photo school

All modules except for the first are in alphabetical order. Note that some of the headings -- Basics, First Look, Quality, Reviews, and Travelogue -- are not just single topics, but consist of a whole series of modules. When we revised the site in 2008 there were around 80 modules, corresponding to a modest shelf of books. Well over half were free; click on the links to find out more about The Photo School generally, or to subscribe.

Click on free modules, and you'll go straight there; click on paid modules, and you'll go to a free introductory page, something between a 'taster' and an advertisement. Subscribers can then go straight through; otherwise you can either click on 'subscribe' or just change your mind and go elsewhere.






creating a photo-school course   (FREE)

Now there are over 80 modules, and with an ever-increasing number of subscribers, we thought it might be a good idea to make a few suggestions about how best to use the photo school. It's not so much 'do this, do that' as 'ask yourself this, ask yourself that'.

hill and moon, wales


agoraphilia  (PAID)      Link to full version


The opposite of agoraphobia: an agora is of course a public square or market square. This is about shooting markets and market-places, which are often among the most characteristic and revealing parts of any country.


market, india


art and photography   (FREE)

Ten pictures with more or less claim to being 'Fine Art' -- and why we are not always convinced that 'Fine Art' means anything at all. It's not about selling pictures, but rather about deciding for yourself what of your work is 'Fine Art' and what isn't -- and whether it matters. Five black and white, four colour, and one hand-coloured.

shoes outside tibetan temple, bir, himalayas


backgrounds and foregrounds   (PAID)      Link to full version


Everything that isn't the principal subject: the way in which careful choice of backgrounds and foregrounds can improve or detract from a picture.


vine, slovenia


backlighting   (PAID)      Link to full version

'Keep the sun behind your shoulder' was common advice in the days of box cameras, and to this day it's a good formula for getting a clear, well-exposed picture. On the other hand, there are two good reasons for using backlight, i.e. lighting from behind the principal subject. One is because you have no choice, and the other is because it can (sometimes) give dramatic, exciting images. Sure, it's more difficult than 'sun over the shoulder' shots, but if you can make it work, it's very useful.

railway viaduct, manchester







We all have to start somewhere, and this is for people who are doing just that. It's easy to forget how much we didn't know when we started.


circus horse


black and white photography   (FREE)

Of course, most people use colour. But there are still plenty of photographers who use black and white. Why? Do you have to use B+W film instead of converting from colour? And what can you do if you don't have your own darkroom? This module also looks at the use of PV (Panchromatic Vision) filters as a means of visualizing black and white images. There are 11 pictures and about 3000 words, Our book Darkroom Basics gives a lot more detail about basic film developing, while several of the modules on this site go into more detail on advanced techniques.

canon racer


bracketing  (FREE)


Taking a series of shots at different exposures is a well-known professional technique, but when do you need it and when does it just bump up your film bill (or fill up your digital card) with no real benefit? And how big should the brackets be?


altar, thari, rhodes


chiaroscuro  (PAID)      Link to full version

In photography, true chiaroscuro -- the 'spotlighting' of the subject while the rest of the picture is left to go dark -- is extremely difficult except under controlled lighting, and this module is mostly dedicated to showing how you can come close to it, while demolishing the myth that 'chiaroscuro' means 'light and shade'.


bertha schultz by david schultz




choosing a photo lab (FREE)

What to look for, what you get, what you can and can't realistically expect, why prices vary so much, and so forth. Covers colour neg, colour slide and black and white.


storm light, mertola, portugal




choosing films   (PAID)      Link to full version


Obviously we use a lot of different films in the course of a year, often testing them for magazines. This is not a module about which film we think is best: it's a module about how to decide for yourself which film you like most.


banks of the Ganges


berrie stairway & door


choosing lenses  (PAID)      Link to full version

This series came about as a result of our learning from the Public Lending Right authority that our most-borrowed book in 2007 (borrowed from public libraries) was our old 'The Lens Book' (David & Charles 19??)

Clearly there is interest in this subject, and as it is also something that comes up all the time in internet forums, we started this series.

