Reflection on Summer School

Since July 3rd I have been Vice Principal at a tri-district Summer School that provides completion and credit core courses for around 1000 students in grades 9 through 12. The school is located on two different campuses and I have been the lone administrator at the smaller campus of about 200 students.

For some students, this school offers an opportunity to gain credit for a course in 4 weeks that would normally take 5 months in a regular school year to complete. For other students we offer 2 week completion courses for those that, for one reason or another, did not successfully complete the course at school, or who want to upgrade their mark. Classes are 4.5 hours a day. The school is fully funded by the BC Ministry of Education and is provided free of charge to any student enrolled.

As you can image, this process is challenging from a teacher or administrators stand point. Students come to the school with widely varying aptitudes, some with learning disabilities and some are international students with English as a Second Language designation; some are adult students living on their own and unfortunately, some are young people who come here from very difficult home situations.

Clearly this is not the optimum educational setting for a student who struggles given that they are expect to complete the course in such a compact, and rigorous time frame. I have taught summer school in the past as well, and each time struggle with the issue of providing 4 credits in a two or four week time frame. Teachers strive to provide instruction and assess achievement based on the learning outcomes of the regular 5 month course, but is it possible? In the end we must be able to be satisfied that the student is ready for the next level and that they have satisfied the prescribed learning outcomes of the course.

At the end of this exhausting, sometimes frustrating, but highly rewarding process, we can say that we have given many kids an opportunity to be successful and have allowed them to move on towards graduation. I have had many students tell me they have learned more in this short time in a course than they did over an entire semester at school. That makes it all worthwhile for us, but what does it say about the regular system?

Design Principles

I’ve alluded to, in recent posts, some of the basic design principles taught in Art that apply to Photography which I try and get through to students early in a Photo class. Many people believe that art has no definition or basis for identification other than in the mind of the creator, but in order to set some guidelines to what is pleasing to the eye we try and define the undefinable…these are the design principles.

Here is a video I discovered outlining some of the basic principles of design as applied to visual arts.

Here is a link to a Google presentation I share with students that outline some of the specific elements of design that apply to photography including image examples.

Google Presentation

Rule of Thirds Poll Entry

When teaching student photographers the basics of framing and composition one of the main tenets is to consider the “rule of thirds” This rule states that one should position the main focus of the image in the top, bottom, left, or right third of the frame. Basically, if you were to draw evenly spaced vertical and horizontal lines down the frame, the optimum position is where the lines intersect. This rule also indicates that the horizon should not be positioned in the top or bottom third of the frame.

In the following poll I have three images. The first one is the original which brazenly violates the rules of thirds by positioning the horizon dead center! The other two have been altered to move the horizon to the top or bottom third of the frame. My question is simple; which do you prefer? The rule breaker, or one of the rule followers. Let me know in the poll at the bottom of this post and tell me why in the comments.

Centered Horizon

Top Third

Bottom Third

Photography Videos

Here are a few of my favorite videos dealing with the world of photography.

Accepting his 2007 TED Prize, war photographer James Nachtwey shows his lifes work and asks TED to help him continue telling the story with innovative, exciting uses of news photography in the digital era.

The photo director for National Geographic, David Griffin knows the power of photography to connect us to our world. In a talk filled with glorious images, he talks about how we all use photos to tell our stories.


Taryn Simon exhibits her startling take on photography — to reveal worlds and people we would never see otherwise. She shares two projects: one documents otherworldly locations typically kept secret from the public, the other involves haunting portraits of men convicted for crimes they did not commit.

Advanced Dark Room Techniques – Audio Blog

The following blog entry deals with the advanced darkroom processing techniques of Vignetting, Dodging and Burning. All of these techniques can be done in the digital dark room using Photoshop or other similar applications, however the techniques I discuss in this post are done in an actual dark room using an enlarger, negatives, and photo paper. These techniques should only be attempted after the photography student is comfortable working in the dark room and has successfully produced several properly exposes prints.

The audio blog can be heard at the following locations:

VoiceThread

SlideRocket

Public Dropbox Folder

As you can see I tried several web apps to embed code onto WordPress without success. I even tried Audioboo, but they limit uploads to 3 minutes. REALLY frustrating given that it is so easy to embed on a wiki or onto a website using Dreamweaver…not impressed WordPress!

Photographing Lightning – Image Post

I live on the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. We have a very pleasant climate that offers mild temperatures with rain in the winter and the odd snow day. In the summer we usually get extended periods of nice warm temperatures, blue skies and a nice breeze off the ocean. When the skies opened up last Friday with lightning, thunder, high winds and torrential rains I had to grab my camera. The rain was periodic, but the lightning and thunder lasted for several hours…this is NOT the way it works around here, but I thought the odds were good that I would get some good shots. My first thought was to use a super fast shutter speed up around 1/1000 of a second or faster to freeze the lighting mid strike, but to actually get a clear image using this technique would require shooting many frames of nothing on burst mode and hope for the best.  Here is the result…

No Lightning!

