Friday, November 9, 2012

PH 603 - The Language of Photography

This course is one of the three introductory courses to the MFA Photography program taken in the first semester. It is meant to bring you up to speed on the essentials of Photography, and provide the necessary foundation to be able understand what is out there and where your work fits in.

The description of the course from the Academy's website speaks for itself - "In this course, students will engage in an in-depth study of the fundamental language comprised of the aesthetical,  technical, and practical aspects of the medium. Artistic interpretation and technique will be examined through the study of image capture, processing and printing relavent to fine art, commercial and documentary application."

Books, Equipment and Art Supplies
The required book for the course is "Photo:Box" by Roberto Koch. Its a photo book presenting works of some of the most prominent photographers of our times. There are about 250 photographs in all, each snugly put under a category such as reportage, portraits, fashion, still life, fine art, nature etc. You could skim through the book at your own pace, learn more of the various genre's of photography, read the short essay on the photographer, his background, his work and why he does what he does. It is meant to give you an idea of some of the best work done under each genre, so that you can figure out where your work fits in. This book is probably not one to which you will be coming back to every week of the semester, but it would be a good idea to buy and keep this one. I'd recommend this book to not just photo students but also to anyone who has a keen interest in photography.

The other recommended textbook for PH 603 is "Photography' by Barbara London. Its a great introductory book to contemporary photography practices. Written in easy to understand language, with many pictorial elements to depict concepts. Its somewhat similar to Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure, if not a little more detailed. Good for novice and mid-level photographers to fully grasp all technical aspects of photography - exposure, hardware, asset management, printing and so on. But don't be in a hurry to buy one though, it an expensive book and not really a must have book for the course. In case you need to go through it, there is one always available as a course reserve in the library.

Equipment wise, you are obviously expected to have a camera with you, preferably an SLR(digital or analog), other things that help would be a tripod, light meter, flash. This course has an assignment submission each week, plus you will have a mid terms and a finals, for each of which you are required to submit a printed photograph or a series of photographs (A4 size) for critical evaluation. While printing is free (within acceptable limits) in the numerous labs of the photo department, you do need to get your own photo paper. Buying a packet (50 sheets) of A4 size Epson Premium Luster paper(or glossy or matte) is an absolute must.

Mode of Delivery
One class a week for 3 hrs, plus an expected 10 hrs of reading and assignment work until the next week class starts. The class is logically divided up into two parts. One part involves a lecture by the Instructor, and the second is the photo critique section for the assignment submission. You will have an assignment given to you each class, which is due for submission in the next. The assignment involves submitting an A4 size photographic print in response to the assignment, which is critiqued for technical, aesthetic and artistic qualities. Feedback will be given to you on what is good(or bad) about it in a constructive manner and how you can improve. Assignments focus on one aspect of photography at a time, and get progressively challenging. Mid terms are on week 8 and finals are on week 16. Mid term involves submission of 8 photographs, each having it own theme. And the finals involves interviewing a practicing photographer and getting a professional perspective from him on his field, plus submitting 6-10 photographs on a cohesive body of work. More on this soon.

A personal take on the course
Even though the course starts off with some of the most basic stuff about photography, like understanding exposure and handling you camera, it quickly picks up the pace. So does the requirement from you on being able to create better and better photographs. It really helps if you already have a good grasp of photography or have practiced or worked in the field before. Good technical skills are required, so would knowing darkroom techniques (digital or otherwise). If you are good with Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop then it is even better, though prior knowledge is not mandatory. I shoot with a digital SLR and I know Lightroom to a medium expertise level, and that really helped me deliver great photographs. The goal of this course seems to be able to identify what specific stream of photography, as defined by the Academy, you are good at i.e. art for commerce, photojournalism or fine art.

If you have any specific question, post them in the comments below and i'll try and answer them as best as I can.

