If your idea of a good night out isn't standing out in a street on a wet December evening, tell that to someone who has to work there, then stop reading. On the other hand, if you want an opportunity to practice your photographic craft, then you will be interested in the master class I took. Elspeth Storrar shows small classes of four or five people around Highgate to shoot what you can do with a digital SLR. Having used an iPod Touch, then a compact, then an iPhone and now a DSLR, I think this really teaches you to up your game.
Our evening started with a few shots at the top of the hill, where we experimented with shutter speeds, where I even went to exposure times of 30 seconds. It really gave the look of ribbons of light for traffic, made the street lights see like thousands of suns each night and really convey a fast city on the go. I'm familiar with shooting these "painting with light" shots, but these are different when you use "Bulb". This effectively allows you to control the amount of time you can open the shutter for at the touch of a button and holding it right down. Having experience of this, I think this is a good introduction for what came next: undiscovered country whose Bourne from which we can return time & time again, the aperture control.
For those of who are unfamiliar, the aperture is what lets light into the sensor. Smaller, less light gets in. Bigger, more light gets in. One thing I learned was that you can control this to get the same effect as a long exposure time if you put it on Aperture (AV) control, only quicker. If you zoom in our out, you make your shot look like the final scenes of "2001". It looks psychedelic and like it explodes with light. Prior to this, Eslpeth gave us a Christmas bauble and we had to shoot it so it was clear to see, but the background had to be blurred. I managed to capture the texture of the Christmas decoration and the way the light refracted and reflected off it. It really sparkled like it was metalflake, yet the matte texture to the touch really provided a contrast.
Putting this into practice, we had to shoot a skyline from the Archway Bridge. Looking down the urban precipice on to the highway below, I subconsciously shuddered, the realisation bubbled into my consciousness as the wrought iron railings wouldn't take my weight. Only then did I pluck up the courage to shoot the skyline to the south when I could see the sheer power and beauty of the view. Even so, my heart was in my mouth as I put the camera through the railings, pulling the trigger and firing like an assassin. The railings and barbed wire gnashed at me as I peered through them to get the target, the adamantine fangs framed the Shard of Glass like a blade in the distance. "A perfect metaphor for my fear of heights," I thought to myself as I captured the clouds like a puffy rip in the sky.
Looking back at what I learned, I thought it was an amazing experience, especially as Elspeth gave critique of our efforts. She inferred that mine were quite good, which some people have said. My Uncle, Joe, was one who thinks I have a talent (albeit earlier in the year, at a funeral of all places). Having some photographic experience, I can recommend the experience for anyone who was given a DSLR camera for Christmas. It really will give them the opportunity to explore what it can do and those who are branching out from compacts, like I am, how much further you can go. A lot of this is transferable to compacts, but you don't get the options for controlling how the photo is taken with them. That said, a craftsman doesn't blame his tools for bad work, but are you ready for your close up?