As you can clearly see there is some interesting lighting, but no lightning! Another approach is to go the opposite way and use a long shutter speed on a tripod or steady surface, but this requires a fairly dark sky or the end result is an overexposed image of blackness with a light streak. The storm was in the evening, but the skies where too light to use a long shutter speed so here’s my last resort strategy for capturing lightning…

Using my Nikon D7000 in movie mode I shot 20 minutes of video on HD1080p. The end result was a great deal of shaky camera movement, a lot of thunder noise and a couple of moments of large lightning strikes. Using Final Cut Pro (video editing software) I found the frames of lightning and converted them to still images. I then imported those images into Aperture 3 and played with the colour and lighting adjustments. Here is the best result…

Lightning Strike- Image from video

The image is not breathtaking but it is a rare sight for around here.

Some other tips for shooting lightning would be to be sure and shoot from the horizon up, but also to include something other than sky to establish perspective. Also, use manual focus and set it for the approximate location of the most frequent strikes and if you use a tripod and take several shots without changing the angle, consider stacking multiple images to brighten up your light show.

Here are a couple other images from that evening…

 

Response to Instructor Blog

For this blog entry in Edtech 597 I need to shift away from the photoblog theme and back into the edtech world and respond to a prompt located on the instructors blog: As educational technologists, what did you take away from these generational differences readings? How would you handle a colleague who bought into the notion of digital natives?

I addressed this topic in week two of this course stating that I did agree that the concept of separating people into digital natives and digital immigrants based on when they were born made sense.  I still believe in this notion with some caveats. To date there is no research supporting the claim that students brains are rewired because of their exposure to digital technology but it has been my experience that meeting students on their “home playing field” can increase engagement, relevance and subsequently motivation and impact. It has also been my experience that taking a digital or technology based approach is no guarantee for success. Students will quickly loose interest when they see that there is no sound educational or pedagogical advantage to the chosen technological strategy.

I do not buy into the notion that students are better multi-taskers just because that is what they tend to do. Again, from my experience as a Language Arts teacher I have seen a general shift away from fluid, focused multi-paragraph writing to choppy, disjointed compositions due, in my opinion, to the constant distractions students suffer when trying to multitask during the completion of the assignment. After each interruption of thought, students are forced to try and refocus, resulting in a lack of flow.

To me the real appeal of the Prensky article, and others like it, is the discussion they generate. Some contentions are not fact, however they do stimulate thought and for those of us who do firmly believe in the value of technology integration into curriculum and as a warning to colleagues new to technology, it is a reminder that in order for technology to be truly beneficial in the classroom, it must be implemented using sound pedagogical reasoning.

Guest Blog – Lomography

(The following blog entry was written by an ex photography student of mine who also happens to be my son, Riley Janzen)

The “Ten Golden Rules”, as pictured below, lay the groundwork for a type of photography that is characterized by lo-fi film cameras, light leaks, multiple lenses, coloured flashes, and expired film. Lomography is a company and community that promote this type of spontaneous and haphazard form of photography. In 1991, Lomography came to be when an exclusive distribution agreement was signed with LOMO PLC, which was a state-run optics manufacturer and the creator of the original Lomography camera, the Lomo LC-A. The advantage that Lomography poses when compared to other forms of photography is it’s extensive freedom of expression which allows the photographer to pursue their personal artistic direction through a lack of strict rules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the “original” Lomography camera, the Lomo LC-A.

Common attributes shared by these “Lomographs” include light-leaks, vignetting, double-exposures, graininess, vivid or subdued colours, disregard for image composition and different film formats like medium and half-frame.

 

This image presents an extreme example of a light-leak, which is normally caused by light leaking into the camera and exposing the film in certain places. The effect seen in this image was created by shooting in complete darkness using a flash with a blue filter. In normal photography, light-leaks are seen as an eyesore and a camera defect. However, with Lomography, they are considered quite the opposite as they are used to enhance otherwise prosaic photos by adding a layer of depth.
One can also see the amount of grain in this photo, caused by the film speed, or ISO of the film used by the camera. Also, the “Rule of Thirds” has been ignored in this photo, with the subject placed to the extreme left which creates a feeling of anxiousness.

This photo was captured with a camera that shoots half-frames, which is as the name implies, two exposures to each frame. Half-frames can be used to tell a story through the use of juxtaposition, or to save film. The black, white, and blue tones are a byproduct of experimentation with different types of development processes. In this case, colour film was used, and then a process reserved for black and white photo development was implemented.

