Learning the Lens

GLOVERSVILLE – A typical person might have a hundred photos on his cellphone and a thousand on his computer, but not all those images are created equal.

Harry Wirtz, who will teach an Introduction to Digital Photography workshop at SkyHeart Studio next month, wants his students to think carefully about the qualities that make a photograph worth saving and sharing.

“I ask people to assign a value to the images they see,” Wirtz says. “People have always been able to make cheap and forgettable images, even before the advent of photography, except now [with digital photography], it’s easier to make cheap and forgettable images, and more of them.”

Wirtz, an Edinburg resident, is the webmaster and chief photographer for the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network, which will sponsor the workshop June 15 and 22 at SkyHeart Studio in downtown Gloversville. It will help students “master basic camera controls to take sharp, well-composed images of people, animals, landscapes or objects,” according to a news release from SVAN. Students will learn to enhance their images using Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Elements and choose appropriate digital file formats for email, web, printing, publishing and archiving.

Wirtz says participants should have a serious interest in taking better photographs. They should bring a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera and a laptop computer if it has image-editing software.

“I do beg of them to come in with a decent camera,” Wirtz said. “This rules out cellphone cameras and point-and-shoot cameras.”

Wirtz worked with traditional film for decades and continued to do so before making the leap to digital about a decade ago.

“For many years, the film beat digital hands-down,” he said. “Now, my photography is virtually all digital at this point.”

He wasn’t tech savvy at the time he made the conversion, he admits. In fact, he hated computers when he started using them, and he welcomes photography students who aren’t already deft users of the technology at their fingertips.

“I have a lot of empathy for people who are lost,” he said.

The workshop will start with a discussion of the most fundamental aspect of photography – how a lens works, and how it can be manipulated to control the image being captured. Other topics to be covered will include shutter speeds, manual focus, framing and context.

“I am not going to teach them how to have a mystical experience,” Wirtz jokes, pointing out that successful photography is mostly a matter of technical skill and knowledge of the camera’s settings. He says some students need to be reminded that they are in control of the camera and not the other way around.

Born and raised in the Putnam County area in the Hudson Valley, Wirtz attended the University at Albany and earned a degree in English with a minor in art. He has been a poet, a proofreader and a graphic artist and spent many years working in commercial photography in and around Westchester County, New York City and New Jersey.

Visits to a friend’s camp in the woods near Edinburg got him interested in the Adirondacks and prompted his move from the Hudson Valley to the Sacandaga Valley.

“It was such a refreshing change from the suburbs that I’d been in,” he said.

Wirtz taught photography at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury and now teaches at the Mildred Elley business college in Albany.

Wirtz says he has an open mind about what makes good subject matter for photography.

“If somebody is interested in doing really valuable family pictures, I have no problem with that,” he said. “If you come to me and what you want to do is take pet pictures, that’s fine with me.”

Wirtz himself has photographed everything from landscapes to guitars, vegetables to toothbrushes. In the late 1990s, he started photographing antique tools for a series of images he collected in a hand-bound, limited edition portfolio called “Sense of Touch.”

His photos have been exhibited in many galleries around the region, including the Perrella Gallery at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, the Caroga Museum, the Saratoga Arts Council and others.

Recently, one of his photos – a back-lit closeup of a red pepper – was selected to appear in the 35th Annual Photography Regional, a juried show at the Photography Center of the Capital District in Troy.

Examples of his work in photography, printmaking and graphic arts can be viewed on his website, www.harrywirtz.com.

Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at backerbauer@leaderherald.com.