Chateau de Berrie


choosing negative developers   (PAID)      Link to full version


Rather in the same mould as 'choosing films' above, with an explanation of what the different developers do, and how and why.


private property, bristol





colour for colour's sake (PAID)

Some pictures just don't exist without colour. Content may or may not be relevant; colour, and the way it is used, are what this module is about.


shutter, hook, wall and drain-pipe, Arles, France





critiques (FREE)

Critiques, appraisals, portfolio reviews, call them what you will: at their best they are invaluable, and at their worst they are an embarrassing waste of time. This is a brief module about howe to get the most out of any critique, based on our own experiences giving critiques on the Leica stand at Arles and elsewhere. Ten pictures, seven monochrome, three colour.

girl in bus shelter, arles



the dangers of gurus  (FREE)

There are always photographers who either set themselves up as gurus, or are placed on a pedestal by others. The trouble is that a lot of what is peddled by a lot of gurus is flat nonsense. This module suggests that you should never trust anyone whose vocabulary does not include the words, "I could be wrong."


the miracle of the water, arles


decisive moments   (PAID)      Link to full version

The term 'the decisive moment' is inextricably associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson, but it's a concept that bears a good deal of examination. Sometimes -- arguably, more often than not -- there are several decisive moments associated with a single subject; at other times, the decisive 'moment' can last for minutes, hours, even days and is of distinctly secondary importance. Even so, it is worth always thinking hard about exactly when to press the shutter release.

lijiang, china


density   (FREE)


Density is a measure of the amount of light transmitted by a negative or slide, or the amount of light reflected by a print. It is fundamental to understanding photographic theory.


st. clement's, old romney





details   (PAID)     link to full version

'Less is more' according to Le Corbusier, and sometimes details can convey more than an 'all-in' shot -- as well as being easier to photograph, because you can omit the parts that don't suit you. This is as true of vintage cars as of buildings, and it's not completely irrelevant even with people.

bottle opener from the '1000 motels' series (free gallery -- though this particular picture doesn't actually appear in the module)


dodging and burning   (PAID)      Link to full version


One of the most basic skills in black and white (and indeed colour) printing, this is much easier than many novices imagine.


sarre mill, kent





events  (FREE)

An intermittent series about photographic trips and events; there is some overlap with The Semi-Adventurous Traveller. The first piece deals with Arles, 2008.


pierre gonnard, portraits from under the skin, arles 2008


exposing negative films  (PAID)      Link to full version


Exposure techniques for negatives (whether colour or black and white) are, or should be, different from exposure techniques for slides and digital: how to get the best exposures.


chateau loches


exposing slides and digital   (PAID)      Link to full version


How and why exposure techniques for slides and digital images are different from exposure techniques for negatives; the easiest and most reliable ways to get good exposures.


pont des arts, paris



the focal point   (PAID)     link to full version

There is always something in a picture that the viewer's eye lights upon first. If there isn't, the picture may lack impact, though as in all photography, there are no fixed rules. This is a module about this 'focal point' (not to be confused with the point of focus, which is where you focus the lens).


frosty morning, moncontour



focus   (PAID)     link to full version

...or, deciding what you want to be sharp; what you don't want to be sharp; and what you don't need to be sharp.

Seventeen or eighteen different images (with sectional blow ups of several); one diagram; ten monochrome (more or less, sort of, including sepia and a weird scan) and seven colour, six of which are digital (we'd just got the Leica M8...)


atelier du buissonier, moncontour



four views of a statue (FREE)

A very short module, consisting of exactly what it says on the packet: four views of a statue in Tarragona on the Spanish coast, exploring careful choice of viewpoint.


statue, tarragona...


glossary   (FREE)

Photograpic terms explained.


this module is not illustrated: the bookform double dark slide shown here is described in the glossary, but the illustration is taken from FREE large format module.


hints and tips   (FREE)

Various useful tricks we have discovered over the years, such as drying film diagonally and using plastic picnic knives to open chemistry bottles.

this module is not illustrated; this illustration of the film notches in sheet film is taken from the FREE large format module.



how do I...? (FREE)

A logical follow-on from 'hints and tips' (above). Illustrated step-by-step instructions on an ever-growing range of subjects from using reloadable film cassettes to handling and processing 120 film or loading cut film holders. There's also the manufacturers' instruction leaflet for the Shirley Wellard Universal Cassette. It's a sort of 'FAQ' (Frequently Asked Questions) resource.


loading a 120 stainless steel spiral


how many cameras do you need?   (FREE)

Many people buy, in effect, the same camera over and over again: variations on an SLR theme, Nikon this year, Canon next, Olympus the year after. We advocate a completely different approach: building up a portfolio of cameras, each optimized for a different purpose. One of the larger free modules with over 20 pictures.

exakta varex c. 1960





the hybrid darkroom (FREE)

Like many photographers, we use digital alongside silver halide. Written at the request of a subscriber, this module explains why and how.


great wall of china






infra-red   (PAID)     link to full version

Triffids, anyone? A fairly short module, but still with 19 pictures and containing most of what you need to know about filters, film sensitivity, focusing and more. We say 'most' because there's always something to learn, but armed with the information in this module you should be able to load up a camera and start filling in the gaps for yourself.

