About Me

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Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Teaching Lightroom : Lessons Learned

Around the Table
This week I finally finished my Lightroom Course. I had planned for four 2 hour sessions, but the first time you run a course it is impossible to reliably predict how long it will take to cover all the material. I was fortunate to have a lovely group whose intense interest in mastering this remarkable tool led to lots of questions. I told them from the beginning that extend the course to five or more sessions if required and it turned out that five was barely enough.

From the beginning, this course was an experiment. I had previously offered my Introduction to Digital Photography Course, through Keene Community Education, at the High School. The classroom worked well, but it was not an especially comfortable

Perspective Control
setting for a bunch of mature learners. For one thing, the desks seemed sized for 3rd graders. I wanted a more relaxed and comfortably interactive setting for my Lightroom Course and I thought that inviting a small group to sit around my dining room table might be a good option. I planned for no more than 8 but, because of various forgotten commitments, I ended with 10. I strongly believe that learning about the functions of broadly cable image editing software such as Lightroom can be best ingrained by following along with the steps on your own computer and I encourage everyone to bring their own laptops to the sessions. Despite the distractions of personal computers and the promised delicious snacks, everyone seemed able to attend to the presentations. 

Pre-cooked HDR
When delivering lectures I typically use a PowerPoint presentation,but PowerPoint is often justly criticized for encouraging overly produced and didactic lectures, as presenters tend to read off the screen.  I try to use my slides as triggers for discussion, but PowerPoint does not work for a walk through the features of Lightroom. For this course I had to use the program itself as my prompt. The challenge was to find images that would work a s examples for each of the techniques. Many of the features could be demonstrated in real time, but some, such as the HDR Merge tool could take minutes to complete. For these I had to have a version of the results completed before the discussion.

Terrible Image

I don't mean to suggest that all of this was an arduous procedure. I love introducing people to the magic of Lightroom and join in their excitement over the discovery of unexpected features. I always stress the importance of getting the best images from the camera, but the most effective examples of the power of Lightroom often started as the worst pictures. I picked a horribly back-lit image of Abigail and Grayson from Gay Head on Martha's Vineyard and was able to demonstrate how highlights, shadows and color could all be salvaged from the RAW image. 

With Apologies to Photographic Purists.
But it Made the Point.

Pet Eye Correction
I intended to get through the entire program in four, two hour sessions, but I felt that the most important elements were in the Library and Develop modules and with all the questions a discussion these two parts, along with the Map Module, required the full four classes. I promised from the beginning that if needed I would extend the course and so I added a fifth session to cover the Book, Slide Show, Web and Printing modules. And then, with some sadness, I had to release my victims to go out and try to remember all that we covered.

From the feedback, I think that everyone enjoyed the course and came away with a better appreciation of the power and capabilities of Lightroom. Most importantly I believe understand what is possible and even if they don't remember the details of how to do something, they now know where to look. They learned how to organize their images, how to back them up and how they can get the most from every pixel. They also know my phone number for when they get completely flummoxed.

As always when I set out to teach something I ended up learning much more than I could teach:

Before I started preparing for the course I only truly understood those parts of Lightroom that were required for my own narrow

Local Adjustment Tools
needs. I did what I needed to do often without understanding why I was doing things in a particular way. I uploaded images, backed them up and did some global development, before running home to Photoshop to complete my edits. I now have a much better understanding of how Lightroom works to keep tract of images and how to use metadata and labeling to better organize my library and find the images that I need. I have developed a wider appreciation of the ability of the program to do both global and localized adjustments, often with tools that are easier to use but equally effective as those available in Photoshop. I still take most images to photoshop for final adjustments, detailed selections and compositing, but I now carry out 80-90% of my editing in Lightroom.

Before the class I had done a few slide shows from Lightroom, but now I have a better feel for this tool along with the Book and Web Modules. Since I typically move images to Photoshop I will continue to use the program for printing, but I now feel that Lightroom offers a reasonable alternative.

Lessons Learned
I am already getting questions about when. I will offer the Lightroom course again, and the questions is what have I learned from this class and what changes would I make?

Home Cooking 

 The first question is whether it worked to offer the course from around my dining room table. Running the class from home has some disadvantages. The class size was limited and it did require participants to slog all the way out to Spofford each evening. For Keene people Chesterfield might as well be in a different time zone! On the positive side, I liked the fact that a small class allowed a relaxed atmosphere in which questions could be welcomed. Ten was more than I originally expected, but we were able to get everyone at the table with room for their laptops. The drive didn't seem to be a major issue and not having to pay for a venue in town meant that I could keep the price down. Besides the home environment made it easy to provide delicious snacks.

Laptop Distractions

Basic Panel Adjustments
One participant wondered whether sitting in front of a laptop was too much of a distraction from the information presented on the screen. It is a reasonable concern, but from the beginning, I thought it would be helpful to allow students to experiment as we went along. Everyone learns differently and a few folks who didn't have a laptop available felt that they were able to bring what they learned back to their home desktops. I think it is good to have the choice and throughout the course I was frequently interrupted by people trying to find that button I mentioned or make the adjustment that I just demonstrated.

Working on the Same Stuff
In future classes I may give the students a disk with my working files. I encouraged everyone to try techniques on their own images, but it may be easier to work on the same files. Another student was disappointed that I didn't take time to critique examples of everyone's work. I have done this in by Introduction to Digital Photography Course, but it became obvious that the amount of material that I had to cover was so vast that I didn't have the time to review everyone's work. It might be helpful to schedule a separate critique session a few weeks after the course ends, to evaluate how everyone is doing and answer the inevitable questions.

Mount Washington Hotel Panorama


 As I prepared my course, I had no idea how much time would be needed to cover the essentials of such a vastly capable program as Lightroom. As I mentioned, I initially scheduled four sessions to last two hours each, but prior to the course, I alternately jumped from fear that I had too little, or too much, material to fill the allotted eight hours. I shouldn't have been surprised that I ended up adding a fifth class to try get everything covered. In the future I'll know to schedule at least five sessions.

The one thing that I did not find surprising was how much fun it was to spend evenings sharing my excitement for a topic that was of such intense interest to this group of enthusiastic and engaged students.  I can't imagine a nicer group, but I'm sure I will give it another try some time soon

Jeffrey Newcomer

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