I kill cameras. I don’t do it intentionally, so I guess it’s more manslaughter than first degree murder, but the end result is the same. A non-functioning, non-blinking, entirely useless hunk of metal.
My first murder occurred back in my lawyer days, ironically. Vegas, the Bellagio (of course – too much money, too little sense). I treated myself to an hour in the spa. Meanwhile, I treated my camera to a bath with a bottle of water that was was in my bag. The good news (kind of) was that the spa had cost more than the camera was worth and I was in the USA, so a replacement was easy to come by. Plus, it was my first offence. To be forgiven, surely?
My second offence came two years later courtesy of a pixilated screen. Ok, I may have also been partially at fault for dumping my bright red camera into my rucksack over and over during my first trip to Asia. My cheery camera sadly died a week after my return from Cambodia and I was surprised to be rewarded with a full refund (UK consumer protection at its best).
It seemed a good moment to upgrade. I was about to go on my first around the world trip and past experience suggested I needed something robust. I spent more money than usual and was happy with my choice. It was waterproof, dust-proof and even shock-proof. Sadly, it wasn’t Indiana Jo proof. Within three months it, too, had gone to camera heaven.
But, it wasn’t (entirely) my fault this time. The camera seal had failed. With a scratched and pixilated screen, huge watermark, strap that looked like it had been used to floss a baboons bottom, and a lack of charger, manuals or box, I once again called on the supremacy of the UK consumer protection rights, and claimed my replacement.
With a look that said, “You shouldn’t be allowed to own a camera,” the saleswoman once again put a shiny new plaything into my hands. It was an exact replica of the first one. It, too, broke within a year. Again a water fault. Again a refund came.
By this time I’d stopped totting up the death-toll and opted for something less robust that might necessitate me taking a tad more care. I bought a super zoom camera and treated it the best I could. For 18 months it served me well until the inevitable happened. A scratch on the lens. I had failed once again.
Was I just unlucky, or was I really the Grim Reaper of the camera world? I wasn’t sure, but for punishment purposes, I held on to that scratched (yet functioning) camera for another six months, starting to question my own worthiness of another piece of kit.
But it presented a problem – my photos looked bad. After travelling to some of the most visually stimulating places on the planet, having the models of the geography world pose before me, I was frustrated with my shots. Mount Fuji came with a glare of light and the Petronas Towers shrieked back through my lens, “I look better than that.”
Camera killer roams free in London
It was decision time. A new camera was back on the shopping list. But worse, I knew it was time to go pro. When your holiday snaps are just your own, you can do as you please, but when you want to share them with people to encourage them out of their armchairs and cubicles and into the world’s wonders, you need to offer more. Without getting out of auto, I had hit a ceiling. A glass one, and unfortunately mine had a scratch.
With a New Year’s Resolution to take better care of my stuff and a generous pile of camera tokens from my family and friends (who surely must have handed over cheques, cash and vouchers thinking their money was as good as burned), I formed a plan.
- Buy camera.
- Go to photoschool.
I’m not prone to quick decisions so the camera research, trial and purchase was a painful and protracted process that I’ll leave for another time (also known as never). Suffice to say, after much deliberation I opted for a Compact System Camera over a DSLR for the perfect compromise between function and size.
I wanted to learn how to operate a camera on manual mode, manipulating aperture, shutter speed and ISO (all clever things I’d heard my photo-smart friends talk about). But I also wanted to be able comfortably to get lost in a strange city and not fear that a huge DSLR would turn me into a target. The Sony Nex-6 gave me all of that…and so another camera was placed in my hands.
At first I did the sensible thing and left the camera in its box for a few days but after a large glass of wine, my resolve broke…as did my camera…nearly. Hitting a succession of buttons put my camera into a state that required a reset and made me realised I’d fallen into old habits fast. I needed some proper instruction.
It was time to take head to photoschool.
City Academy Photography Class
City Academy is a company for creative wannabes and offers a wonderful array of classes from musical theatre to drama and comedy, all in the heart of London’s creative quarter, Soho. They also offer camera classes and courses.
