John Warkentin is joined by Alwyn Hanson the manager of the michaels media school for a general discussion about the courses and workshops on offer at michaels camera. In Alwyn's very popular introductory classes he boils down often complex camera operation into simple actionable steps anyone can use to capture great photographs time and time again.
Check out all the current courses and workshops on offer and book your seat here: https://michaels.com.au/pages/media-s... Join us for our free lunch time seminars every Thursday at 1pm.
Introduction to the Michael’s Media School
John Warkentin is joined by Alwyn Hanson the manager of the Michael’s Media school for a general discussion about the courses and workshops on offer at Michael’s Camera.
John Warkentin here from Michael’s Camera.
Today I’m joined by Alwyn Hanson, who is the manager of the Media School here at Michael’s camera, and I thought we’d just have a general discussion and talk a little bit about the Media School does at Michael’s Camera.
We’ll talk about some of the courses; a little bit about Alwyn’s interest in photography and his history at Michael’s; and how the Media School can help you.
So, Alwyn, right off the bat, tell us how long you’ve been at Michael’s.
I joined Michael’s in 2008, and prior to that I spent most of my life in retail and camera sales, and I’d done a course, a series of courses, on training because I used to work in training at the time; and I approached Peter Michael and said, “I want to train and redo your camera store” and he seemed very keen, and since that point it’s been an ever-growing awesome phenomenon.
Yeah! So we’ve got a really wide range of courses here at Michael’s which Alwyn managers and teaches most of them; but there are a few other presenters that come in. You’re predominantly working in the still range and we’ve got Asher who does a lot of the video and Lightroom as well, right?
Asher is a specialist in dealing with video, video production. He works as a video production engineer. But also, he is incredibly good at teaching Lightroom, Lightroom intermediate, Photoshop, Shop Elements, and Premier classes; and incredibly good at that. So he does that side. So anything video based other teachers do, anything stills based, is me.
Yeah. Yeah. Now one of the things which you might not know is that when you purchase a camera at Michael’s, quite often there’s an introductory course that is packaged with your camera. And that’s when you might first meet Alwyn.
So you’ve got quite a wide range now; you do them for both Canon and Nikon and every now and then I guess you’ve got some of the other ones.
Well, what we mainly do is when you buy a camera from Michael’s, you instantly get a voucher for… actually, it used to be 3 and a ½ hours and now it’s almost 4. It keeps growing. And the 4-hour class is for all types of cameras; it covers the stuff that matters on your camera. What I mean is, we’re not going to spend 2 hours going through physics of photography; I’m going to show you what buttons you need to use. I compare it with my classes to like driving a car. When you drive a car you don’t look at all the controls, you look straight ahead and use a few controls. A photograph is about using those few controls to make it matter.
So, that’s what we do with that first class. There’s also an option, you can actually use the voucher to upgrade and we do day classes for Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Nikon and coming soon for Sony as well; where you can actually use that voucher in part payment and book our day classes. The main difference in the day class is that rather than just me going through the camera controls, it’s practical. We take you out; we take you in different situations; we play lots of games – that sounds odd – lots of little functions and practical things we have with you at the time; and it’s a lot more successful. But it’s just Canon based, Nikon, based, and camera supplier based.
Now, I’ve had the opportunity to partake in some of these courses over my time at Michael’s, and the most important thing that I’ve noticed is that Alwyn is very results oriented. The most important thing is getting pictures that are going to be pleasurable, and making sure that the camera doesn’t get on the road of it; because, of course, these cameras have gotten so complex over the years and Alwyn just drills down right to the meat of it: How do you use this tool so that it’s not in the road of you and you can take beautiful pictures?
And you’ve been doing this your whole life; this is where you’re spectacularly good.
Teaching – well, thank you – I’ve been teaching cameras for a very long time now and one of the things I’ve learned is: The more complex you make the camera, the more you miss the point that the camera is there to take a photograph. That’s what you want to get onto our memory card as soon as possible, and the more buttons you press, sometimes you lose that whole inertia. I work with children when I don’t work at Michael’s. I do a lot of work for local schools, and children are very hard to photograph and the more time you spend setting the camera up and saying, “Let me try this… Let me try this…” they’re bored. They’re gone. But the moment you have the camera ready, primed, and take – then it’s done.
I often compare it to driving a car, as I said earlier on. You look straight ahead; you see the road; you drive to that destination; you take the photograph. What you don’t do is analyse the camera… or what the car is doing. It doesn’t matter. That’s what matters. And one of the most common questions we get from people is: What camera took that photograph? And sometimes to me, it’s like asking, “Did Van Gogh use Berge or Dulux?” Now, what matters is the art he put on there. The photograph is the end result of what we’re doing.
