How to Photograph the Moon

Darn, I missed the last eclipse of a full moon. Oh well, now I have to wait for the next one. To be sure I don’t miss it the next time, I am arming myself with this catalog of lunar eclipses from NASA.

lunar eclipse

I’ve photographed the moon many times—and one eclipse in 2008. I prepared this article to give you an idea of how to photograph an eclipse, but now it’s not necessary.

I have photographed the moon both on a regular night with a full moon and during an eclipse. Both of them are easy if you know-how. In case you want to photograph an eclipse, the following is a list of the things that you’re going to need.

  1. 35mm camera film or digital
  2. 300mm lens or longer
  3. Cloudless night during the event

That’s it! Many people try to photograph the moon using a tripod but they don’t realize that it’s not necessary. Why do you ask? Because of the “sunny 16” rule in photography. Wait! In the middle of the night, there is no sun! Well, maybe not illuminating you, but it is illuminating the moon.

The sunny f/16 rule states that you can photograph anything that is illuminated by the sun using a shutter speed one number higher than the film or ISO that you’re using in your camera. For example: if you’re using ISO in your camera, the shutter speed/aperture combination should be 1/125 at f/16. Very simple, right?

half moon

If you’re using an older mechanical film camera and the battery is dead and you cannot read the light meter, using the sunny f/16 rule will allow you to photograph anything that is illuminated by the sun.

What about digital cameras? Digital cameras or film cameras are no different in this situation. For shots of the moon, either camera will capture the moon the same way or anything else illuminated by the sun. Don’t forget that you have a light meter to help you obtain the correct exposure and viewing the images on the screen gives you immediate feedback so you can make changes in the event you need to. Okay, enough of that. Let me tell you what you can do to photograph the moon and why a tripod is not necessary.

If you’re using a digital camera, do the following:

  1. Set your aperture to f/16.
  2. Set the ISO to 100.
  3. Set the white balance to daylight.
  4. Set the color mode to landscape.
  5. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 of a second.

For a film camera, forget steps 3 and 4.

full moon

As you can see, everything is very easy to do and chances are that if you follow this information you’ll get great shots of the moon. But, wait I’m not done yet!

Since the moon is so far away, why use the lens almost fully closed? Since the moon is thousands of miles away from us, we should not worry about the depth of field. So, why not use the lens fully open and take advantage of using a very fast shutter speed? This is what I do every time that I photograph the moon.

  • f/16 at 1/125 of a second, right? So that means that you can use reciprocal exposures:
  • f/11 at 1/250
  • f/8 at 1/500
  • f/5.6 at 1/1000
  • f/4 at 1/2000
  • f/2.8 at f/4000

What? Photograph the moon using a 1/4000 of a second? YES! All these are reciprocal exposures and what that means is that each of these settings will give you the same amount of light in your sensor. Of course, some people do not have their cameras set correctly. A couple of my students keep accidentally setting their exposure compensation settings to -4.0 stops on their Nikon cameras, and it’s all because the compensation dial and the aperture dial are one and the same in some Nikon cameras. Why Nikon placed these settings together, I don’t know. So if you have a Nikon camera and, like ALL of my students, you use your camera in manual mode, make sure that you’re in the correct setting when changing the aperture of the lens so you don’t accidentally set a (-) minus exposure on the aperture of the lens.

lunar eclipse

Back to the very fast shutter speed at night. Is it possible to use that in the middle of the night and get the picture? Of course, it is. Anything that is illuminated by the sun during the day or at night (the moon) can be photographed using this photography rule. Of course, if you’re going to photograph an eclipse of the moon, the setting will be very different—at least the shutter speed. During an eclipse, you will be forced to use slower and slower shutter speeds to compensate for the loss of light. But you’ll get the image!

