We've been fans of reader Maya Henderson's personal blogging as well as her engagement and participation as a reader of Z Recommends for some time, so we enthusiastically accepted her offer to review Me Ra Koh's photography instruction DVDs for parents. Maya blogs at springtree road.
I've always been interested in photography, but there was a time when I let the technical aspects scare me away from learning how to take good photos. But once my daughter was born in 2005, I found that I couldn't stop taking pictures of her with my little digital point-and-shoot.
My excuse for the massive quantity of photos I was taking was that we lived a state away from our families and they wanted to see our baby grow. But eventually I realized that I enjoyed taking photos solely for the sake of taking photos. Having photo albums of pictures only marking birthdays and vacations weren’t enough for me anymore.
I got a Nikon D80 in May 2007 (Amazon's current best price is a bit under $900 for a Nikon D80 body and lens kit), and for the first four or five months, on the rare occasions I dared to venture out of auto mode, I was disappointed in my photos.
If you know what I mean, you should get to know Me Ra Koh.
Me Ra and her husband Brian own a successful wedding photography company, Me Ra Koh Photography. They’ve been very successful at building their business over the past few years, but even more interesting to me is the way they work to empower women with their cameras.
The couple has set up a website, Refuse to Say Cheese, where they sell several photography-related products, including two DVDs: Refuse to Say Cheese and Capture the Story and Outside the Green Box: Understanding Your Digital Camera.
If you want to step out of the "birthdays and vacations" tradition, check out Refuse to Say Cheese. Me Ra has been both a writer and a teacher and she uses some of the principles of storytelling and applies it to photographing kids. The DVD is about 40 minutes long and in it Me Ra talks about three basic elements of storytelling: capturing conflict, details, and setting. She tells you what she means, why it's important, and then gives you an exercise to do on your own, showing her own examples to illustrate the exercise.
While I felt that I was already doing most of what she says on this DVD, it was a nice refresher for me. If you’re not used to thinking like a storyteller when it comes to the photographs you take but would like to start, you should get a lot out of this DVD - and it'll work for you whether you have a point-and-shoot or a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera.
Outside the Green Box, the second DVD in Me Ra’s series, is for those people who have bought a DSLR and aren't entirely sure how they work. Her point is that cameras are not as hard to use as people make them out to be; we shouldn't allow ourselves to be intimidated by them. And she's right.
Here’s a photo I took right after I got my new camera, May 7, 2007. I took this inside on auto mode with a flash.
Outside the Green Box has turned things around for me.
The DVD runs around 40 minutes, so it's not going to be as thorough as a class or workshop, but the fundamentals that you need to get started with your camera are there. She starts with a basic lesson, showing you how to change lenses and naming a few camera parts and telling you what function they serve. For people who aren't technically inclined, she encourages you to pause the DVD often if you find yourself getting overwhelmed.
I took this photo after I viewed Me Ra’s DVDs, January 26, 2008. It was taken inside at a museum, and I used aperture priority for this one.
The core of the DVD is her discussion of the three main parts of photography: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. As in the first DVD, she outlines exercises for you to do in each section and gives examples of her own work. These were really helpful to me and, after watching the DVD twice, I had ventured out of the "green box" and was shooting in aperture priority instead of auto. When I downloaded my photos to the computer, they were finally beginning to look closer to how I had imagined them.
I was very pleased with what I learned from Me Ra. It's basic information, but I went from figuring I always had to use a flash inside to knowing how to take decent pictures inside at night using ambient light instead of a flash, which I felt was a major accomplishment.
Taken August 4, 2008, outside, using manual settings.
If you are a brand new DSLR owner finding yourself overwhelmed by all that you know your camera could do if you could only find the right combination of buttons and dials to press, Outside the Green Box can help you acquaint yourself with your camera so that you can experience some success in your photography. Then, if you choose, you can go on to learn more of the technical information from there.
Me Ra also publishes a blog that has a whole section called Photography Tips for Moms. In it she shares photos and offers exercises, samples, and "recipes" for photographs she's taken.
The videos described here are available from Me Ra Koh's Refuse To Say Cheese website for approximately $30 each or $50 for the pair. She also offers workshops around the country.
You can see a set of photos showing the progression of Maya Henderson's photography after watching Me Ra Koh's videos. You can also see additional photographs at Maya's blog, springtree road.