Photography for Fun and Gain Series
Digital Darrell Does the New York Institute of Photography
"Professional Photography" Course
|© Darrell Young|
How many times have you seen this course advertised in magazines? For many years I've looked at this ad, and recently even visited their website. I found out that the course costs about $1000 USD, can be paid in payments, and seems to have some pretty good ratings; so I thought I'd give it a try.
You see, Digital Brenda and I have home-schooled our children for many years now. Two have already graduated High School, and three are still at home and in school. So, what better thing for a family than to all study together. Digital Darrell is officially taking the course, but the wife and kids will read the books, and follow along to gain as much knowledge as possible. A family adventure in photographic education!
Since many may be considering this course for themselves or family members, I thought, "Why not keep a detailed diary of my experiences as I go through the course." Then, others might benefit also. Below, you'll find my adventures, so far. I'll be updating them with my impressions as I go along through the course.
December 10, 2005 - I ordered the the NYIP materials through an ad link I found on a Nikon-oriented website. In about a week a nice fat 8.5 x 11 inch envelope arrived, and I sat down and read the materials. Lots of glossy brochures, letters from the "Dean," motivational folded stuff, and "rave reviews" from magazines like Popular Photography, and the now-defunct Peterson's Photographic. Not a bad looking presentation. Even though I am a successful photographer and writer, I was motivated to sign up right away!
Their sales materials reassured me that anyone from rank amateurs to working pros would benefit from this very thorough course. I can see how that may well be true, since they cover a wide range of techniques, and many pros tend to specialize somewhat. Time will tell!
The course is composed of 30 NYI lesson texts, with accompanying cassette tapes and DVDs (or NTSC Video Tapes if you prefer). A letter in the kit tells me that a CD recorder option is coming for the lessons by voice, but that, for now, cassette tapes are still a valid way to take that part of the course.
From what I read, each student is assigned a "Personal Student Advisor," who is a "professional photographer" selected from among New York's best professionals. This advisor will accept certain images from you during the course, and will critique them for you, and give you a voice analysis on cassette tape. So, if you're going to take this course, run down to Radio Shack and buy one of the few remaining cassette tape recorders.
The course is probably film-based, although there is a "Special Report on Digital Photography" with over 100 pages of the latest information on digital cameras, scanners, and computer systems. You get help on setting up a digital darkroom. And, with this report there are over three hours of audio by NYI's faculty and webmaster. Since photography is photography, whether digital or film, I doubt this will be a problem for the pure digital shooter, like myself.
You get a giant "slipcase" binder to keep all the course materials together for a "lifetime reference." You also receive an official "NYI PhotoWorld Press Card," a "full-sized professional bounce-flash umbrella", "Filter Computer Wheels", and "Photo Project Kits."
You can complete the course in as little as six-months, or they allow up to three additional years with no extra fees, so that I can, "proceed at my own pace..." When the first part of the course arrives, I can examine it, and, if unhappy, will receive a full refund.
They pay all the postage, the course is all inclusive in one price, and at the end you get an impressive looking "embossed" Graduation Certificate, and even "Career Consulation." I can't wait to get started!
December 20, 2005 - With credit card in hand, I called the toll-free number on the "Enrollment Agreement." A very nice "grandmotherly" sounding lady answered the phone, and didn't even make fun of my strong Tennessee accent. She really was very nice, and took her time, even answering some of my searching questions, such as "Why do Tennessee people pronounce the letter Y differently from New York people?"
Since the course offers a pay-for-it-now option that saves $150 USD, I fully expected to get some sales pressure to pay-it-all-now! But, I was surprised to find NO pressure of any kind. She asked me what payment plan I would prefer, and I told her that I'd like to pay a down payment, and the rest in monthly payments. (The good old American way!) She said that would be fine, and took my credit card number. She asked me for the number in the top right corner of the agreement, and the numbers above my name on the label. I gave that info to her, along with my name and address, and she told me that I'd have the first part of my course in about 10 to 12 business days. Easy as pie! (Is pie all that easy, though?...we'll see!)
I paid the small amount down, and will pay 27 montly payments until the full amount is paid. I could have paid it all at once and taken the $150 USD discount along with some cool "pre-payer" gifts, like a monopod and camera bag.
So, my first contact was very pleasant, and I am looking forward to receiving my course materials. Soon I'll be a real photographer...FINALLY!
