Posted by: Jo Duxbury | 8 July 2012

Review: Cape Town School of Photography DSLR1 course

It’s embarrassing to admit that it took me seven years to move the dial on my (now almost vintage) Nikon D50 off the ‘auto’ setting confidently. I love to travel and on a recent trip to India, I was frustrated with not being able to capture what I was seeing properly with my little point-and-shoot. In the back of my mind was also the idea of earning some cash as a travel writer. I’ve been writing and travelling forever, so being able to combine them AND supply beautiful pictures with my copy would score me points with magazine editors. And might help me fund my wanderlust-driven addiction.

A different take on Cape Town’s beach huts.

So I signed up for the DSLR1 course at the Cape Town School of Photography. I chose to do the course over 9 weeks (3 hour sessions once a week, plus a 3 hour excursion on a weekend), rather than an intensive few days, to allow time to practice and let what I learn in class sink in. That was a good call – I can’t imagine how I’d retain such a lot of information in just a few days.

The only other review I found online for the course was quite old and not entirely favourable, but the course sounded more professional than the alternatives, so I went – with low expectations. My goal was to learn about my camera’s settings and how to manipulate them to control light properly. I wanted to learn the technical side – the creative side, I believe, can’t be taught and has to come from within, and from a lot of experimentation and practice.

I can report that I am now very comfortable with aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering, white balance – the course definitely gave me a good grounding. Mission accomplished. Each week we were given an assignment and had to print out (tres old school) our two best images to present for critique by our tutor and peers. Assignments ranged from composition, to depth of field, deliberate over- and under-exposure, fill-in flash and more. It was really interesting seeing what my classmates came up with and my oldest-camera-in-the-class D50 did me proud.

As with any course, the tutor can make or break it. I was lucky to have Erika van Breda as my tutor – her passion for photography is contagious and she’s a very good teacher too (a rare combination). One of the girls in my class could not make one of the sessions and instead did a make-up class on another night – reporting back that the other class was ‘totally dead’, and that the tutor was simply reading from the notes. I think I looked at my printed notes twice – and never in class. So if you’re thinking of taking this course, try to get a lively tutor!

Our excursion involved a sunrise shoot at Kalk Bay. 7.30am, cold, rainy, dark – yet the 3 hours flew by. Under Erika’s guidance we realised that those conditions were ideal for interesting skies and diffused light and I think everyone in the class managed to get some amazing shots.

Rain, cold and a sunrise made for spectacular skies.

One of the things I didn’t like was that we were given a photostory assignment which ended up taking up a lot of class time. We were supposed to shoot 4-12 images that told a story and these would be shown at the end of term exhibition. Reviewing concepts took up a good chunk of at least three of our classes, and the project was not even compulsory. We were also only told a week before hand-in that the images were being projected, not printed. (My story would only work if you could look back and reference the previous ones.) I ended up not submitting a photostory and do not regret it – the projections didn’t get much attention at the exhibition anyway, and were so fleeting. I’m glad that I took myself off on shoots and practiced what I’d been learning instead.

The CTSP asked us students to provide our best images electronically for use in their future course materials (to show as examples). We were all given releases to sign and offered a 10% discount on future courses in return. Many people would probably be fine with this, but I wasn’t – chalk it up to my years of freelancing, but my shots are really good and are worth more. I’m a commercially minded person venturing into an arty field – usually it’s the other way around. I have my own licensing agreement but when I mentioned this and asked if I could negotiate a larger discount on a future course, I was told they would not be needing my images after all.

I was also disappointed with the end of term exhibition, which I’d been very excited about. I won’t go into details but I’m not very happy with broken promises that the school made to me and their lack of communication around the matter. But hey, it was all part of the learning experience and it’s just made me want to have an exhibition of my work with perhaps just one or two other photographers, as opposed to a schoolful!

[For more of my images (not just from the course), please visit my Flickr page.]

** UPDATE: I’ve now launched a website for my photography portfolio – **

On balance, if you have no idea how to work a DSLR, I’d recommend this course. It’s pretty good value (divide the fee by the number of hours you get and you’ll see it’s pretty reasonable) and you’ll learn a lot with the right tutor. Happy snapping!


  1. […] a DSLR I’d bought seven years ago had never been taken off the AUTO setting, so I signed up for a part-time course at the Cape Town School of Photography. I loved it. By the end of the course I was completely […]

  2. Thanks for this review! Been wanting to enroll for the course but couldn’t decide. It now costs R3800 but I think it’ll be worth it.

    • You’re welcome, Irene. It was a couple of years ago that I did this course, so I’d be interested to know your experience 🙂 Hope it’s fantastic!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: