An eye for an eye

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The Independent Online
To help turn holiday snaps into Magnum masterpieces, Andrew Hasson (above), a professional behind the lens, brings the range of courses for amateurs into focus.

It's a task that usually takes only a fraction of a second, yet the results of taking one photograph can be magical. Sometimes, even the memory of a lost photograph can evoke a multitude of emotions. I'm lucky enough to earn a living taking pictures, but for some it's a hobby they just want to be better at.

Many years ago, while working as a photographer on a local paper, I was asked to teach a six-week evening course. I had no previous teaching experience but I quickly found out what my pupils really wanted. They didn't, of course, intend to photograph war, celebrities and semi-naked girls. They didn't want to be professional photographers. And they weren't interested in carrying around heavy equipment. They wanted a photograph to look like they thought it did through the viewfinder. They wanted pictures of their families and friends that wouldn't induce groans of "Oh no, here we go again, hurry up". And they wanted to be on holiday, or on a day out, and take pictures that would serve as more than memory joggers.

My own advice is fairly straightforward. For landscapes, first of all take your picture of the view, then move to a different position and try again. Get down on your knees or try to get a bit of extra height - stand on a rock, perhaps, or a chair. Take the view with plenty of sky, then try it with hardly any. Shoot lots and make sure the pictures are sharp.

For a portrait, check that the settings on the camera and flash are correct before asking your subject to hold still. If you spend a lot of time messing around with knobs and dials you'll end up with a picture of someone looking bored and fed up. My golden rule is that it doesn't matter what else is in focus as long as the subject's eyes are sharp. If you're taking pictures of children, get down to their level.

Lastly, when you get your pictures back from being developed, pluck up the courage to throw away the ones that aren't any good. They'll only gather dust and get in the way of your best achievements. If you get back from holiday with just a few excellent pictures, then show them off - and them only.

And these days you can learn how to take better pictures by actually going on holiday. From Wales to the Peruvian rainforest, photography holidays come in many shapes and sizes.

Phil Parish Photography (01945 585052) in Wisbech has one- and two-day workshops for complete novices (with use of a black-and-white darkroom). Prices range from pounds 45. Accommodation is available nearby and there are some facilities for disabled people.

Acorn Activities, of Hereford (01432 830083), offers a two-day course, with an on-site studio, processing facilities and "use of the latest equipment". As well as the disciplines of landscape and portrait, the course also covers "dramatic action" photography. Tuition costs pounds 100 and there is a choice of nearby farmhouse or hotel accommodation, from pounds 22 and pounds 32 respectively.

HF Holidays, based in London (0181-905 9556), will take you to areas of outstanding natural beauty across the country (some walking is involved here). In the evenings discussions are held with knowledgeable and enthusiastic "leaders". Prices start at pounds 320 for seven nights.

The Field Studies Council has several centres in England and Wales, concentrating mainly on landscape and nature photography. The council also runs an underwater week in Pembrokeshire in August, a black-and-white course at Flatford Mill in Suffolk and, intriguingly, a course in photographing fungi in Shropshire. Prices range from pounds 250 per week, full board. Weekend courses are also possible.

The same organisation also offers tuition abroad, for those with a little more experience and larger budgets. The overseas programme has more specialised teaching and concentrates on wildlife. Destinations include the Alps, the Pyrenees, New Hampshire and Spitzbergen. Last year's 18-day trip up the Amazon was priced at pounds 3,980, while a fortnight in the Peruvian rain forest was pounds 1,990.

Photo Travellers (01483 425448) in Godalming operates holidays "designed by photographers, for photographers". The programme varies annually, featuring destinations "from the Azores to Zanzibar". Prices range from a modest pounds 495 for a spring break in Cyprus, to the rather deeper pocketed pounds 3,295 which will give you access to the wildlife of the Falkland Islands.

None of the companies featured here had hard-and-fast requirements for equipment. Liz Ballard, travel director of Photo Travellers, said "Some people come with compact cameras, and others with masses of lenses, it makes no difference. We try to help them see a potential picture that they wouldn't otherwise have noticed. The equipment isn't that important."

Photographers with masses of experience - your tutors and possibly your fellow holidaymakers - can make that pleasurable 125th of a second last you a lifetime. You'll have a holiday to change the way you see your holidays.

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