December 27, 2005 - Unit One of the course arrived today. I opened the big box, and found my first series of books, tapes, CDs, and a DVD. I went right to work, and in a matter of about two hours, had completed lesson one, the first book in Unit One. I'll talk more about what is in the lessons in a moment, but first, let's look at the items I found in the first "Unit One" shipment.
The first Unit is comprised of three individual, large, 8.5x11 sized, magazine-style books. They are entitled as follows:
All three lessons combined comprise a single "Unit." There are a total of six units in the entire course, with 30 actual "lessons." Each lesson has a couple of cassette tapes with it, which contains the voices of the Dean of NYIP, Chuck Delaney, and his sidekick Don Sheff.
They have you read a few pages in the lesson book, then stop the tape, and they talk to each other and the "student" about the things just read. It is actually quite effective. Even though I have been a "professional" photographer for several years, and a lover of photography for many more, I have already re-learned several new tidbits that will be useful to me in my photography work.
Also included in the first Unit is an extra book on Digital Photography, which explains things like scanners, digital cameras, and such. It has a nice audio CD with it. There is a tape and material on how to win contests, and a handy book on Freelance photography, with things like Model Releases and Stock Photo Agency info.
January 17, 2006 - Well, I've had a few days to study the materials, listen to the CD video and cassette voice tapes, and come to two strong conclusions.
First conclusion, the course teaches basic and very sound photographic principles. The emphasis is on much more than how to operate one's camera. Most courses I've seen tend to end up being hardware tutorials, which is, of course, important. But the NYIP UNIT ONE course presents the necessary hardware information on things like shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, lens focal lengths and such, without dropping into the pits of boredom.
The emphasis is really on the PHOTOGRAPH, and how to use the camera hardware correctly to achieve great imaging. I think that the first unit balances well the need to understand the camera and lenses, with how to create a great image. If you took only the first unit, your photography would be improved dramatically. I had my 15-year old daughter read over the materials, and she learned quite a bit about her camera, and most importantly, how to compose a storytelling image.
UNIT ONE focuses on three IMPORTANT principles on how to compose and capture images. These principles are to 1. indentify your subject, 2. emphasize it, and 3. simplify the image so that it tells a story. They show you how to do this quite well! I enjoyed the way they applied these principles, using a combination of print, CD video, and voice tapes to make the techniques understandable.
Second conclusion, the course has too much emphasis on film and film technology. Most of the pictures of cameras and lenses are very dated, with equipment from the late 1980's presented as if they were current technology. It could be argued that "students" don't have a budget that will support the purchase of digital cameras, and so will be using film equipment. That is true to a degree. But, with the recent drop in the price of digital SLR cameras, and the withdrawal of most film SLRs from the market, it is clear that NYIP has some serious updating to do with their course materials.
Even though film cameras WILL teach a person sound photographic principles, it is also clear that film technology is not something a new and aspiring "professional" photographer should be investing much time in. Hopefully, NYIP will update their Professional course to a DIGITAL Professional course soon. The reality is that the market has swung to digital photography, with the majority of professional photographers using mostly, if not entirely, digital technology. Read this interesting thread about the Film vs. Digital situtation in my Forums.
It is true that NYIP offers a newer "Digital" Course in addition to their professional course. Here is a link to the Digital Course. I am taking that course too, but have not yet decided if I'll do an article on it. So far, it is NOT a professional course, but is designed to teach a few digital camera/film scanning basics and then proceeds into Adobe Photoshop and image manipulation techniques.
The older Professional course is a good and sound course, but biting deeply at the edges of camera hardware obsolescence. It truly needs some serious updating! I am corresponding with NYIP about this, and will report back with their comments soon. (See March 2, 2006 update below)
February 1, 2006 - Well, I completed my UNIT ONE studies, filled out the papers telling my personal instructor something about me and my camera equipment, prepared the images based on their photo project requirements, completed the true-false "exams" and submitted my "Photo Project" in the provided reinforced envelope. Now, I await my instructor's cassette tape commenting on my images, grading my exams, and giving me suggestions.
