Photography: Beyond the Snapshot

Lee Ann Barnhardt
W.B. Ray High School
Corpus Christi, Texas

Description of School and Students
This unit will be taught to a ninth and tenth grade journalism class in an urban high school of approximately 2,400 students. The class size is approximately 25 English-speaking students. The class cultural mix is 70 percent Hispanic, 27 percent Anglo and 3 percent other.

Generative Topic

  • What makes a photograph get your attention?

Generative Objects

  • Examples of good/interesting photographs
  • Internet/Webquest directions
  • Camera

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • What are disturbance, proximity, sense of place and vantage point in relation to photography?
    • What are the basic parts of a camera?
    • What are f stops and what is the role of light in photography?
    • What is the rule of thirds?
    • How do you select the proper film and camera settings?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • How do we recognize a good photograph?
    • What can we do to take more interesting photographs?
    • Why are photographs an important element in media?
    • Why do we respond to certain images?

Performance of Understanding, Rationale and Time Line
The goal of this unit is to teach students to take a better photograph by paying close attention to the four main points of disturbance, proximity, sense of place and vantage point. In the digital world of no darkroom cropping, it is more critical that students learn to compose in the camera. Looking to the future, media space is going to be a premium, so pictures must do more than just capture a moment in time. They must tell a story. In order to produce a quality product, students will also be exposed to standard photography basics such as f-stops, film speeds, depth of field, lighting, rule of thirds and panning. This unit will be taught after the writing unit and before the students move into design. It should take approximately 1-2 weeks to complete on a 90-minute accelerated block schedule, with an additional week outside of class for the students to complete the photo essay.

Activity 1

  • Students will be asked to view magazines and newspapers and to select photographs that appeal to them. Once the photos are selected, the students should look for similarities in the photos and place them in groups. They should then analyze the photos to determine why they were appealing. Following this exercise, the students will be introduced to the concepts of disturbance, proximity, sense of place, and vantage point.

Activity 2

  • After being introduced through lecture on photography basics, the class will take a walking tour of campus and be required to take photographs that illustrate various concepts such as rule of thirds, standard daylight exposure, back lighting, depth of field, panning etc. After the photos are developed, the class will make a display board and identify the photos with the appropriate photo rule.

Activity 3

  • With photo basics covered, the students will be required to take photos on their own that illustrate disturbance, proximity, sense of place and vantage point. To use technology, the students will then be required to scan the photos and create a PowerPoint presentation explaining when, where, and how they took each photo and what problems they encountered.

Activity 4

  • While the students are working on their outside photo assignment, they will be working on a Photography webquest and will be required to answer a series of questions on techniques for taking better photographs and the language of light as they move through the site.

Activity 5

  • The final assignment in this unit is a photo essay that tells the story of something significant in the student’s life (spring break, one-act play, athletic practice and games, cheerleading, rodeos, etc.). The essay must have a minimum of 12 photographs that include all of the composition areas we have covered in class. The photos will need to be mounted on a board. Students will write captions for each photo. The focus is on composition and storytelling through photographs. Students will also be asked to bring the photos they did not select for their essay, explain what went wrong and determine why they were not effective.

Students will be assessed on the successful completion of the above activities. There will be a quiz on photo definitions, camera basics, etc. Students must include each of the four basic elements in the photos in order to receive full credit for the unit.

Resources Recommended

  • Ferguson, D., Patten, J., Wilson, B., “Journalism Today 6th Edition” (Chicago: National Textbook Company) 2001.
  • Copies of daily newspapers, magazines and other photographs
  • London, Barbara, “A Short Course in Photography” (Cincinnati: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company) 1983.
  • London, Barbara, “Photography” (Boston: Little, Brown and Company) 1982.