This article was published here:

Photography my way

Hello everyone.  As some of you know, I have been a photographer for almost 40 years.  During that time I have been fortunate to capture many very good photos. I am posting some of them here. Since I have been capturing images for a long time, a few of these were captured with film but most of them are digital images.  I do have other interests, but whenever I have free time, I am taking pictures.  Right now I can barely wait for the Darkroom classes to start since I have about 10 rolls of film to develop! Lately, I have been using two different film cameras, a Bronica STRs 645 and a Fujifilm 6×9, both great cameras. As soon as I print some of these images I will post them here, or rather, on my other website dedicated to film photography.  Here is a link, for the darkroom class, Check it out and share it with your friends.


Solar eclipse in Crystal City, Missouri

A trip to St. Louis to see the eclipse.

Hello, everyone.  Well, now that the eclipse is over, we can all go back to our lives and relax a little. My wife and I took a trip to Festus Missouri to witness the event.  Using Google Maps, I found a private boat club on the edge of the Mississippi River where we “kind of trespassed onto the property”.  One of the people in charge came over and he actually welcomed us, but not before letting us know that we were on private property.   But they let us stay for this historic event as long as we stayed out a few places and cleaned up any debris we might have had.   This was a nice place to see the eclipse from.  The best thing for me as a photographer was that I could just concentrate on what I was doing and nothing else. Everyone, there was doing the same thing.  In the end, the event was so awesome that none of my pictures can convey what we all witnessed there.

To capture the sun in the middle of the eclipse I used a filter to reduce the brightness of the sun by 18 stops!  That is the darkest filter that I have ever used. Of course, when the amount of light is reduced by that much, you cannot capture anything else but the sun and maybe some clouds, which is what I captured.  At the moment of totality, I took the filter off to capture the incredible site. It was just as they said on the National Geographic Chanel, the temperature dropped about 15° the crickets started to “chirp” very loudly and the stars came out. IT WAS AWESOME!!!

And please don’t forget about my upcoming classes at Truman College.

Hello everyone.  Hope your summer has been GREAT!  The new classes for Fall are going to start soon, I hope that many of you sign up for the classes. The new schedule is as follows:

Beginning Photography: This is a class for new students of photography.

September 9th to October 21st, Saturdays 9:00 am to 11:00 am.

Studio Lighting Photography: This is a class for students interested in learning about lighting.

September 9th to October 21st, Saturdays 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Darkroom Photography: Learn how to expose your film correctly in the camera and how to develop it in the darkroom.

September 6th to October 18th, Wednesdays 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

Photoshop for Photographers: This class is for people that want to learn how to use Photoshop to edit their photos.  This class is strictly for beginners.

September 5th to October 17th. Wednesdays 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.

Truman College is also offering some photography workshops for students who want an introduction to lighting or for parents who just want to learn a fast way to photograph their children.

Studio Lighting Workshop: This is an introduction to studio lighting for students who want to start learning about lighting.

On class, August, 26th, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

Photography for Parents: This is a workshop for parents who have a new camera and want to learn how to photograph their children.

One class, August 26th 9:00 am to 12:00 pm.

Please sign early it is very easy, just call 773-907-4440 and ask for Laura Smith, she will take care of you.



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Photographic Composition

Learning where in the frame the subject should be, is very important in a photograph


Composition in photography is a subject that I enjoy teaching and talking about the most. I’ve seen so many students over the years that are lost when seeing through the viewfinder of their camera because they have no idea what is important in the scene that they are capturing.  I hope to give you a strong instinct of how to see the world through the viewfinder of your camera.

Composition is not something that comes naturally to many of us, we have to learn it! From time to time I find some students with a natural understanding of what is important in a photograph and how to arrange the different elements to create a good image. But as I mentioned, it is rare. Composition is something that we can all learn, from the core principals to the technical aspects of good composition. Some photographers argue that the person has to have this innate ability from birth because photography is an art form.  That may be the case if you want to become a fine art photographer but, the principals, the techniques, the way of seeing the world can be learned.