And that’s what I try and teach and bring across to people.
Yeah, let’s talk a little bit more about your history. What got you into photography in the first place?
I think it was sort of a passion of seeing photographers. I’ve got a huge love of Patrick Lichfield, that genre of English fashion photographer of the 1960s and ‘70s, which is when I grew up, and I wanted to be one of those and I bought my first camera when I was about 13. It was a Zenith, a Zenith EM.
We might have one in the museum.
We do! I look at it occasionally. It’s incredible; it was a solid steel Russian camera that was great as a weapon as well. If could take it to a party, use it to club people off and still take photos afterwards. I then became a Canon user; I used Canon cameras for years. I’ve also used Nikon. Digitally wise and professionally, I now use Olympus cameras. On the other hand, I also am very (experienced) with most major brands of cameras. I very rarely get unstuck with a camera control.
Well, that’s great to know. We’ve certainly got a lot of people coming into the store who do get a bit stuck. I had to field a question from one of our employees today – he wanted to find out how to record to dual memory cards on this Fuji GFX camera and I hadn’t used that feature yet and I had to dive down into the menus to try and find it; and of course, they had it under some silly name that nobody would have recognised.
Of course! Sometimes the challenge is knowing, for example, how the same menu works on a Nikon, and a Canon, and a Sony; and transferring that information into really, really, simple, easy to understand – that’s not a patronising term – we want the camera to take photographs, not to impress people with what we can do with it.
I find that when I take photographs myself, I try and see what I want to achieve, take it, then afterwards I think, “Wow, I used that setting!”
Sometimes it’s not all always… it’s there. It’s grabbing the moment and the camera is a tool to make it work for you.
Okay, so now let’s say someone has purchased a camera at Michael’s and they’ve had a chance to take the half-day introductory course that came with the camera.
What else do we have for them in the Media School to get them excited? You know, take them to that next level after they now understand the camera.; now they want to really get some skills on it.
We’ve got two or three concepts to go from there. In a classroom environment, we go straight from what we call our Introduction Class, to our Intermediate Class – which is essentially part two – and that goes into a lot more detail. It talks about lenses, flashguns, star photography, black and white photography; it’s the next step on.
So, if you want to carry on classroom wise, that’s where you go (___).
On the other hand, if you want to do a practical class, we do two types: One is called our Workshops. And what the Workshops do; we tend to have a group of four or five people and a teacher and often one other person, and we work in a specific area. So, for example, we run classes on macro photography; we run classes on food photography; on studio lighting; on flash photography, on nude photography. All of these, and portrait/child photography, they’re four-hour workshops. We charge $199 for them; $99 for the second person if there are two attendees. And they will cover all of it. There’s a bit of theory in them, but also a lot of practical sides.
The nude photography class is one of the most important ones to do because it’s an area that nobody else does but us.
You know, sometimes, when I was writing these classes down, for example, on the nude class, I went to three or four different photographers who seemed to have a model and 35 people all pointing at the model and shouting at her all these different instructions. What we now have is one model, myself, and four students, and that’s all being beautifully controlled; you’re not going to be competing with people for shots. We do the same thing on our portrait classes; on the macro classes. It’s all hands-on workshops, and they’re incredibly successful and all of them, the dates we normally keep on the website for you.
The other option is what I called our Walks, and we do a series of walks through Melbourne. What we do, and the world and his wife does walks now, you know – every time I see them advertised – and often we see them in progress; and you’ll see a photographer followed by twenty-five different people. And he’ll say, “Look, over there!” then they all shoot the same shot and walk on.
What we do is a bit different. We take six people, a maximum of six people, and two teachers, and at every stage, you’ll have a photographer beside you saying, “Rather than just that pretty was built in 1863 – that’s great, but try moving your camera to here.” “Watch what happens when you move your camera to here… to here… to here…”
“Let’s take five shots of the same thing from five different angles.”
And these are incredibly successful for us. We take a city walk; we take them to the state library, through the state library; right through as far as South Bank and showing options.
We do the same thing at night. We run our night classes in winter, obviously, it’s dark. We do get people requesting for summer ones, but that would mean starting at half past nine at night and finishing at two in the morning. So we start at half past five – it is very cold. We warn people on the night walks to dress up warmly, because it is very cold. And we take six people, and we do cool things with lights. We do light painting with baby sparklers, it produces the most amazing shots of things you see all the time.
We do a pass of Melbourne Zoo, called our Wildlife class.
