Capacity Building on Professional Photography for CRDT Members

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At the beginning of November two semi-professional photographers from Germany, Wieland Brendel and Anke Droege, worked with CRDT for two days: In addition to photographically documenting CRDT’s microfinance-scheme, they delivered a one-day photography course at the Headquarter to staff members from different branches of CRDT.

“Having taken photos for several NGOs in India and Rwanda in the past, we reached out to CRDT to offer our support. CRDT asked for a photography course – a request which made a lot of sense: Our work would have a long-term impact if we could enable their staff to take good photos. We happily accepted the challenge.

Ten people, from CRDT Tours, Le Tonle training centre, microfinance and other branches of CRDT, participated in the course, which was deliberately planned for beginners involving rather little theory but focussing on lots of practice. At the start of the course, the group was subdivided in four smaller groups, each of which got one of the cameras owned by CRDT. Throughout the morning session the participants had plenty of time to familiarize themselves with the controls of the camera and the very basic technical concepts such as exposure time, aperture or ISO. In particular, using the camera in manual mode the participants learned how the different setting options of the camera affect the brightness, contrast and depth-of-field of the photos. Each technical note was followed by an extended practice time to allow all participants to gain a thorough understanding of their camera and its controls.

“The very basic raw material of a good photo is light, and so you need a very good understanding of how to control and influence it. For this, the automatic mode of a camera is a convenience trap; only the manual mode will give you a true feeling and understanding of how the different knobs of your camera effect the final outcome.”

After lunch the emphasis was shifted away from the technical to the compositional and storytelling aspects of photography. A major challenge for CRDT is to convey their stories and the stories of their beneficiaries to the outside world. Done right, a series of photos can be a powerful way to engage the viewers and to connect with sponsors. To this end, the whole afternoon was reserved to build up the compositional and storytelling capabilities of the participants.

“Think about why you take a photo and what for! Really do! Far too often we just take a photo because something in the scene looks interesting. Without identifying exactly why the scene interests us, the resulting photo often turns out bland and boring. We need to first understand why we want to take a photo and what message, information or idea it should transmit. Only then can we consciously decide what should be in the frame, and what should be kept outside.”

First, Wieland Brendel and Anke Droege discussed two photo series they shot in Rwanda in 2011 (see www.wielandbrendel.de). The aim was twofold: for one, individual photos served as a good illustration for the basic rules of composition, be it the golden ratio, empty spaces, guiding lines or the importance of background, coloring, blurring and depth. At the same time, taken together, the photos conveyed a complete story with an introduction into the setting and the environment, the main part about the beneficiary or the project and an ending. This theory session gave way to a long practice session in which the participants were challenged to tell a story – e.g. about someone’s work – by creating a series of three photos. During the next two hours the headquarter was buzzing with the activity of ten eager participants and four cameras clicking their way. The results were then discussed in a group-session in the late afternoon.

“The enthusiasm and motivation was astonishing. The outcomes we discussed at the end of the session were really blowing our minds: When we started in the morning some people had rarely shot a photo and had never used the manual mode of a camera. Now a huge first step – or better: leap – was made. They commanded the cameras’ controls, consciously composited their photos and thoughtfully opted for a story-line. That was an extremely rewarding experience.”

By: Wieland Brendel

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