Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How to Start a Digital Photography Class

One reader left a comment asking for helpful hints for starting a digital photography and video class.

I also had to start the digital photography class for our county and I was feeling lost until I purchased John Hedgecoe's Photography Basics and his New Manual of Photography (mentioned earlier in this blog "Essential Photography Books"). I basically had my students do projects based on finding shapes, line, pattern, texture, light direction etc. as he suggests in his books. He also covers topics, like flowers, portraits, etc. Then I would add project ideas that I would get by reading other books and keeping up with online sites. (I've mentioned several in earlier entries in this blog.) John Hedgecoe also wrote a great book on filmmaking that I had in college, but I haven't checked if it is still in print, or if he has a video version. I only teach one unit on video using iMovie and I mention good video examples for a starting point in an earlier entry.

I think the key is to remember that you are approaching digital photography and video as art instruction. There are so many digital photographers and Photoshop experts who do not have a background in art and you can tell from their writing that they approach it as a technology challenge, not an art challenge. In my blog I try to focus on the ones who approach it as an artist. So, be careful what books you buy and what websites you read. Remember to cover the art elements and principles of design as well as the concept and purpose of expression. I make the technology part secondary, and they learn it as they go, not all at once.

I always start the year with a History of Photography lecture based on http://masters-of-photography.com (the dashes are important because there is another site without them). That site not only has examples but great articles about each photographer explaining their approach and motivation. It helped me remember a lot from college history of photography classes as well (a long time ago). The students love that lecture because they feel like peeping toms to the past. And, of course, if you have to justify that you tie other subjects into your art classes, well, this one is easy since so much of our nation's history is documented in these photos. Since I love history, I ask them to tell me what they know about the subject of the Dust Bowl, the Industrial Revolution, etc. that they see evidence of in the photos.

I try to introduce visual ideas during the lecture. For example, looking at Dorthea Lange, tell her story but also ask questions: "Did she ask her subjects to smile?" "What angle to the subject was she when she took this?" "What would have happened if she had stood 10 feet to the left? The diagonal line would have become horizontal and that is no where near as interesting." etc. This lecture is important because it helps make the students more comfortable with what I am expecting, before they ever have to turn in a project. Before I give them their first assignment, they already have a sense of the big idea of photography as an art form, that it is as much about the composition and lighting as it is about the subject, and that there is a boring way to represent the subject and a more intriguing way. It helps them understand the difference between snapshots and photography as an art form.

I highly recommend buying the two Hedgecoe books . They made my life a lot easier when I was asked to write the digital photography curriculum and my last photography class had been in the 70s.

Also, my first digital photography shooting projects of the year are: Photographing a Subject from Several Angles, and Shadows as the Subject (this one helps them think abstractly about big shapes instead of the subject). When school starts up again, I will show student examples of these early projects.

I have a collection of some beginning Photography lessons and advice for organizing the class on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.  (This is the link to the first set, there are several others as well.)


dsgran said...

Woah! This was just what I was looking for Anne! I'm starting an advanced photography and AP photography class this fall. Its been several years since I've taught a photo class, and a lot of my summer has been re-familiarizing myself with the camera and looking for good project ideas. Thanks for this!

Anne P said...

As your year progresses and you find your most successful projects, please share them with us. Enjoy your year.

Design Foundation said...

Very Inspiring Post!!

I LOVE YOU said...
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The Fourth said...

This was a GREAT help to me. I just finished college, with a degree in business, but i love photography, and the academy connected with the college has asked me to teach a Photography class. What you said about art being the main focus besides technology, is exactly what i want to do, and the class prep with the photo viewing and discussing to show the students what you expect of them in the class was a great help as well! thanks so much!