Life through a lense

<em>Time Out</em> picks up its camera and learns to shoot like a pro. But was it a success? We're about to find out...

The Knowledge

‘Fiddlesticks!’ I exclaimed – or (rather stronger) words to that effect – yet another brilliant photo opportunity wasted because I can’t use my camera properly. Yet another blurry, dark, not-quite-in-focus shot of nondescript people in the distance doing something I can’t quite make out. Great.

Yes, I’m afraid I’m your typical digital camera owner, guilty of turning the dial to ‘Auto’, crossing my fingers and hoping the camera will somehow magically capture what I want it to from the tableau before me. Sadly, however, despite all the modern functionality offered by my Canon G9, it comes without a ‘mind-reading’ setting and while, occasionally, I take heart and attempt to meddle with the intricacies of my little black machine, the strange flashing lights, fragmented photos or scary looking graphs that appear on its LCD screen, tend to have me reaching, sheepishly, for that friendly little green ‘Auto’ setting. Foiled again.

But enough is enough. In a country where there’s so much opportunity for fantastic photos, from the downtrodden backstreets of Satwa to the majestic rolling dunes of the Empty Quarter, it’s time to take courage, take action and take a course. After a bit of research, I find the most convenient, accessible and reasonably priced one is the one at Ductac. ‘Let’s Get Started in Digital Photographer, Beginner 1’, it proudly announced. Yes, I replied, full of enthusiasm. Let’s!

The only thing essential to the course is your own camera, and there were all sorts present, from your typical ‘Eek I’m going on holiday and don’t have a camera, best buy one at the airport’ point ’n’ shoot, right up to some ridiculously expensive Canon costing more than my car. After a slight moment of camera-envy, I turned to my trusty G9 and mumbled peevishly, ‘Yes, very nice, but can you use it?’

Don, our large Canadian tutor launched immediately into how to understand pixels, raw files and other digital basics, then moved steadily and comprehensively through the first steps to taking a decent snap. From coming to grips with terms such as ‘ISOs’, ‘white balance’ and ‘f-stops’ to understanding the terrifying ‘histogram’ – the aforementioned graph-like monstrosity I’d previously had problems with, Don, and his (glamorous) assistant Natalie attentively guided us along. For each point learned, there was time to have a go on our own cameras and, with assistance if necessary, become familiar with the manual workings and capabilities of our increasingly understandable little (or, for Mr Canon, not so little) black image-makers.

The course, which ran over a weekend, was comprised of two five-hour sessions with two hours of ‘go out and shoot’ practice to break up the classroom time. Our first project was a simple exercise in looking closer at our subject: taking a shot, then stepping closer, taking another shot, then stepping closer again for a final shot. We brought the products of our labour back to class and critiqued a few students’ work – seeing how the third image was generally more interesting than the first.

By the time the course drew to a close, I felt completely able to go out and shoot, wait for it, ‘aperture or shutter priority photos’. Ha, get me! Only 48 hours earlier I would have recoiled at such a phrase in luddite horror, but now feel pretty darn cool at not just understanding it, but knowing how to make such images happen – no more blurry, can’t-quite-see-what’s-going-on photos for me.

Ductac, Mall of Emirates, phone 04 360 2365. Beginner One and Beginner Two courses run throughout the year and cost Dhs695. Other photographic and media courses are also available – visit for details

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