In case you're interested, it took me about 6 hours to complete my study of the first Unit. I could have blown through it more quickly, since I already knew virtually all the information presented, but I wanted to experience what a first time photographer student might experience. If you are an inexperienced photographer you'll probably spend more time completing the unit study. Also, I submitted images already taken that fitted the requirements of the course. You will actually be shooting those images, so several more hours will be required. I estimate that an inexperienced photographer would probably take about two-hours per lesson of each Unit. (three lessons in Unit One) Then, several more hours shooting images and preparing them, taking the lesson exams, and the final overview exam (only final exam is submitted), and preparing the shipment of the Photo Project to your personal instructor.
I submitted the three following images for my first Photo Project:
I'm interested to hear how well I did on my exams, and whether my images meet the standards of NYIP.
February 15, 2006 - YAY, I scored 100% on my Exam! The exam, of course, was open book, so I can see why I made such a high score; that and 30-plus years of photography experience. In fact, though, the Unit One final exam was not THAT easy. Even with my photo experience I had to think about what they were asking, then look up the information in the books to make sure I understood how to answer correctly.
Even though the open book exam method might seem like cheating, in fact, it is very effective at driving home points you may not fully understand. By recognizing that you do not know how to answer a question, you've indentified a weak area in your knowledge. Then, by looking up the material to find the answer, you get another chance to drive the points home. It works well!
My instructor's paraphrased comments were as follows. Please note that this is a rather condensed version of his comments, which took about 15 minutes overall, and fully covered the areas where my images showed the correct technique:
Image 1 above: This image shows motion well. In fact, it is a great image to do so, since it departs from what most people submit. It shows good panning technique, since the background is blurred and shows directional movement, and yet the subjects are still sharp enough. The feet and hands of the subjects are blurred by movement, showing that a slow shutter speed was used. Usually, I get stop motion shots, where someone shoots a subject at the peak of the action. This in a nice image to view because it is different and provides variety. Good job!
Image 2 above: The background on this image is excellent, and it is was obviously shot with a long zoom lens. The background is blurred and made larger, and depth of field is very shallow. The image is nice and sharp, and shows that lens motion was well controlled, since otherwise there would have been very obvious camera shake and image blurring. The bird's head forms an interesting triangle, and the eye is sharp, providing a focal point for the viewer's eye to start examining the picture. Well executed!
Image 3 above: This is a great example of converging lines, which we will consider in a later lesson. Everything in the image is sharp from the foreground to the background, which is the intent of lots of depth of field. Hyperfocal techniques will keep virtually everything in the image sharp and viewable. Pretty autumn lane!
Then the instructor gave me my only criticism for Unit One, briefly paraphrased as follows:
Image 3 above: We wanted to see how well you handled your understanding of hyperfocal techniques. And, while the image above does have sharpness from foreground to background, it is not the best example to show your understanding of hyperfocal shooting. In the future, try to shoot an image with much more distance, like a field in front of a distant mountain. Use a wide-angle lens and hyperfocal technique to bring the foreground and background into sharp focus at the same time.
February 20, 2006 - I paid my first monthly payment on February 1st, so I was expecting to have received Unit Two by now. I called NYIP to ask..."Hey, where's my next unit?" No one was available at 4:00 PM ET, due to the student advisors "assisting other students." So, the recording asked me not to stay on hold (gave me no choice), but instead, asked that I leave a voice mail, and someone will call back soon. I did so.
February 24, 2006 - My wife contacted me at work to tell me that NYIP had just called. The person explained to my wife that the units were "scheduled" to be sent out AFTER I had paid the equivalent of $70.00 per unit to NYIP. Since I am paying $35.00 per month, that means I won't get Unit Two until my next payment goes in. So, expect a two-month gap between each Unit of the course, unless you pay early, or double payments. When you get your units, don't get in a hurry and rush through them. You have plenty of time--up to three years--to complete the course, without additional fees.
February 27, 2006 - I got a letter in the mail that tells me that I can save $50.00 off the cost of the course if I give them a credit card number to charge the monthly payment, instead of sending in checks when they bill me. The credit card deduction method saves them postage and material costs, so they pass that on to me in the form of a 5% reduction in the cost of the course overall. If I want to send the the entire balance due, they will send me ALL the units in one big shipment. I'll keep paying payments, though, since that's the American way.
March 2, 2006 - After extensive e-mail back and forth with NYIP's staff, it is clear that there are no real intentions to change the film-based scope of the Professional Course, at this time. Here is a quote from a staff member on this subject: "...the Professional course is not designed to be anything other than it is: a fundamental course in photographic technique, traditional, film based technique.")
TO BE CONTINUED...
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