Composition is subjective, even if the composition in your images is bad; there is always someone that is going to tell you that it is cool. This is bad for a person that wants to become a photographer because you cannot listen to the average Joe, of course, unless he/she has an art degree.  To capture truly great shots a good composition is key. A well-composed photograph doesn’t have to be explained, almost every person that sees the image is going to approve it.  So with that being said, here are the fundamentals to taking strong compositions:

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The Rule of Thirds.  An image should be divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically, as to create nine equal parts and important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

In the world of art a painter chooses what to include in a painting, a photographer must choose what to exclude. What you leave out, is just as important as what you include in your image. For this to be effective, you need to selectively include ONLY the things that are important or interesting in your images by selectively framing what is important. For this to be done right, the photographer cannot be lazy. They must walk around the subject, study it, look at it from different angles and then decide what and how much to include in your picture.  

What the heck does this mean? It means that when you photograph any subject you should never place the main subject in the middle of the frame, you should place the main subject in any of the intersections of these imaginary lines. Most good photographers know that this technique of aligning a subject within these points creates more tension, energy, and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject like a mug shot.

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A straight horizon in a scene is a must

Many subjects in photos that I see may be interesting but the horizon is slanted to one side or the other and that makes the images to look like is going to slide right out of the frame.

Look at the image on the above. Vertically and horizontally it has been divided into three parts. Notice how the main subject, (the twigs encased in ice) are placed to the left side of the frame off center and the horizon line is placed on the upper third of the frame. This is how good framing and composition is created.

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Use ‘Lines,’ vertical, horizontal, diagonal or a combination of all, to your advantage 

In the photograph above, I use a combination of vertical, horizontal and strong diagonal lines and in the middle a human figure for contrast. The balance and tension in this picture is very strong and every single element is needed to keep the image engaged with the viewer. Even the lamp acts as a spherical counterpoint to the round shape of the man’s head.

Don’t leave large empty spaces. Leaving large holes in the composition such as uninteresting expanses of water or dark or very bright elements should be avoided. Change perspective by moving from a different point of view or maybe move your tripod up or down to compress large gaps in the mid to near foreground. Conversely, elements should not be cluttered; raise the height of the camera to increase the distance between elements. Don’t forget that the lens that you use on the camera is very important to give you the perspective that you want it in your photographs.

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In this photograph again I am using lines to create a strong composition. I included a post from the fence to break the repetition of the smaller iron bars and then simply waited to see what happened. Since there are many birds in my courtyard I did not have to wait too long. Note: in this image, the three birds are unified by the triangle that they form with their bodies.

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Once again I am using lines for a strong composition but this image has the added element of a spiral which is something that is found in many things in nature.

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Cut seashell (sample)

  1. When you go out into the field looking for images, concentrate on one or two different composition techniques and purposely look for items that fit your desired images, this, of course, will help you develop the way you see. Do not just go out and shoot anything and everything, doing that will not help you become a good photographer.
  2. Make sure that both the foreground and the background are interesting or at least that the background does not compete or intrude with the main part of your image.[foogallery id=”223″]
  3. The background is just as important as the foreground. Pay very careful attention to what you photograph and the angle of view you take.

Take a look at this next image:

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I could have created this image with the orchid perfectly straight but that will make a very static composition. By tilting the camera sideways I created a strong diagonal composition making the image that much more interesting. Because you have the camera in your hand, you can decide how and why your images should be the way you record them.

Use leading lines such as rails or lines created by shadows, fences or anything else to lead the eye into the main part of the image.

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The lines from the rails, road, and sidewalk are leading into the silos which are the main subject in this photo.  Lines can always help you make your images much more interesting.

Avoid distracting elements in the composition. This is done by paying careful attention to what is close to the frame in the picture. You have to check the edges of the frame to make sure that nothing is coming into the picture, for example; a distracting branch of a tree, or someone’s part of a body, or a portion of a colorful car, etc. etc. Many things can destroy the composition if the photographer is not careful and ignores the edge of the frame.

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This is a very good photograph with good composition, unfortunately, the photographer neglected the edge of his frame and the graffiti on the very edge of the image is very distracting. In fact, when you look at the entire image the very first thing your eye goes to, is the graffiti and not the cat. Just a little attention from the part of the photographer and this image will be great.

