Friday, December 03, 2010

Did I Learn Anything?

My first semester of classes in over a decade are wrapping up in the next couple weeks. I'm actually missing two of the remaining six classes due to a small gathering of (sometimes) like-minded individuals in the desert. It's been a lesson in time management, and reminder that while I can still pull off the last minute cram session, it's not nearly as much fun as when I could sleep the next day away.

But the real question at the end of any period of education is - did I learn anything? The short answer is, "yes," but not necessarily in the way the institution had in mind.

The class that approximately equates to "Digital Photography for Dummies" actually turned out to be "Intro to Lightroom". The Photoshop course pretty much lived up to expectations of being far too rudimentary to be of much use to me. The history course? Completely useless and the most stress-inducing of them all for the least amount of gain.

So what did I learn then? There were snippets of usefulness here and there - try this setting, here's a list of shortcut keys, here's a feature I didn't know about. Largely things I could have learned if I bothered to Google the right questions, or just played around long enough. Of course, the key part is that I wouldn't have - so this is information I wouldn't otherwise have in reality.

But more so has been a massive improvement in my workflow. Having never used Lightroom before, I now see why it's such a beloved tool. It easily covers 80% of what needs to be done to most photos. I still have to switch to Photomatix for HDR, and CS5 for stitching, more advanced work, and actual editing instead of processing, but so much is now encapsulated in one fairly quick program that I may one day get through my massive backlog of photos.

Also, I think the actual pictures I'm taking are getting better. This is through no fault of the courses, and more a result of the sheer volume that I've taken with the specific goal in mind of "take different, good pics for class" instead of my vacation M.O. of "take a ton, sort 'em out later". There are still swaths of near-duplicates, but it has improved.

Perhaps the biggest change, and most recently noticed - keeping the work. I used to edit my photos, flatten the layers, and save it as a high-quality JPEG to save space. This recently bit me in the ass when I went back to edit my bounty picture. The aggravation of not being able to find a TIFF or PSD file with previous changes in place nearly broke me. I finally tracked down a full-sized JPEG and ended up altering it as necessary (sharpening and cropping to a standard print ratio). The whole time, an instructor's voice in my head - "I don't know why you WOULD get rid of your layers and save it as a JPEG or something. Then you can't edit it later." Lesson learned.

So now, with plans for yet another massive desktop upgrade (my 13" Macbook became the powerhouse with a simple memory upgrade, that can't stand), a new camera on the horizon (5D Mk III can't get here fast enough), and a noticeable drop in my bank account accompanying all that, I feel like I'm actually taking that next step in my photographic process. Amazing how even so little actual education can lead to such major progression.

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