Related Posts
First Semester @ AAU
PH 603 - The Language of Photography - Assignments
PH 603 - The Language of Photography- Midterms
PH 603 - The Language of Photogaphy - Finals
PH   612 - The Nature of Photography
GLA 625 - The History of Photography


  1. Hi AJ,

    This is a nice blog that you have started. I want to buy a camera and wanted your opinion on what lenses to buy along with it.
    I am planning to buy a canon t4i. What are the lenses that i should buy with it?
    Following are the lenses that come with the camera bundles in various combinations like 2/3 of them together:
    Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
    Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS Telephoto Zoom Lens
    Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III EF
    Canon 2.5x Telephoto
    Canon.45x Wide-Angle Digital Lenses
    Canon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S IS

    Before buying i wanted to have an informed decision. I know people who sell just add some lenses to make up for an attractive package so I was searching the web for some info on which lenses are actually good and worth investing. While searching I came across your blog and so asking it here.

    I will be happy if you could guide me and reply before the thanksgiving week. In case you are busy with your photography classes and cannot answer it is OK.
    I wish you all the best and please continue writing (Your blog is one of the few that can actually guide people interested in photography, and i don't mean only about the technical stuff ) on your school and photography in general. I will keep visiting your blog anyway :)


    P.S. Please allow anonymous comments. You can always block them if you don't like them :)

  2. Hi Philip,

    I'd probably be responding like anyone else who gives lens advice - "It depends on what your need". But I know it doesn’t solve your dilemma much

    I shoot Nikon, so my Cannon knowledge is pretty low. But i'll provide what little advice I can

    Cannon 18-55mm + 55-250mm combo
    I have known a few friends of mine who early on went for this combo. But later on felt they needed better. Don’t get me wrong, it is a versatile combination. You cover the focal length range right from 18 to 250 plus you get image stabilization all over the range. But you quickly realize the quality of glass is about average. I would not recommend this combination unless u feel you need the reach of a 250mm.

    Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III EF
    Go for this lens if you plan to be involved in wildlife or sports photography. But its low max apertures (f/4-5.6) will ask for higher iso performance from your rebel 4ti. I don’t expect great picture quality from this, especially given its low price point.

    Canon 2.5x Telephoto
    Canon.45x Wide-Angle Digital Lenses
    Not really sure what these are, so cant comment on them.

    Canon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S IS STM
    This one I can recommend. Its a fairly new lens and comes well recommended. The focal range is pretty decent, wide enough for landscapes and interiors and telephoto enough for portraits and maybe close wildlife and sports. It also comes as a kit lens option on the 4ti, so go for it.

    I would also recommend getting a prime lens like a 50mm f/1.8 II, if you can. Its not too expensive (about $110 on amazon). Primes produce amazing picture quality and you also get to learn a lot using them.

    Anonymous comments are enabled now. Thanks for the tip and thanks for visiting


  3. Hey AJ,

    Thanks for the detailed response. This is as good a response as I would have got from anyone :)
    So I think I would go for a T4i + Canon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 EF-S IS STM + 50mm f/1.8 II.

    Since you are a Nikon guy would you recommend anything from Nikon in the same price range?

    I see that you have added anonymous logon. So thanks. I hope this encourages more people to comment. If it is OK i think you can do away with the captcha as well (now that you allow anonymous comments)

    1. Hey Philip,

      On the Nikon side you can think the Nikon D5100 as the camera body (if you can spend more I'd suggest the newer D5200). A mid level zoom lens like the 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 or the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, should cover your general needs. If money is not so much of an issue, then you can think of the 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II or even the 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

      The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G will be a good choice for a prime lens. The 50mm 1.8D is available at half the price with slightly lower image quality as compared to the 1.8G, and its a bit noisy as it doesn't have silent auto-focus motor.

      Generally I think both brands are good. Cannon though has a bigger customer base and wider selection of lens, but Nikon is known for better lens optics. Now-a-days both these guys are competing with each other to cater to the prevalent DSLR market and filling up any holes in their product offerings pretty well. You won't loose out much by choosing one brand over the other, but changing in the middle will prove to be expensive.