One of the great masters of photography was so careful with the composition of his images that it took him a few minutes to compose every image (on a 4×5 or 8×10 camera). But for him, those few minutes of composing an image was how he became a master photographer. The fact is that when a person has a real interest in becoming a very good photographer, you have to have lots of patience and take the time to always compose your images correctly.

In this photograph entitled;

“Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine” 1944

Adams made use of the rule of thirds and masterfully darken the middle mountain and lighten the trees in the bottom making the horse stand out. Great picture, great composition, and a great way of using contrast to help the viewer look at the entirety of his photo.

A frame within a frame. Look for objects that frame other things. In nature, there are many things that a photographer can use to frame an object and make it look more interesting. Look at the following image so you understand how this works.

Harry Callahan – Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, c. 1953

Look at the composition in this image. The photographer (Harry Callahan) uses light and shadows to frame the image of his wife and child. His use of light is amazing and as many great photographers know, using anything that is available in nature to make your photographs more interesting is not something you do lightly.

One other thing that I recommend to all my students is to, be critical of your work. Capturing good images from time to time does not make you a great photographer, but it’s a start. And when you do, always ask yourself, “How can I improve this image?” Whatever it is that you photograph, there is always a way to make it look better. Sometimes it’s just by getting closer to the object, sometimes eliminating part of the image, sometimes by placing it in a different part of the frame. There are many ways of improving images.  Do not be content with mediocre work, if an image that you create looks bad to you, admit it and go shoot some more.  Look at other photographer’s work, something similar to what you like to shoot and see how they compose their photos. Good composition in your photographs could be a long learning experience, but don’t despair, eventually, you will learn how to see through the viewfinder of your camera.

 -Ignacio Alvarez

© February 2016

Have you ever use your camera in “B” mode?

Many years ago I learned that using the B setting on my camera would allow me to capture images that looked very different than using a “normal shutter speed”. Nowadays, many students will never use it because the camera is of no help here. To use this setting, it is very important to know photography very well, or at the very least you need to memorize the information that I am giving you here. There are different techniques that if you know them, they will help you solve some of the problems that you encounter in photography. This is one of the reasons why photographers that learned using film and then adapted to digital, can do anything with their digital camera. One of my students asked me why that is and this was my response; In the past, when a photographer was locked to a single roll of 100 or 200 ASA film in the camera, he did not just change the ASA to capture the image you wanted; he had to figure out how to do it right with the film he had in the camera. In other words, he relied on his knowledge of photography and not on his camera.

And speaking of that, please, never ask a photographer what camera he uses as a true photographer can take excellent pictures with any camera! Why? Because it is not the camera that makes the photo; it is the photographer’s knowledge of photography that allows him to create pictures with any camera. Unfortunately, many people always look for a good camera, one that “takes great pictures”.  They never say to themselves – “I should learn photography first so I can use any camera.”   For some reason, these people think that photography is easy as long as they get a good camera. But photography is just like any other career, it’s just as long and expensive to truly learn photography. This is way places like Colombia College in Chicago offers a BA or Master degree in photography.

The other group of people that are completely wrong are people that think that photography has changed. Photography has not changed in the last 200 years.  What HAS changed are the cameras that we use. Instead of a mechanical camera that can work forever, we now have disposable digital cameras that after 100 or 200k photographs and then the shutter stops working and it’s almost cheaper to buy a new camera than repair it. Yes, all digital cameras, amateur and professional, are disposable cameras.

Some of my former students also think that photography has changed.   Not too long ago I had a student who quit after the second week.   Since I always like to know if I can help a student, I called him after the second week that he missed class. I ask him why he quit, and his answer made me hang up the phone without saying anything.  His response “because you teach photography the old fashioned way.   I don’t need to know about shutter speeds, aperture of the lens, depth of field and whatever else you talked about.  My friend is a photographer and he tells me that I don’t need to know that.  That is what was taught for people with film cameras.”  I just hang up and never bothered with him again.  I am sorry, I am rambling now. Let’s just talk about the topic at hand, the “B” setting on your camera.

So, what is the B setting and how do you use it? Well if you want to know, I will be happy to tell you.

