“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” — Ansel Adams
“Buying a Nikon doesn’t make you a photographer. It makes you a Nikon owner.” — Author Unknown
An artisan working at his craft once defined art as “something that cannot be taught from a book. It must be learned through experience.”
Tom Brossart follows this philosophy in his photography classes at Gila Community College (GCC) — pulling students from their desks, driving them through the mountains and plopping them into nature for daylong nature shoots.
On Friday, his advanced class headed to Flagstaff to capture the brilliant hues of fall.
“Tom lets us do our own thing. It took me a year to grasp that,” said student Andy Biesemeyer.
Biesemeyer, a young man who grew up in Payson, lost his father when he was young, inheriting all his dad’s photography equipment and negatives.
His father’s passion inspired Biesemeyer to pursue photography as a career — with dreams of working for Arizona Highways magazine.
Brossart said he has three goals teaching photography.
The first, help students develop a vision. Second, understand the principles of a good photograph, including composition and camera technology.
Brossart constantly stresses the importance of studying a subject.
“Really examine what you want to capture. Study your subject in different lights, walk the perimeter, watch the expressions,” said Brossart.
The camera is the tool, but unless students understand this tool, they cannot capture what they see. In beginning classes, Brossart spends five weeks explaining the essential settings on a camera.
“Take your manual with you everywhere. It’s your bible,” said Brossart.
The final goal of class — understand that photographs are made for the viewer.
“A great photo tells a story. It stands the test of time and elicits comments,” said Brossart.
Yet, it takes more than sitting in a classroom looking at photographs to integrate these goals.
It takes patience and time to snap an inspiring photo. Ansel Adams said if he took 10 great photos in a year, he was happy.
To bring everything together, Brossart takes his classes on field trips. His advanced class will take three to four trips during the 16-week semester. His beginning class will take one or two.
Brossart often spends his weekends scouting for good spots. Recently, he checked out Flagstaff for the perfect place to capture the brilliant hues of fall.
On Friday, when the advance class usually meets at GCC, the class loaded into cars and headed up to Humphrey’s Peak near Flagstaff.
The class wandered through Lamar-Hanes trail, making pictures of aspens, their leaves ablaze in yellow contrasted against the dark pines.
Many of the students carried bags bulging with equipment — lenses, tripods and remote controls.
The class moved through the woods silently, studying the trees for the perfect shot. Now and then Brossart broke the silence with a tip.
“I cut off the top of that tree because I wanted to focus on the contrast of the trunk to the leaves. I shot it at a shutter speed of 1/200 because I have this big lens,” he said.
Students surrounded Brossart, taking a photo of the same grouping of trees, but from their own angle. The clicks of camera shutters filled the forest silence.
While some art teachers teach with an iron fist, Brossart prefers humor.
“Do you have any questions?” Brossart asked student Steve Peacock.
“No, not yet,” said Peacock.
“Oooh Kaaay,” drawls Brossart.
“I figured you wouldn’t have any answers,” said Peacock.
The students laugh.
As the sun sets, the class finishes up on the trail.
“Did you see any good colors where you went?” Brossart said to Biesemeyer, who had strayed away from the group.
“No, it wasn’t worth it,” said Biesemeyer, “but I did find good color when I met up with the class on the return loop.”
In next week’s class, students will display their photos from the trip and discuss the angles, use of light, camera settings and editing techniques.
Harold Rush, like other class members, offered his photos up for critique in each class.
“The biggest problem I have is settings. What should I do — a higher ISO or a shutter speed change?” asked Rush.
“Being a photographer is a thinking process,” said Brossart. “I automatically rack up my shutter speed as soon as I go to a telephoto lens,” he said in answer to one question.
Students offer critiques of Rush’s work. Some like the lighting. Others appreciate the depth achieved by adding the curve of a fence to the frame.
With Brossart’s advice, students not only improve their photography, they find their vision.
“His critiques of our photos is amazing,” said Biesemeyer.
“I think a photography class should be a requirement in all educational programs because it makes you see the world rather than just look at it.”
— Author Unknown