Finding the right class was vital. I knew I wanted to learn about my new camera, but I didn’t want to spend a day indoors taking notes. Since leaving the legal profession, my attention span has decreased to the length of time it takes to drink a coffee. I had to understand the basics, but I wanted to get out, get confident and survive at least one day (under careful supervision) not consigning another camera to the ‘sold for parts’ section on eBay.
City Academy had the perfect Photography Foundation class.
Camera killer attends photoschool
After prising myself out of bed on a Sunday morning, I made the journey into central London for my class. Despite being fairly confident, I still get nervous meeting a room full of strange faces but my apprehension was fleeting. The small group was gathered around a coffee table at the Soho Actors Centre. It was chatty, casual and I was able to lay my hands on the rare find of coffee for only £1. It was going to be a good day.
The group was the kind of eclectic I usually only meet when I’m on the road. Occupations broad, interests diverse and personalities hitting a good range on the spectrum. And all with a shared collective interest. To make our cameras do wonderful things.
We need to talk about Carole (in a nice way)
I’ve had a lot of tuition in my life from the more formal (law school) to the more practical (how to spelunk without dying). From this I’ve learned that tutorial quality is what makes the difference between excitement and boredom, understanding or not, life and death (sometimes) and, in this case, the blank screen or good shots.
Our tutor for the day was Carole Edrich a vivacious, fascinating and highly achieved dance photographer who has travelled to more than twice the number of countries I have and takes the kind of photos that turn me green with envy. She was the perfect teacher.
For the next hour or so (I lost track of time I was so engrossed) Carole took us through the basics, playing with ISO, manipulating shutter speed and fiddling with aperture. The best formal description of the class will be found on the City Academy website. From the perspective of an amateur, Carole stuck an excellent balance between instruction and testing things out. It was everything I wanted from photoschool.
She also gave me instant reassurance. Out of the box, my new camera set me back decades in terms of quality, my first pictures looking like those I’d taken on my Polaroid in the 80s – over-exposed or shockingly blurred. At first I wondered if my camera was broken (surely not?). But then I realised that until I mastered the manual functions, the process was a bit like progressing from a bike with stabilisers that you can ride well to a two-wheeler that’s bound to wobble for a while.
When I turned up at the class I was in my wobble phase, disenchanted with my new toy but thanks to Carole things got better quickly. I’ve still got a long way to go in mastering the beast that is my Sony Nex-6, something that will come with practice alone, but in under a day Carole took me from 22 consecutive shots that looked liked they’d been taken during a white-out in the Alps to something more useable.
A trip down lawyer lane: From Soho to Southbank
As soon as the group had a basic grasp on its collective buttons and dials, we were off. The plan for the remainder of the day was to walk the streets of London practising our newly acquired skills along the way. It was a route from the West End on to Southbank and through a part of London I know very well because it is where I spent most of my legal career.
Yet, this time things were different. I wasn’t hurtling between court and conference calls, I was concentrating on the rule of two-thirds and trip plans for Spain. It was a fascinating contrast to re-walk that path with fundamentally different thoughts in my mind. But it was also nice to be able to capture (in the following photographs) memories of a different version of life that I once led.
My commute to work involved crossing Waterloo Bridge each day. It’s still my favourite bridge in the city. Look one way and see the London Eye and Big Ben. Look the other and capture the city skyline (below).
St Paul’s Cathedral is beautiful but just across the bridge, next to Borough Market, is Southward Cathedral. I used to sit with work colleagues in the grounds and eat lunch here during those rare summer days. (Is it me or does the Shard photo-bomb nearly every picture in London?)
By the end of the class I was exhausted, but in the glowing kind of way when you’ve feel like you’ve lived your day fully.
I headed back towards Waterloo Bridge just as the sun was setting. Nervous without the guiding crutch of Carole, I pulled out my camera, removed my lens cap, fiddled with the buttons, took some more shots and smiled.
In just one day I’d been given the skills to make my new camera work. I had acquired the potential to do great things (personal ability permitting) but best of all? My has camera lived to see another day.
Long may it last.
I attended this class courtesy of City Academy. As usual, all opinions and any poor photography is my own.
I took the Photography Foundation – Level 1 class. A number of other classes are available for more advanced photographers.
Do you have any photography tips to share? Any ideas how I can keep my latest camera intact? Let me know in the comments below.