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Interview with Photographer Craig Havens

Craig Havens teaches Introduction to Digital Photography, which is often the course students start out with in our program. He’s a successful and productive photographer in both the commercial and fine art field, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about his process and experience. In the below interview, he talks about his latest project, Soundings, which you can view on his website, craighavens.com. His commercial work can be found on studio642.com.

Can you talk a little bit about your Soundings project? What’s your vision, how do you set up the shots, etc?

The imagery of Soundings depicts phenomenological occurrences set mostly within the nocturne landscape. The work is created by handholding a camera for as long as twenty minutes. During this time the camera settles into a state of stillness, allowing the phenomenon to unfold while releasing attachment to the outcome of the exposure.

This state correlates to many pan-religious descriptions of epiphanies of the sublime. The final creation and display of large-scale silver prints of these images mimic the intricate rituals and resonant metals of religious iconography. In essence, I am engaged in constructing a meaningful mythology around these moments.

How is the creative process different on commercial shoots than when you’re doing your own work? Is working for clients “paying the bills”, or does it just feel like another creative enterprise?

I have always felt that the artist’s intent is the determining factor between personal artwork and professional work. My art-making fuels everything else as far as inspiration and personal fulfillment is concerned.

With regard to commercial work as a creative enterprise, it varies greatly depending on the project. For example, I just completed shooting an editorial piece on San Onofre State Beach for Huck Magazine – a beautiful surf and skate magazine out of London. It was a completely solo shoot because my client was in England and had asked me to interpret the subject matter independently. I was able to spend 3 days just walking the beach alone and meeting surfers young and old while documenting the atmosphere of this unique Southern California beach.

On the other hand, I recently shot a national print campaign for Comcast Communications that involved a crew of almost 30 people on set. While producing and delivering a shoot like that can be nerve-wracking, I am fortunate enough to be working with a lot of professional creative people who are great at what they do. In the end we had a wonderful shoot and delivered above and beyond what the client was expecting.

You just sold a piece – congratulations! What were the circumstances, and what does it mean for the project?

Yes, I was recently honored to be asked by the curator of the Armory Center for the Arts, Jay Belloli, to participate in the Pasadena Armory Biennial Art Auction. This is a great event held every two years to support the arts in LA. The event was a great success and a wonderful collector and patron of the arts who is very active in collecting photography acquired my piece. Any time a collector is willing to add an artist to their collection by acquiring a work, it affirms the convictions of the artist that there is an audience for their work. So I was very pleased to be a part of the event and am looking forward to completing the series and showing it in full over the course of the next year.

What’s something you’ve learned by experience that you wish you could go back and tell your just-getting-started photographer self?

I’ve definitely learned that making art takes patience and perseverance. I always had deeply personal reasons for creating and that has sustained me through the hard times. I’ve learned that no matter what may come, the work always continues. Over time the process becomes less and less about defining your success against exterior measures. Eventually an artist’s measure of success becomes very personal and the greatest challenge becomes the act of creation itself.

Photography FAQs

Here at the UCLA Extension Photography program, we offer a variety of courses to improve your technical skills and your creative eye. Courses range from Introduction to Digital Photography to our Master Photographer Series, and can be taken individually or as part of a Certificate Program.

Below are some of the questions I often hear from students.

Q: Where can I see a list of the photography classes you will be offering?
A: You can download a PDF of the current catalog here.

Q: I’ve had my DSLR camera for a few years, and have done some independent shooting, but have never taken a class. How do I know what level I’m at?

A: Introduction to Digital Photography covers the following topics:

  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • Depth of Field
  • Focus
  • ISO
  • File management (including coverting files, tagging, file batching and archiving)
  • Basic Lighting Skills (including contrast, direction, color, white balance, histogram)
  • Composition (including framing and perspective)
  • Digital imaging (including an introduction to Adobe Lightroom)

If you feel confident in your knowledge of the topics listed, you are ready to move on to an intermediate-level course. If your understanding is hazy or you struggle with some of them, the introductory course would be the best place for you to refine your skills and get a solid foundation of technical understanding. Many students who are not technically “beginners” take an introductory class as a way to test their current abilities and for the challenge of assignments and instructor critique.

Q: What is the application process to take courses with UCLA Extension?

A: There is no formal application process. As the continuing education arm of UCLA, Extension courses are open enrollment. Students may enroll online, or by phone at (310) 825-9971.

Q: Who are your teachers?

A: Our instructors are professionals currently working in various fields of photography. They have valuable real-world experience that they are eager to share in the classroom. Most have online portfolios that can be found by searching their names.

Q: Can I transfer Extension class units to UCLA, or the grad program of my choice?

A: Maybe! That is entirely up to the admissions office of the school to which you are applying. They may ask you to e-mail course descriptions or class syllabi to an admissions counselor, which we would be happy to help you obtain. If you think you might want to try to transfer course units at some point, be sure to take your courses for a Letter Grade (as opposed to “Not for Credit”).

Q: Can I visit a class on the first meeting to see if I like it, even if I’m not enrolled?

A: Students may visit the first meeting of courses that are 10 weeks in duration or longer. However, many courses fill up quickly, so if you are interested in a course, it’s advisable to enroll early to ensure you get a space. All students must be enrolled by the second class meeting.

Q: How many students are there in each class?

A: An average class will probably have 15-18 students – the limit for most courses is 20.

Q: Who should I contact if I have more questions?

A: You can reach our office at (310) 206-1422, or send an e-mail to photography@uclaextension.edu.

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