The Basics of Photography

Jennifer Rinterknecht
Corvallis High School
Corvallis, Ore.

Title: A Basic Photography Lesson

Overview: Photography is key to getting readers to engage with a publication. Too often in student journalism photos are overlooked as space fillers. This lesson will teach students the importance of photography as an entry into the news, good photo taking skills, and the appreciation of photo aesthetics. This lesson will take one 90 block. In addition students will work on the assessment pieces over the course of the next five months as well as the whole year.


  • Students will understand the aesthetics of photography
  • Students will be able to take photos that demonstrate their understanding of aesthetics
  • Students will be able to take photos that convey a message or tell a story
  • Students will be able to analyze the qualities of a given photo
  • Students will value photography as an essential part of the newspaper

Essential Questions:

  • Why is photography important?
  • What are the qualities of a good photo?
  • How does one take a good photo?
  • Why are photos important in newspapers?


  • Warm up:
    • Show student three sets of pictures and ask them to choose which photos they like better.
    • Talk about why they like one set of pictures better than the other.
    • Students at this time may start talking about things like detail, closeness, intrigue. Steer them away from talking about a photo’s content and toward talking about qualities of the photo itself.
  • Main lesson
    • Write the “Rosetta Stone” of photos on the board and have students take notes on brief definitions.
      • disturbance
      • proximity
      • vantage point
      • sense of place
      • ambiguity
    • Show photos that demonstrate these qualities.
    • Show photos that don’t demonstrate these qualities and talk about the difference to a reader of a paper.
      • Which photo will draw them in?
      • Talk about the anchor of a photo.
    • Discuss why photos are important in newspapers. Who looks at photos and why? Talk about them as entry points.
    • Look at some front pages: The New York Times. USA Today, your local newspaper, a local metro newspaper and perhaps a paper students aren’t likely to see often (look at the Newseum’s daily front page display for ideas on these).
    • When are students drawn into these photos? What qualities do these front page photos possess?


  • As a part of each student’s portfolio of work for the year, they will collect photos that they have found or that they have taken. These photos will be pasted into a scrap book with a short commentary as to why each was saved. Mention of the Rosetta Stone qualities is required.
  • With a digital camera (a students own or the school’s) students must take five photos over the course of the next five months. Each photo must demonstrate an understanding of one of the five qualities of a good photo. These photos will be printed and then displayed on the bulletin board with a short paragraph commentary by the photographer as to what he or she was trying to do in the photo. Each photo is worth 25 points and will be evaluated based on its success as demonstration of understanding. Photo due dates are variable but each student must do one a month.

Recommended Reading and Sources:

  • For examples of good photography look at photo books by Irwin Penn, Bruce Davidson. Alfried Steiglitz, Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lang.
  • The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post are noted for their strong photos.
  • “Chameleon with Camera” by Dennis Darling