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A photo safari in Baltimore sets up the shot

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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 12:25 PM

David Muse pointed out the girl in the bikini for all the right reasons - not to ogle but to illustrate a precept of good camera work.

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"That tells a story," photography teacher Muse explained, "about how it's so hot in Baltimore, she's walking around the city in a bathing suit."

For three hours on a sweltering summer Saturday, the founder of Baltimore Photo Safari focused our lenses on the mini-vignettes staged along the Inner Harbor. A bride en route to her nuptials. The comings and goings of boats. The World Trade Center's reflection in the dark blue water. A Baywatch babe in the city. Equally important, he taught us how and when to snap, and what the ISO setting really does.

"The goal is to get you to realize that you can take more control of your camera," he said. "You will see different results. You might not always love them, but as you practice, you will become more pleased with your photos."

As any amateur knows, there's always room for improvement. Sure, you can aim and fire at your subject, hoping that at least one of your 217 photos of the Taj Mahal at dusk is a keeper. Or you can enlist the help of a pro and shoot images that are frame-worthy not by luck but thanks to sheer skill.

"I'm a picture nut, but I have no direction," admitted Marylander Carolyn Curro, who attended the class with her Nikon-toting friend Sherry Rhodes.

For those interested in travel photography, workshops abound, in some of the world's most photogenic destinations. For instance, ShawGuides, an online compendium of learning vacations, lists courses in Crete, Santa Fe, London, Provence, Mongolia and other National Geographic centerfolds. Closer to home, Washington Photo Safari holds shorter classes in our overexposed front yard, including the national monuments, the National Zoo and the White House. Muse's company concentrates on Baltimore (Inner Harbor, by day or night; Fell's Point, etc.), with occasional forays into such picturesque spots as Cape May, N.J., Chincoteague, Va., and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Dover, Del. For the photographer with beginner goals - i.e., wanting to understand her flash better and learn how to stop chopping off her subjects' feet - a half-day course was an ideal introduction.

Our group rendezvoused outside the Maryland Science Center for a quick briefing by Muse, who was dressed in urban safari attire: hiking boots, brown pants, checked shirt, blue cap. He showed us a series of photos, using the USS Constellation and his children as models, that highlighted various lessons: study the scene before shooting, don't overcrowd the image, and zoom in on details.

"It should be clear to everyone what you took the picture of," he said. "Decide what you want the photo to be of and eliminate everything else. Keep the compositions simple, or as simple as possible."

After covering the basics and offering some one-on-one instruction on our individual cameras, Muse led us down to the harbor for some practice shots. At the water's edge, we stood before an unobstructed view of the World Trade Center and the city skyline. He suggested the best aperture for this scene (f/8), which he called "not optimum, because of the haze in the sky."

Unfortunately, with my point-and-shoot, I couldn't manipulate the amount of incoming light, so I simply took a photo of the building, trying to capture the full height as well as the mirror image on the water's surface. I also kept in mind Muse's advice to scan the scene to see what other elements I could incorporate into the frame. Some ducks were floating into view, so I waited for their arrival. I brushed the sweat from my brow, took a sip of water, asked Muse a question and . . . missed them.

Moving on, we stopped across from the colorfully tiled National Aquarium, with the iconic Domino sugar sign faint in the background. I regarded the setting, was not inspired, and turned my lens on a weathered dinghy tied up along the wall. "I'm glad you shot that," said Muse. "I don't know if that's bird doo or paint, but it's interesting."


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