An example of the half-frame format being used to tell a story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Lomographic cameras use different film formats. This photo was taken with a Holga 120, which is a plastic-body camera that shoots medium, or 120, format film that has a different aspect ratio than 35mm film. Extreme examples of vignetting, high contrast, and subdued colours can be seen in this photo. The problem with medium and large format film is that finding a store that can develop them, as the process for developing medium format film has been mostly phased out through the years.

The aforementioned photographic qualities are produced in the most part by the different types of cameras and their quirks. Examples of cameras used to reproduce this haphazard and retro feel are cheap, plastic toy cameras like the Golden Half (Left), which shoots half-frame images, and the Holga 135TIM (right), which can shoot half-frame, stereoscopic, or long-exposure images.

Cameras used for Lomography are not limited to plastic, toy cameras. Older model, and in some cases, deadstock, Single Lens and Twin-Lens Reflex film cameras are commonly used. This picture has examples of multiple exposures, and warm, subdued colours. It was taken with a Lomo Smena 8M, a dead-stock, Russian made, plastic-body film SLR. The 8M is a notable Lomo brand camera for it’s glass lens that produces the warm tones in the picture above and is seldom seen in Lomography cameras which normally have plastic lenses.

Pictured above is the Lomo Smena 8M, produced in the 1970s.

 

 

Pictured above is a Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex, a Twin-Lens Reflex camera produced from 1956.

Before being a form of photography, Lomography is first and foremost, a company who’s goal is for the members of the community to spend as much money on their online store buying different types of film, cameras and accessories. Through their sentiment of taking as many pictures as possible without worrying too much about the composition or subject of the photo, the photographers end up spending a lot of money buying film, not to mention the development costs.
While Lomography is a refreshing and enjoyable way to express one’s self, it is very easy to see the company’s real goal, sell the photographer as many plastic, toy cameras, and expired film as possible.

Check out this link for a slideshow of lomography images.

References:

All Lomography images taken by Riley Janzen

Some product images courtesy of http://www.lomoplc.com/

Commentary Post – Back Up Your Memories!

Back Up Your Memories!

Its been an interesting couple of months of milestones that have warranted photographic documentation…graduations, birthdays, and babies. As I was copying my images from the SD card to my computer it struck me that it’s been awhile since I did a back up of my images. The next day my hard drive seemingly gasped and died. After cursing the irony and my procrastination, I collecting myself and did a reinstall of the system software and was able to get back into the hard drive…needless to say I did a complete copy of all my files and images to an external hard drive immediately. I was lucky. Loosing images of children growing up, graduations, birthdays, camping is like loosing a link to the past and the evolution of a family. I would have had no one to blame but myself.

Perminder Tung, a Canadian lawyer was not so lucky. He took steps to back up images of the birth of his daughter using Apple Time Capsule, unfortunately, Tung claims the device failed and that Apple informed him the images were gone forever. He is now suing Apple for $25,000 to compensate for the lose of the images.

I feel for Mr Tung. Loosing those images would be devastating, but should he be compensated by Apple? Electronic devices fail. All things mechanical, digital, or electronic can fail, but can the manufacturer be responsible for the lose of the data and memories? If a piece of electronic equipment malfunctions it should be fixed or replaced, but to hold the maker responsible for lose of memories is not realistic. As photographers, professional or amateur, it is up to us to ensure the safety of our product. Common sense tells us to keep safe and back up that which is important to us. Mr Tung is trying desperately to find someone to blame, other than himself. If I had lost my images I would have had no one to blame but myself.

I found mention of this issue in a recent blog post by photographer Chase Jarvis. He agrees with my position and so do many of the comments on his blog. He has created a video that addresses issues that deal with workflow, storage and backup of your precious images. Here is the link.

 

250th of a Second vs. 30 Frames Per Second?

I teach Photography and Media Arts (Video Production). In both of these courses we discuss and practice strategies for storytelling; how to reach an audience with compelling images that convey emotion, conflict and an aesthetic. Which medium is more effective for this purpose? The vast majority of young people will immediately respond that video is far superior because it is comprised of thousands of still images AND sound, but when presented with an image that is perfectly composed, that 250th of a second in time can freeze a person. One still image taken by a professional at the height of his craft has the power to evoke change. I have found that the still image forces the viewer to pause, to think, and to reflect, where as the the video flying by at 30 frames per second seems less important some how. The unfortunate reality is that the media is over saturated with still images taken on the fly that have very little intrinsic value, thus watering down the impact of the really great images.

Clearly a video camera in the hands of a craftsman can produce amazing, poignant, and compelling stories, but in this Youtube world I have found that those stories are hard to find. SO, what medium is better for storytelling, still photography or video? Give it some thought, I think you will find the answer is not so easy.