The B setting on the shutter speed dial stands for “Bulb”. This setting allows the photographer to use a much longer time than the 30 seconds that most cameras have as the maximum amount of time controlled by the camera. When you use the B setting you better know what you are doing so you can get total control of the exposure in your photographs. Since the camera no longer controls the time automatically, you have to follow the time on your watch or cell phone.  Your question though is for how long? This is the part that most photographers don’t know, so sit down, get comfy and open your mind to what I am writing here.

Okay, let get to it. One thing that I love to do in 90% of my photos is to use a low ISO. A low ISO number in your camera will provide the best possible images without you having to use Digital Ninja or any other program that gets rid of the digital noise.  Regardless of whether you use a film or a digital camera, you can do this.  Since film encounters something called “reciprocity failure” when you expose the film for longer than ½ second, the exposure is very different for film photography.  I will cover reciprocity failure in a future post.

To do an extremely long exposure let’s start at night, maybe by the lake or someplace where there is very little light. Now set the ISO in your camera to 100 ISO put the camera in manual mode and have the lens fully open. When you point the camera to any subject, read the light meter and you will probably get something like this in figure 1.

First reading camera was set at 100 ISO, f/2.8 4 seconds exposure.

By the way, to capture the images in this post, I used 50, 100 and 200 ISO; again, never higher to avoid digital noise. I started with the ISO at 100 but one of my students wanted to know what would happen if I raised the ISO to 200, (the image received 50% more light using the same shutter speed.) The lens that I was using was a 28mm f/2.8 when I took my first reading at 100 ISO and the lens at f/2.8 the correct exposure was 4 seconds, but I did not want to use the lens fully open as I wanted everything to be sharp and for that I need it to close the lens, but not too much. So I decided to close the lens one stop to f/4 and that gave me 8 seconds, f/5.6 at 16 seconds and f/8 for 32 seconds. Since the longest time that I can do automatically is 30 seconds, I change the 32 to 30 and took a picture. So I took the picture and it turned out correctly exposed. I know you are thinking, you give the image two seconds less! Right? You forget that 2 seconds is a very small portion of the 32 seconds, for an image to be affected drastically you need to under or over expose at least 50%, 2 seconds less, is not 50% less. The only thing that is affected a bit are the highlights. So, I did not need it to use the B setting, but for the second image, I did.

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The second image was shot by the chess pavilion on North Avenue beach.   I set my camera on a tripod and for this image, I used ISO 50.  I pointed my camera to the city skyline and took a meter reading. The reading was f/2.8 at 8 seconds. But again I did not want a big aperture of the lens, I wanted a small aperture so I can use my B setting. So at f/4 the correct aperture was 15 seconds; at f/5.6 30 seconds; f/8 60 seconds; f/11 120 seconds and finally f/16 at 240 seconds. I end up with 242 seconds but when the exposure is so long 2 additional seconds is not going to affect the exposure at all. Since I have a lot of equipment, I used my cable release which is electric for the Canon 5D Mark III.  I locked the mirror up in the camera to prevent camera shake and to obtain the sharpest possible images. Of course, to get to the 242 seconds, I set the dial on my camera from M to B, clicked the shutter with the cable and then paid attention to the time on my watch. This is what you need to do to use your B setting.   I have another trick that I use when I am in extremely dark areas, places where you can barely see your hand in front of your face. To get the correct exposure in these places using a low ISO, I first start with a high ISO. Look at the chart below.


Exposure chart to use low ISO in very dark places
ISO Aperture of the lens Shutter speed
25600 f/2.8 1/15 of a second
But this is not the ISO I want to use, so I start cutting the ISO in half and extending the shutter speed to double the time.
12800 f/2.8 1/8 of a second
6400 f/2.8 ¼ of a second
3200 f/2.8 ½ second
1600 f/2.8 1 second
800 f/2.8 2 seconds
400 f/2.8 4 seconds
200 f/2.8 8 seconds
100 f/2.8 16 seconds
50 f/2.8 32 seconds
If I am using an aperture of f/2.8 this will be correct on a digital camera, but that is not what I do. I like to use small apertures! So after reaching the correct ISO that I want to use I start closing the lens and doubling the speed.
ISO Aperture of the lens Shutter speed
50 f/4 64 seconds
50 f/5.6 128 seconds
50 f/8 256 seconds
50 f/11 512 seconds
50 f/16 1024 seconds
50 f/22 2048 seconds