The Melbourne Zoo class, again, small class. We arrange it with Melbourne Zoo and they are incredibly helpful to us with this. We come through as a school, and we’re learning how to see animals, but not just say, “Look, it’s a Meerkat.” *Click*. Move on.
It’s how to make that Meerkat your Meerkat; that shot special to you. And again, that’s what the class teaches.
And we do a landscape class. We do the same thing with flowers and gardens around Melbourne. We explore some of Melbourne’s gardens and work from there.
A brief overview; but that’s the sort of thing we do from here.
Yeah. Well, that’s great!
So, now, I’ve got the Media School’s website up here on our iPad. So, basically, just go to michaels.com.au and right at the top here in the navigation bar is “Education” so let’s click on that. And we can see that we’ve got the courses and workshops, and of course, we’ve got the free lunchtime seminars.
I haven’t got there yet.
Yeah, yeah. Which basically, three out of the four per month, Alwyn presents. And you’ve been doing this, again, ever since you’ve been here. You’ve got this great…
Well, in the seminars we tend to cover things that we don’t normally cover in the classes. And so, for example, there’s one this week on macro photography; there’ll be one in a few weeks’ time about landscape photography.
And these are in the theatre in here, there are all three rooms opened up. They are a bit more dramatic with a big screen and presentation and things, but they are really good, especially if you work near here. They’re about an hour long and punchy, short, precise and the new ones we’re doing now we’re giving you lots of projects. We’re going to say, “I want you to try this for the weekend.” or “Here’s an idea, take this home and try that out.”
So they talk about, but also we get guest presenters which are really cool. We’ll get guest photographers coming in and talking about what they love to do as well. So they’re really worth doing.
If you’re in Melbourne, close to here, or come in for the day, it’s a really great experience.
Yes. Sounds great.
So, yes, again, on our website just click on “Education” and if you click on “Courses and Workshops” you’ll find this page here, which has got all of the various courses and workshops that we do. And you can sign up online.
Yes. Sign up online. It’s a secure site. We use PayPal, or a PayPal controlled site to work from, and it’s totally secure to work from.
And also, most importantly, the dates are on show a long way ahead.
And just a few things on this: For example, the night walk, you might think, “I won’t do that because I don’t have a tripod.” We do! And we’ll email you a week before; check your equipment, and we’ll just say, “Look, we’ll bring tripods for you.”
The zoo class, often people will ring up and say, “Look, I want to do it, but I don’t have a really big lens.” We do! And camera suppliers are quite happy to loan you their lenses to try out for the day. There’s obviously a motive there. But they’ll… and we’ll bring our own lenses for you and say, “Look, try this out today.”
Because sometimes you might not get a chance to use a big lens like that, and you might be thinking about buying a lens, for example, a macro lens.
Do the class! We’ll have a lens here for you to try out and afterwards you can see if it’s worth getting it for you or not.
Well, that’s certainly well worth doing. I mean, we’re the largest camera store, not just in Melbourne but in the country. I believe we’re the largest camera store in the Southern Hemisphere!
So, if it’s out there, we’ve probably got it!
And what a great time to come in and in a very casual, trusting, learning environment, try out some new gear.
Yup. This is pretty crucial, especially things like macro because it’s a very expensive item to purchase. You know you might be thinking of buying one, and you might buy it and never use it. At least with the class, you’re actually seeing it work; you get the results. And one of the things we try and do is, if we do a city walk or a night walk, we’ll probably guarantee you’ll come away with five really, really amazing images that you took. It’s not us holding the camera and pressing the button for you – you will take that. And that’s what makes it so exciting.
And you can see from the page there, besides the main classes and workshops there, we also do a video with (Arsalan), these are (___) classes.
And our software classes below. We do Adobe Lightroom, which is the world’s most popular photographic software. Would you agree with that?
Well, pretty well, yeah.
Yeah. So, Lightroom is a class we do constantly. They’re done in here. A four-person classroom, with laptops provided for you.
We also teach Adobe Premier, the video editing software.
We also teach Photoshop Elements.
We also have a class on restoring your family’s history – an area I’m really, really passionate about. But we’ll often get people calling up who have big boxes of photographs and boxes of slides and what I do with these is show you how to scan them; how to put them through your computer, and most importantly how to fix the scratches, the damage, the colours and make them digital again, and bring them back to life! Which means suddenly they’re there! And rather than being in a box somewhere, you now can give them to all the people; which is the reason I did this.
Yeah, that’s the beauty of a digital file. It can now be shared.
And of course, you can reprint, you can blow them up, you can put them on your wall!
