October 05, 2004
Billion Monkey heaven

I know, I know, far too many photos. But this is my blog and I'll stick up far too many photos if I want to. Anyway, a lot of them are pretty good, though I say it myself.

They were all taken last Wednesday, at my Digital Camera class. A dozen or more Billion Monkeys, me among them, have been assembling themselves at one of the Westminster Council Adult Education Centres, the one at the top end of Warwick Way (a mere walk from my home), there to be told, every Wednesday for five weeks, about digital photography, by a German guy called André who teaches at one of the London Universities, in the department of photography (which is reassuring). André is the one in the glasses and the red top. He reminds me vaguely of a slightly nerdier version of Alan Rickman, but he is in all other respects very nice. His assistant, the one with the pony tail, is called Giovanni.

One of my most hobbiastic hobbies these days, as regulars here will be wearily aware of, is taking digital photographs of digital photographers. Well, at this class, last Wednesday, we were all being told to take digital photos of each other. Imagine how that felt for me. No wonder I took thousands of snaps and was only, and with extreme difficulty, able to narrow them down to a mere 72 for here. Plus, I am actually learning things, about apertures and exposure times, and such like. (The night time portrait mode on digital cameras deserves a whole posting all to itself. That was fascinating.)

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Some trivial observations:

First, quite a few of these pictures have bits in focus and bits not. This is because the main business of the day was learning about focussing, and learning about focussing by taking photos where bits were in focus and bits were not. So a lot of that was deliberate. Besides which, a bit blurring can be fun.

Second (these points are in no particular order – I'm just clearing the decks of trivia before getting stuck into the main point I want to make here), there are bottles present. Several of these pictures, and one in particular, illustrate one of the most basic laws of digital photography. This is: that digital cameras are, for who knows what reason, fascinated by water bottles and always present them to the world in perfect, pin sharp focus and any people in the vicinity as only a vague blur by comparison, unless severely discouraged. The bottles here are plastic water bottles, but digital cameras get equally excited about wine bottles, especially those in the middle of the table at dinner parties.

Third, one or two of the pictures show various of us pupils doing something I have never before observed. They are reading the manual. To me this is extraordinary. Maybe there is a lesson there for me.

Fourth, I am aware that these photos look like a prolonged commercial for the Canon EOS 300D. This is because André brought about six of these with him for us to use if we didn't have our own cameras. He says, yes, these are pretty good cameras. And I must say I am envious. (I fear that something similar will also happen when we start playing with the cute Macintosh computers that you can also see in some of the pictures.)

There were other digital cameras to be seen, as some of the pictures illustrate, but the Canon EOS 300D dominates.

What appeals to me about the Canon EOS 300D is that it is what is called an SLR. SLR stands for … well, I don't know what it stands for literally. Single Lens something? I don't know. But what this means is that it is a WYSIWYG camera, and I do know what WYSIWYG stands for. It stands for What You See Is What You Get. What you see through the little spy hole at the top is exactly what you get on your photo, because both you and the sensitive surface where the picture is made inside the camera are both receiving exactly the same picture, which is not the way it works with my little Canon A70. There the camera gets one thing, and you look through the bit at the top in the same general direction, but it's guesswork how your actual picture will turn out. And before you ask, the little screen thingy on my A70 is good for telling me the general composition, but hopeless at telling me about focussing, or about whether the light is too bright And because you can twiddle the lenses on the front manually on the EOS 300D rather than just fiddle about with computer type settings, this means you can immediately start to control things far better. I am sorely tempted, I don't mind telling you.

The bad news is that this EOS 300D is a bulky piece of kit, and I wouldn't be able to use it to take those little impulse photos with it that we bloggers so like to capture, of posters, adverts, and surprise events and excitements generally, because it would be too big to take around always, just in case. Maybe I'll take a deep breath and get a EOS 300D, and use it for special occasions when I deliberately go out looking for pictures, and keep the A70 in my jacket for opportunistic shots. Extravagant. But at least they both use the same kind of storage: Compact Flash cards.

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But enough technical trivia. The real story here is how amazingly good looking so many of my fellow students are. I was expecting at least one man with a huge paunch and with a face that made him look like some ghastly failed genetic experiment. But at our worst, the men among us are non-repulsive, and at least half a dozen of those present (equally distributed across the genders) look like film actors of the sort that make me say: of course, film actors are always good looking, but real people seldom look as nice as that. Maybe, being so very, very happy, I was seeing everyone as beautiful even when they weren't. Or, maybe, having mixed for most of my life up until now with fringe political people, I expect everyone to look grotesque, and am dazzled if they merely look half-reasonable. But I don't think I was just seeing this. I think it was actually there. What do you reckon?

I wonder if photography attracts a higher proportion than average of good looking people, or whether I just got lucky with my particular Billion Monkey troupe. My tentative theory is that Billion Monkey Ladies are good looking because they and their friends like to take each others' photos, and those who are uncomfortable with this stay away from digital photo-ing. As a general tendency. As to Billion Monkey Men, well, we just creep about on our own, with no friends, seeing everything but never getting involved, and we are Invisible. Ugly, okay, beautiful, it doesn't matter. It's beside the point. But if that's so, how come so many of the men in these pictures are so very good looking?

Another explanation is that there is something special about digital photography just now, and good looking people, good looking young women especially, are instinctively attracted to milieus where something of significance is going on. I wish. But I actually don't think that's it.

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I was going to put all the thumbnails together in one great rectangle, but eventually I decided on having the three separate clutches. One day, I will do thumbnail collection in such a way that they come together to make another picture. Each little bit of a picture being chosen not to entice you to the big one behind it, but in order to help make the big picture that the thumbnails combine to make. This kind of thing has been done a million times before in other contexts, and no doubt dozens of times on the Internet, but never by me, and I'd like to have a go at that. Not that I've seen anyone else doing this. Any links, anyone?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:20 AM
Category: Photography