Two Neighbors Want to Help Photographers 'Switch to Manual'

Antonio Rosario and Tom Martinez of Switch to Manual

If you’ve got a digital camera that has a manual mode, but you’ve never shot photos that way, you’re not alone. Lucky for you, then, that neighbors and seasoned photographers Antonio M. Rosario (above, left) and All Souls Bethlehem Church’s Tom Martinez (right) have started Switch to Manual, a photo workshop/photo walk business where they’ll teach people to learn how to use their cameras in manual mode.

With a classroom portion and a supervised walk at one of several interesting Brooklyn and Manhattan locations (they’re also offering the photo walks on their own), the pair hopes to have you working your camera in a way that successfully creates the images that you want.

We spoke to the photographers about their work, the business, the possibility of a photo walk in our own neighborhood, and more.

What’s your background in photography, and why did you decide to start this business?

Tom: I first picked up a point and shoot about eight years ago, and before I knew what had happened was taking roughly 300 pictures a day, for about a year. I gradually slowed down a bit and upgraded my camera but have never lost that initial enthusiasm for the magic of the art. Professionally I’ve gravitated to journalism and documentary work (for the Brooklyn Eagle, the Staten Island Advance, Tikkun magazine, and Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn). Other times I’m documenting justice issues for whatever groups need/can use the images. This work has taken me to Honduras, Cuba, New Orleans (post-BP spill), and various other places throughout the U.S. Most recently I shot the Climate Change protest in DC.

Antonio: I’ve been a commercial and fine art photographer for nearly 35 years. Besides my freelance work, I also enjoy training industry professionals, advanced amateurs, and traditional film photographers as they transition to digital. Mostly I teach digital photography on a one-to-one basis, giving students fundamentals in Photoshop and other photography apps. Also, I’ve shown people how to use their new digital cameras.

I met Tom at Qathra Cafe on Cortelyou. Noticing that he always carried a camera and that some of his images were on display in the cafe, we struck up a conversation. Over time, I learned that Tom had a desire to teach amateur photographers how to use their cameras on manual settings. I, too, have always wanted to start my own photography workshop to teach beginners how to use their cameras properly. That’s when we hit on the idea we should team up to start Switch to Manual (the name is Tom’s idea). With Tom’s networking skills and my technology background, we found we complemented each other very well. With both our desires to teach amateur photographers, it seemed like a great idea to start a photo workshop where we would instruct beginners to get the most out of their cameras and learn to take better images.

We initially decided to focus on specific photogenic locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan (although we are primarily focused on Brooklyn locales) and try to target photo enthusiasts in Brooklyn and NYC as well as tourists. Switch to Manual will have a series of basic photo workshops, but we’re also going to host shorter instructional photo walks (classes will run about 4-5 hours while photo walks will be about two hours) in great locations such as Green-Wood Cemetery, Coney Island, Red Hook, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (where I shot for many years producing their annual calendar), the Bronx Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters, and St. John the Divine.

With the rise of cameras in phones, do you think there are still a lot of people working with digital cameras? Who are you targeting with these workshops?

Some of the best pictures we’ve seen were taken with a camera phone, and we’re actually going to offer instructional photo walks for folks who want to use their iPhones! Our philosophy is: it’s not about the instrument per se but the creative eye of the person capturing the image. Of course we use high-end digital cameras (DSLR), and many people who are more serious about photography gravitate to one as well (as it affords more options through the ability to change lenses, shoot in low light, etc.). But ultimately this is about helping people tap into their unique creative powers by opening up the camera’s manual settings.

We want to target both amateurs and advanced amateurs to take our classes and go on our walks. The classes will be geared to the beginner; those people who have a camera but don’t know how to use all the settings to take better images. The idea is for the photographer to be in control of capturing the image and not the camera. We want to teach basic concepts, like shutter speed and aperture, and have people come out of the basic classes not afraid to take over manual control of their cameras.

The basic StM class will have a couple hours of instructions at a specific location and then a couple hours of shooting on location, with the two of us supervising the students along the way.

The photo walks are geared to those who’ve already taken our classes and want to get more instruction on location, and for advanced amateurs (and tourists) who want to visit a cool location and have a couple photographers help them take better pictures.

What are some of the first workshops you have coming up?

We have an introductory one-day seminary to teach people how to switch to manual. This first class will be based in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Also, we have scheduled a wide variety of weekly photo walks where we’ll offer hands-on advice and instruction. Students will need their walking shoes for these!

What’s one tip you can share to help neighbors start taking better photos today?

Tom: Get close to your subject. Now get closer! I’ve found what often makes a photo seem sort of bland is the photographer stands too far from his or her subject. So get close and see what you get!

Antonio: Before you go out shooting, try to come up with a theme that you will try to focus on when you’re taking pictures. For instance, say to yourself “I’m look for textures,” or “Look for shadows,” or even “Focus on the color red.” Having this in mind will help “focus” your eye when you’re walking around, and you’ll end up with a great series of images that have a single theme.

Any chance you’ll do a workshop and photo walk in Ditmas Park at some point?

We’re sure we’ll certainly offer something locally once our business gets off the ground. The great appeal of Ditmas is the architecture and the history (maybe also a Boardwalk Empire walk…). We bet many people don’t even realize there is this great suburban neighborhood right in the middle of Brooklyn!

We’re also looking at an StM basic class at Flatbush and Church Avenues. The Reformed Church on the corner is offering us space for the classroom section of our class, to be followed by a location shooting trip over at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Where’s your favorite place to shoot in Brooklyn, and why?

Tom: Red Hook because it’s got an old soul and some incredible views. Or wait maybe it’s Green-Wood because of my many chance encounters with hawks. Or Jalopy because of the crazy cool musicians and fun stage lighting. This is a very hard question!

Antonio: Red Hook is big on my list too. In fact, I’ve led two large photo walks there in the past two years, via the National Association of Photoshop Professionals’ World Wide Photo Walk (an annual worldwide photography event). But I shoot all over Brooklyn, especially in Ditmas, Kensington, Coney Island, Ocean Parkway, and in Dumbo. I just love “old” Brooklyn.

What’s one of your favorite images that you’ve ever captured in Ditmas Park?

Man on the Q Train, by Tom Martinez

Tom: It’s always hard to select just one image, but I do really love this one of someone I just happened to see on the subway (the Q between Newkirk and Cortelyou Rd). I don’t have any idea what this guys’s story is, which works for me as it’s one of those images that lends itself to creative speculation. It was simply one of those random encounters that makes Brooklyn such a great place to shoot. I saw him, asked if i could take his image and, when he consented, took this pic. I don’t always ask permission but find that, sometimes, it makes for a better image. Some days are just like that. Magic happens.

Cortelyou Statue, by Antonio M. Rosario

Antonio: Like Tom says, it’s hard to choose. Walking around one Saturday morning, I spotted this statue hidden inside an antiques storage place on Cortelyou Road. It was a small marble statue of a woman wrapped in fabric. I saw it peaking out among all the other junk, and its position was so elegant it caught my eye. The only camera I had with me was my iPhone, which was perfect for this type of intimate image. This image speaks of beauty which can be found just behind everything.

For more information on the workshops and photo walks, visit the Switch to Manual website. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.