Yes! Make slideshows out of them. Because, otherwise, it ends up with the one person in the family holding one photograph who won’t give it to the other person, which is what my family is like! And they’re now sharing these out because now we can pass on to other people, and especially with people who are doing family history, archive class and that sort of thing, it’s great for that.
Yeah, what if somebody has got some specific needs and they’d like some one-on-one training? How are you going to help them out?
Easy! We do one-to-one classes. What I normally do is, I find out their exact needs. So, for example, if somebody is doing a shoot for a wine company they work for and they need to shoot wine bottles, we’ll get the right person here – we have a huge mass of photographers working at Michael’s – we’ll get the right person for them, set the class up, and we’ll do a one-to-one class for them. And we can bespoke these for their needs. On that basis, too, besides doing one-to-one, we can also bespoke for your business, a class for your business.
Ok, so all your corporate training needs we can take care of that.
We work for…
And you can do that both onsite or…?
Normally, you contact me via the website and I get the details organised for you.
Well, what I was meaning is we could do it both here at our facility or we could do it at the customer’s facility.
Yes! And I work an awful lot with, besides numerous government departments, I also work with Victoria Police, I work with the ambulance drivers, and I work with the fire brigade, and we teach the fire brigade, police for example, how to use their cameras in the settings they work from.
So we can organise a corporate booking for your specific needs as well.
Well, that’s excellent.
Now, what do you find most satisfying about teaching?
Oh, the moment when somebody takes a great photograph. That’s it! The whole thing is just about somebody saying, “Oh my God, I now see how it works.”
I’ve literally just finished a compact camera class, about half an hour ago – that’s why my voice is a bit sore – and halfway through the class, you could see the lightbulbs going off in the class of, “Oh my God, that’s so much easier than I thought it would be.” Because they are sometimes faced with an incredibly complex camera, which seemed to get more complex. And sometimes it’s like using an iPhone, you think, “Wow, far too much stuff here.” And they’re wandering through getting totally lost in the controls, and changing settings, and we just trim it down and say, “Hang on a second, let’s ignore those. This is what you need. This is how it works.” And that moment is – and you can actually hear it in the class, this almost sigh of, “Oh my God, that’s so much easier.” – because they’ve been so nervous of the camera for the last two weeks, suddenly it becomes easier.
Now, what would you say has changed in the last say, fifteen years ago, since the end of the analogue era and the beginnings of the digital era, with respect to camera training? Has the market opened up, everybody wants to be a photographer? Has digital made it easier? What has changed?
It’s made it easier and there are a few myths about it. And, for example, people often assume digital cameras will be easy, and the fact that biggest thing that people have is they think that if they buy an expensive camera, it will be easier. And often it’s the opposite: Expensive cameras are actually trickier to work with.
And people will have an iPhone and assume that the iPhone will be the same as an SLR, and it’s a slightly different world.
What has happened is, more people are using cameras and that’s the most exciting thing of all. And it’s quite funny, I’ll get people who say to me, “Oh, your business must be dying out because of iPhones.” No, iPhone is the camera you carry with you for snapshots; the SLR is the camera you carry for photographs.
And the more people who use iPhones, the more people will use cameras, and the more people use cameras, the more excited they become.
And, it’s the fact that twenty years ago the only person carrying a big camera bag around, looked like me – they were always over fifty with huge, massive camera equipment. Now, I go to a school even and everybody has SLRs. And everybody is knowing how to use them, and that’s so exciting because people are now learning about photography a lot easier.
I often compare it to art – compare it to art! It is art! – what I mean is, if you want to take up a hobby, and take up painting, you’ve got probably five years ahead of you of learning.
With a camera, you can pick an SLR up today and you can take a great photograph today. You can get better, but you can start by taking good photographs and move on from there.
And that’s what I try and teach people.
Now, one of the questions I often ask photographers – because you are a photographer – when they sit down for an interview is, The Shot That Got Away.
Because I sort of feel that failure is one of the ways that we learn, and there are an awful lot of times when a photographer has put a big effort in to try and get something, you know, there’s a high concept or whatever it is, and it just didn’t work.
So I wanted to know if you’ve got an experience of a shot that you tried to put together and it just, it didn’t quite happen. And what did you learn from it? Why was it funny, humorous, or why was it a total failure?
It’s kind of like that the metaphor of the fish that got away story.
I do! An example I give on the SLR2 class –the intermediate class – and it’s a… we were in Port Campbell National Park, and there was amazing hawk on a nest on the edge of a cliff, and I thought, “Oh my god, he’s about to take off!” and I realised that when he was going to take, the Twelve Apostles were there [Points] and I was going to get this hawk flying over the Twelve Apostles, and I thought, “Wow, this is brilliant!”
