras were great. They had a lot of features like zoom, video, and automatic focus. They offered various, but uncomplicated, exposure settings. They made it easy to download the photographs on my computer, and they came with some simple editing software that was fun to use while making pictures that were “just ok” a little bit better. This marked the beginning of an interest in learning something about the fundamentals of the art of photography.
Then I retired. Soon thereafter, Easin’ Along was created to document what I hoped would be an active retirement. Helen and I took those two Canon cameras plus an IPhone Six Plus on an extended road trip followed by two shorter trips where I captured some photographs that I am very proud of. A few of of my favorites are shown below.
The responses to these and other pictures on Easin’ Along whetted an appetite to learn more and to do better and thereby creating a new learning opportunity for this Active Older Adult. Next, I took the plunge and purchased a premium camera and a couple of telephoto lenses from Amazon. Now what? After recalling past experiences, I decided that the first thing to do was not to learn the art of photography, but to learn how to use the camera.
This camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T6i, while being an entry level DSLR (too much to explain here), still has a lot of those aforementioned math elements that make me cross-eyed. Nevertheless, in the year 2016 there is an abundance of resources to help me accomplish the goal of math made easier. Just ask Google is one of the easiest ways to get a question answered, but, for me, the top of the heap among those resources is YouTube and the many videos stored there.
By entering the make and model of my new camera into the search block of YouTube I was given a lengthy list of instructional videos covering about every button and feature of the camera and their use. The videos ranged in length from as short as four minutes to over an hour, and almost all of them were very informative from beginning to end.
I have now watched three of them in much the same way that I sat through psychology lectures on the “tube” in college while taking notes. The difference being that this class is free and I want to be there, whereas I paid for psychology and wanted to be anywhere but. Another difference is that I can pause or replay segments of the videos to make sure I understand the teaching point. I mark down the time of the teaching point so that I can refer back to it later from my notes. Each video is bookmarked and stored in a Favorites folder on my web browser. I now have a free reference library stored on my computer.
I also purchased an online course from a company called Creative Live. This is a thirty three lesson course that deals more with learning the fundamentals of photography instead of the use of the camera. It was recommended by Paul Hassell, an outstanding nature photographer who I consider both extremely knowledgeable, and unquestionably credible. I have not started the Creative Live course yet – I’m still learning the camera.
There is one additional resource that I plan to take advantage of at the earliest opportunity. The University of Tennessee offers non-credit courses in photography and I am fortunate to live within minutes of the campus. I am taking two classes this semester on blogging software and have completed one of them already. I will complete the other one in April. This is a tremendous resource and should not be ignored. Future Easin’ Along posts will be devoted to the learning experience of UT non-credit offerings and, there are many.
The initial course at the University is Fundamentals of Digital Photography with classes once a week for eight weeks. I am told that the course is very thorough and that the instructor is very professional. I am eagerly awaiting that opportunity.
There is a long way to go with my new camera and I will probably never master the art, but I do expect to enjoy the journey. I will post updates as we Ease Along and hopefully there will be a noticeable improvement in the pictures accompanying each post. I know that there are a lot of accomplished photographers out there and I would love feedback and suggestions or tips from anyone who cares to contribute. I really do want Easin’ Along to be a gathering of us Active Older Adults, so join me and post your comments at the bottom of the page.
For grins, I posted below the very first picture taken from my new camera, taken, by the way, at f5.6, 1/125 sec, at ISO 1600, with a focal length of 33 mm. It’s still fuzzy math, but, maybe I’m trainable after all…
For now, I’ll be Easin’ Along. The daffodils are springing up in Eastern Tennessee and I want to take a couple of pics in flat light…