apocalyptic sunflowers



irreproducible results   (PAID)     link to full version

We all see pictures we like and want to emulate. Sometimes it is down to talent and composition, where only practice can help, but sometimes there are techniques or tools we can use to get similar effects in our own pictures. This is a module about some of those techniques and tools, but especially it is about why it is sometimes impossible (or at least very difficult) to emulate someone else's work because of variations in equipment, equipment accuracy (such as variations in exposure meters) and technique.

julie and holly


ISO film speeds   (FREE)


How ISO film speeds are determined, and how (and why) you may get better results with personal exposure indices or EIs.


balls, paris


large formats   (FREE)

A summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the various formats, from 6x9cm to 11x14 inch and beyond. This is not about choosing cameras -- that will be a separate module -- but only about narrowing down your search to find the format that will suit you best, plus the basics of film holders and film loading. There are no fewer than 25 pictures, but only about half a dozen are 'real' photographs: the rest are of equipment.

still life 8x10 inch


low-light   (PAID)      Link to full version


Pretty much self-explanatory: shooting when light levels fall, all the way through to 'available darkness' -- but no flash!


cyclist, times square, new york






magic windows  (PAID)

Most of us, looking through an old photo-album, or some guide book from long ago, have had the experience of seeing a picture that seems unusually immediate: as if we could, reduced to ant-like size, pass through the picture and into the photographer's world on the other side. This module explores the possibility of creating such 'magic windows' ourselves.

Car in snow, New York




A series of free modules about useful things, some old, some new, all useful. The first was the Paterson water filter, pictured left; then came Print File negative sleeves and Artisan and Artist camera straps. Many more are planned. One great advantage of The Photo School is that you don't have to hunt through stacks of old magazines to find stuff that you thought was a good idea, but weren't in a position to get at the time.


Paterson water filter





narrative, record and graphic pictures (PAID)


Apart from snapshots, there are three main reasons to take pictures. Narrative pictures tell a story; record shots are, well, records; and graphic pictures are attractive arrangements of shapes (and often colours). A short module (14 pictures) on the three, and how they overlap.

grand central station, new york


negative development technique   (PAID)      Link to full version


A complement to 'choosing negative developers'. How dilution, time, temperature and agitation affect the results, and how to 'fine tune' your own development technique for the best results.

aircraft graveyard, slovakia






old lenses (PAID)

Old lenses have both advantages and disadvantaged. On the plus side, they can be cheap; they may have specifications that are hard or impossible to find (or at least to afford) among new lenses; and they may deliver unique effects. They can also be a waste of money. Here is a guide to bang for the buck.

lake district


our darkroom(s)   (FREE)

Setting up a darkroom is easier than most people think. Here you can see what we have learned (and failed to learn) from the darkrooms we have had in the last 20+ years.


nova tent: our darkroom 1990-1992, 1992-1994 and 2002-2003


our materials   (FREE)


The films, paper, chemicals, et., that we use, and why. It's easier than explaining it time and again in the other modules.


'chinese' nets, cochin, india






the part and the whole  (PAID)

Rather different from 'details' in that it deals with photographing the same thing many times, from many angles, to create an overall impression of it. There are 65 pictures in the module, in five sets (12, 20, 12, 12, 9), illustrating both success and failure.


rusty 'tin snail'


perspective and the illusion of depth    (PAID)


The definitions of 'perspective' are not as tight as you might expect, which is why this module also deals with other ways of creating the illusion of depth.


misty morning, chengde, china






photography and motorcycles (FREE)

A motorcycle is a fairly hostile environment for a camera -- vibration, rain, dust, and very little space -- but we have travelled many thousands of miles on motorcycles, in Europe, the United States and India, taking pictures as we go. Thirteen colour and sepia pictures.


chateau, rural france, with our bmw 100rs



pre-flashing   (FREE)


A useful technique for getting more texture and detail in the highlights of a conventional black and white photographic print.


chapel, greece





portrait and landscape (PAID)

In professional photography -- and indeed, in publishing, graphic arts and other fields -- 'portrait' and 'landscape' have secondary meanings in addition to their obvious ones. 'Portrait' means 'vertical format', and 'landscape' means 'horizontal format'. This is a module about fitting format to subject, as well as to application.

jack: a landscape format portrait...




portrait lenses and lighting (PAID)

This is a perennial question on web forums: what should I use for a portrait lens? Well, we're not great portraitists, but we have taken a fair number of portraits over the years, and some of our portraits were commissioned by the equivalent of the National Portrait Gallery of the Tibetan Government in Exile. We believe that within reason, lighting is a lot more important that lenses; so here is a module about it.


Frances by Roger





quality in photography  (PAID)

This is loosely related to our book from David & Charles, called (unsurprisingly) Quality in Photography. Like a couple of other headings in this list, it is not planned as a single module. Rather, it is a series of modules on the nature of quality and the way to achieve different qualities. Click on the link to get to the free introductory page.


dawn, chengde


rangefinder photography  (PAID)

Most of our personal photography is done using rangefinder cameras. This is a module aimed mainly at those who are thinking of buying a rangefinder camera, but should also be useful to those who have already taken the plunge.