So, I grabbed the camera, I put on a 400 mm lens and I zoomed right into him and I got him perfectly, and he was just there, on the edge of his nest, about to take off. He was going to take off! Anyway, he looked at me, and I kept watching him, and after a while, he kept watching that I kept watching him. So, my children figured out it would be a good idea to hide me.
So, I’m lying flat on the ground and they pulled a blanket over me and they raked leaves over me to hide me. I think they enjoyed doing this!
I’m still watching this guy, waiting, and eventually, he did take off, but he went that way [Points away] and I got this great shot of his feathers flying that way, and a big space that way. And I use it in my classes to show that it doesn’t always work the way you want.
So, he wasn’t really the shot that got away, he was the hawk that got away! [Laughs]
Well, yes. It would have been my dream photograph. And I actually introduce it in my classes, saying, “You’re about to see the best photograph you’ve ever seen, had it worked.” I hold that part until the end.
Well, that’s one of the most important things, not everything is going to work, but you’ve got to just love the art of photography, the passion of photography, and just keep shooting. You don’t have to get dejected. So what, the hawk flew the other way.
You do it again!
Hopefully the next time he’ll come the other way. Or maybe you’ve just got to have maybe a mouse for him or something.
Well, I always tell people to look at National Geographic, open a page at random and don’t just look at the photograph, think how many they missed to get that one.
Oh, and in the days of film they were still shooting hundreds and hundreds of rolls to get 18 shots for a big feature.
Yeah! And sometimes we’ll do a shoot and we’ll do maybe a thousand photographs over two or three days and you’ll get six.
I spent almost a week in the (Oppways) last year, photographing waterfalls; I want a specific shot. Of that four days of crawling around in freezing cold water, carrying this equipment, hiding flashguns in waterfalls, I got three shots I’m proud of.
I’d hate to think how many hundreds were taken, but three shots I’m proud of and a vast amount of cold clothes and wet clothes. Yeah, but it’s worth it.
Well, I think, if I’m not mistaken, a lot of them said, if they felt they got a print-worthy shot, once a month, he felt he was doing good.
So, yeah, it’s… you can’t just turn the switch on and expect to get brilliance.
But you can work towards it. And obviously, as you go down that path of working towards brilliance, a little bit of training never hurts! There are some shortcuts! And the classic shortcut is, study under someone who knows. And that’s, of course, what we’re offering here at Michael’s Camera.
Now, do you have any new courses under your belt that you’re going to be introducing in the next year or so? What’s the plans?
There are things planning, but I haven’t finalised them yet, so I won’t discuss them yet.
There are things going to be happening. I’m currently working – I do an awful lot of work at home on classes – and once I get them all in line they will be launched on the website, probably by Christmas time, or close to as I can get.
Oh, well that’s something to look forward to!
I know that one thing that we’re looking into, and I’ve been making some inquiries – we want to get some drone photography planned.
I mean, I’m personally using a drone and I know that the excitement that the drone gives me and I want to share that with everybody else.
So, we’re working on that.
It’s not going to happen overnight. None of these things happens overnight. There’s an awful lot of preparation that goes into a course.
Well, normally it takes six months to write a class.
We often get people – they’ll do our city walk – and they’ll say, “Wow! Looks like you’re making it up as you go along.” And you think, “Yeah, except for the six months of rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals and rehearsals, and then it works.”
Like all good things, it’s the planning behind it that makes it work. [Laughs]
And rehearsals that make it work.
Well, I hope you enjoyed our introduction to Alwyn here, our manager of the Media School.
And come on down to Michael’s. Alwyn’s here most of the time. He’s easy to find. If you buy a camera you’re probably going to meet him when you get your introductory course.
And if you’re interested in diving into a little bit more of the complexities and getting some new skills under your belt, well, then have a look at our website again.
I’ll just go to the top.
The top of the page here, on michaels.com.au, and get into the Education section, and you can see all the courses.
And, of course, come to one of our free lunchtime seminars and you’ll probably meet Alwyn there as well.
So, we’re very excited about education at Michael’s because of course, if everybody is a photographer you want to maybe be a better photographer. You don’t want to fight with your camera, you want your camera to produce those beautiful images that you’re already envisioning, and the best way to do that is a little extra training.
Anyway, thank you so much for joining us, Alwyn.
And we hope to see you at Michael’s and we hope you’re excited about photography and about the educational prospects, and you’re looking to taking one of our courses.
Take care and we’ll see you next time.