Taking pictures the old fashioned way

Toronto Star, Feb 12, 2014–The gorilla’s face stares at you. Fireworks explode above Canary Island. A beautiful family smiles on safari. Brian Iriye scrolls through the photos he’s transferred from his camera to his phone, pausing to show a few of his favourites.

Each picture is a “rope” that pulls him back to the moment on a trip with his wife and teenaged kids. The high-risk obstetrician in Las Vegas works long hours and tries to balance that by taking his family on a lot of vacations. “We take the kids everywhere we go. I just want to throw tons of memories into their heads.” And while he takes plenty of pictures on his iPhone, he always packs a camera.

Iriye brought a Leica T to a four-day photography workshop hosted by his vacation club, Exclusive Resorts, and Leica at Miraval Resort just outside of Tucson, Arizona. While he’s been playing around with photography for decades, other participants have come to photography—and the seminar—through the countless tiny masterpieces on their phones.

The smartphone camera roll is often a gateway drug to perfecting the triangle of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. “People want to be creative,” says Nancy Schroeder, a professional photographer and  one of the instructors of the workshop. She’s been teaching photography at Miraval for nearly 20 years. These days, her Artful Cellphone class usually sells out.

But perfecting the art of the filter and waiting for the likes to roll in on Instagram is an entirely different rush than holding a Leica T to your eye, framing a shot, capturing the light and pressing the shutter.

Over the course of the workshop, we photograph an Apache hoop dancer performing at dusk in front of a campfire. We get to Gates Pass before the sun to catch it as it starts peeking over the Tucson Mountains. We wander around downtown shooting patterns and people and we head to Miraval’s stables to photograph galloping horses.

While we’re taking pictures at the same locations, we come back with very different photographs. One of us caught the joy of the horse rolling on its back. Another captured the weariness in a homeless man’s eyes. A third saw the elegance of the columns outside Tucson’s courthouse.

Back in a darkened room at Miraval we critique each other’s work and learn how to correct exposure and other imperfections. “Don’t crop!” Schroeder insists. The idea is to put the work into the photo before we take it, not after. Look for the story. Frame the shot. Check the light.

We’re coached to think like a cinematographer. “Start wide and move in for the detail,” says Tom Brichta, the other instructor and the man who brought Leicas for those who didn’t have their own. Despite the ubiquitous cell phone camera, good old fashioned print photography isn’t going away, he says. “There’s something about looking at a good print, when you can see the texture in the clouds.”

Or the intelligence in a gorilla’s eyes. Iriye’s photo from a trip to Rwanda won an Exclusive Resorts photo contest in 2009. He’s looking forward to using what he’s learned at the photography workshop to take more great photos this summer on a family vacation to Croatia.

“You have to slow down, take your time, look around you,” he says of his passion for taking pictures. “It forces you to back off and take a breath, something I rarely do.”

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