Three volunteers, Draper's Mill


reviews   (FREE)

Equipment reviews, both of new releases (so you don't have to rely on internet chatter or wait for the magazines) and of some older and more unusual equipment. Obvioiusly, this is is not just a single module: clicking on the heading above will lead you to the overview.

zeiss ikon and three lenses (february/march 2006)





saving money (FREE)

Where you can (and can't) save money. 'Can' is defined as 'where it won't harm your pictures, and may even help them' and 'can't' is defined as 'where it almost certainly will harm your pictures'. A long module with over 20 pictures, rather biased towards black and white: if you are going to take your photography seriously and want to save as much as you can, black and white is (a) cheaper and (b) gives you more hours of pleasure per unit of expenditure.

tombstone, st. martin, noize





shadows (PAID)

This module is quite different from the one about chiaroscuro. It deals with using shadows as graphic shapes in a composition, not merely as places that happen to be less lit. It's a fairly short module with just 14 pictures, eight in monochrome and six in colour. The aim is to inspire people and get them out taking pictures; quite frankly, there are only a few paragraphs about technique, because it's just not difficult.


lamp, wall and shadow, pecs, hungary





shooting the past (PAID)

The past is all around us: ancient history, recent history, survivals from the past, re-creations and re-enactments. This is a module about how to take pictures that record or re-create the past. It is one of the modules in the Photo School Extras 'Course 0'.

The mansarded windows of Hermannstadt (now Sibiu) in Romania are known for obvious reasons as the 'Eyes of Hermannstadt'.



street photography   (PAID)      Link to full version


Photographing people, mostly strangers, in reportage style. Not just in the street, but other public places as well. In black and white as well as colour, of course.


bastille day, avignon





still life (   (PAID)      Link to full version

Still lifes are rather like chess: it's easy to learn the basics, and you can enjoy yourself a great deal while you are learning, but you never stop learning. Still life is of course a basic skill in advertising and catalogue photography but it's also an astonishingly neglected branch of fine art photography as well.


sewing tray


subject brightness range   (FREE)


Brightness range -- the difference between the brightest areas of a subject and the darkest areas -- is of fundamental importance in understanding exposure, development and printing.


chapel, sumeg castlle, hungary





texture (PAID)

Some photographs rely very heavily on the illusion of texture. Look at them and it is almost as if you are brushing your fingertips against the paint; or the weathered wood; or the old rusting iron; or the softness of a child's skin.

And yet, of course, the texture of the image itself is constant: more or less smooth paper. Creating the illusion of texture is a series of tricks both technical and psychological. This is a module about using these tricks.


armoured car, ve day, czech republic


travel   (FREE)


Another one that is self-explanatory. Read it before the paid Travelogue modules.


st basilius, moscow


travelogue   (PAID)


This is not a single module, but a whole series of modules about different countries. It is constantly (if irregularly) being enlarged. Click on it for a list of countries covered: currently just 2. Read the free 'Travel' module first.

dolmen, taize, france







voluntary limitations  (PAID)

This module is dedicated to the proposition that regardless of how much equipment you can afford, you will usually get better pictures by voluntarily limiting the equipment you choose to use on a particular day. Otherwise, you may spend all your time worrying about which camera or lens to use, rather than thinking about the actual pictures.






weddings  (PAID)

Weddings are hard work, nerve wracking and expensive to shoot, which is why we avoid them whenever we can. But sometimes there are old friends whom you just can't turn down, and when you're young, your friends may not be able to afford a wedding photographer anyway.

This module is therefore about shooting weddings for friends as a wedding present, even if you're not a wedding photographer.

louise & tony at the alter


welcome to film  (FREE)


For those who have learned their photography with digital cameras and now, for whatever reason, want to start taking film seriously. It also points out how extraordinarily cheap film photography can be. Covers both mono and colour.


greenhouse window, france


white on white   (PAID)      Link to full version


A lot of professional tricks for making sure that white objects don't blend into white backgrounds. Possibly one of the most useful modules for aspiring professionals.


how many light bulbs does it take to learn about white on white?



why we don't use the zone system  (FREE)


If you find the Zone System useful, great. If you find it intimidating and of limited usefulness, don't use it. Contains useful counter-arguments for use against evangelical Zonies.

snow, pyrenees


18 per cent grey cards   (FREE)


Many people are overawed by these and attribute to them a talismanic power. They aren't that useful. Here's what you can and can't learn from them.


seafood, mertola market, portugal

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© 2005 Roger W. Hicks