And there you have it, a way to use your B setting on the camera and to get some very cool photos using extremely long exposures. Are you up for the challenge? Can you go out somewhere very dark and do this? And when I say very dark, I mean the Sahara desert in the middle of the night dark!   Ha, ha, ha –  not really, you can just turn off all the lights in your house in the middle of the night, as long as you don’t live in Chicago where there is a hush amount of light from outside coming through your windows. I live in Evanston and there, with all the light off, I can barely see my hands in front of me. Of course for exposures longer than 1/30 of a second, you need a tripod for your camera.


As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is never the camera; it is always how much the photographer knows about photography that makes a big difference. I hope you liked this article and if you do, please remember where you learned this. I want all of you to know that you can learn this and much more in my classes at Truman College. Hopefully, you find this interesting and helpful enough that you just have to learn more. Sign up for the next session of photography, Darkroom or Photoshop classes.


Ignacio Alvarez

Copyright 2017


Creativity in photography

How creative are you? My wife tells me that she was not present in class when they thought that class. Of course, it’s a joke. But seriously, when you take pictures do you click and just hope for the best, or do you very deliberately select a composition that is going to make your photograph stand out from the rest?  Knowing about composition in photography can be of great help. I have seen so many photographs of people or just mundane things in which the main subject is dead centered in the picture. Of course, the photographer has no idea of what to do so they limit themselves to focus and shoot. The other group of images from some people I know is a repetition of the same bad composition hoping that this time it looks different. (Isn’t this the definition of insanity? Repeating the same thing over and over hoping to get a different result). I am going to tell you how you can improve your pictures.

  1. After you focus on your subject, hold the shutter button down *halfway* so the focusing mechanism keeps the subject in focus, don’t let go! Now move the camera and place the subject anywhere in the frame, just not in the middle.
  2. Keep your background uncluttered! Make sure that the background is very unobtrusive, if the subject is merging with the background or if it is so busy that takes all the attention to from the main subject, choose a different point of view or location. This means watching out for light poles, piles of garbage, or even waiting for people to cross and get out of the way…
  3. If you are photographing portraits of people, use the lens fully open! This is going to give you a faster shutter speed making your portrait much sharper. Just make sure that you focus on the face of your subject and not the clothing. More specifically, try to focus on the eyes. The depth of field will be short with the lens fully open (high aperture number, or f-stop), and capturing the face sharp is enough to have a very cool looking picture. If you focus on the clothes of the person, the possibility of leaving the face out of focus is very high. Make sure the person occupies at least 50% of the frame. The nice thing about using the lens fully open is that you can make anything stand out when you use the lens in such way. Take a look at the following photo. 
  4. Photographing landscapes can also be very tricky for some people, just make sure that you use a 50mm lens or wider and use it around f/8. This will give your image a tremendous depth of field making everything very sharp. Of course, using a low ISO is important for great photographs. High ISO will give you a lot of digital noise (grainy pictures) and if you don’t know how to get rid of it, that can be a problem.

So, there you have it, a few suggestions to improve your photography, yes I am including a few samples. Thank you for reading and I will post more helpful hints soon.

Interested in my digital photography classes in Chicago? Join us at Truman College! Also if you want to apply concepts to film photography, join the darkroom classes.

Ignacio Alvarez



Welcome to the Truman College Chicago Digital Photography Site


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We are thrilled you are here.  Hopefully, you are interested in taking photography classes or at least curious to see what we do at Truman College. Since Truman is one of seven City Colleges, learning something through the Continuing Education (CE)  department is fairly inexpensive. The price for our seven-week classes are lower than any other place in Chicago and the best thing is that our instructors are excellent. Give us a chance to show you all you can learn in our photography classes. You just may keep coming back to learn more.

check out our upcoming classes for both digital photography and darkroom.