What's important in photo course

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

This question is a little outside of the normal range of our posts on this forum, but for the benefit of students I would like to know the answere. The moderator may delete the post if so desired. I start teaching photography tomorrow at our local junior college. I will be teaching both beginner and advanced courses. My question is this: For those of you who took photography courses, what was most important to you to help with your photography, and what would you have liked to have been taught and was not? Any suggestions to make a class fit what you want to know a little better? I really want to give the students a good background in photography. I will be teaching some LF in the advanced course. Thanks for bearing with me on this.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), January 08, 2001


I've never had a class on photography, but suggest the most important thing to teach is to experiment. Try something & see what results you get.

-- Charlie Strack (charlie_strack@sti.com), January 08, 2001.

the most important characteristics are enthusiasm and patience. Know your material. Encourage the students to experiment, but try to get them to learn the basic technical stuff as a basis from which to experiment.

The best lesson I ever got about large format was: "When the movements start to get too complex, zero the camera (return all movements to the zero position), point the camera directly at the subject and start over." (Ron Scott)

The best lesson I ever got on lighting was: "Start with the light in one position. If you don't like the way things look, move it until you do. that is the only rule of lighting. (Danny Turner)

The best two lessons on photography in general? "You are responsible for every square millimeter of the frame." (Jay Maisel); "Expose for the shadows and print for the highlights". (Anonymous) The best philosophical approaches to photography? "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough.(Robert Capa); and "it's only a picture, why not have some fun with it?"(Ellis Vener)

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), January 08, 2001.

Doug, Unfortunately, I had much less classes than wish I had, but from years till now I've been trying to teach something. People who seeks photography must learn above all that it's a meaning of expressing something that no teacher can tell them exactly what it is. Every time you finish a print you've aborted some other thousands of equally interesting and valid possibilities. There's where techniques comes for help. The more you know, the freer you come for creating a personal and original work. But, first of all, you've got have some personal and original thing to say. Otherwise, no luck will help someone, even technically prepared, to stand out in the crowd. It works here in Brazil and I suppose it must be OK everywhere. Good luck in your first class! Cesar B.

-- Cesar Barreto (cesarb@infolink.com.br), January 08, 2001.

I think the most important things include a good grounding in technique, the willingness to try out new materials and processes for oneself, and the willingness to take the time to look at _lots_ of pictures.

It's going back a while but I took a couple of college photography courses; what struck me was that the instructors actually had very little technical knowledge. The instructors were mainly into navel-contemplation photography and that left students unable to successfully contemplate a navel a second or third time after they'd managed to do it the first time by trial-and-error.

So the reason I think technique is so important is that it'll make photography _predictable_ for students. There's a big difference between "I hope it comes out" and "I _know_ it'll come out" and that keeps their confidence and enthusiasm up.

As for the second item, we see it here on photo.net all the time...someone wants us to tell them how a film or developer is rather than simply giving it a try.

Pictures...students need to look at pictures (or any other visual art) and learn to get past the immediate content to form...and back to content and how it all works. As a visual art, photographers show others a representation of what they saw or made up; I think it's well worthwhile to look at what others saw.

-- John Hicks (jbh@magicnet.net), January 08, 2001.

Well, I graduated with a BS in Industrial Arts Education from The College of New Jersey in 1973. I was a Graphic Arts Major.

All freshman Industrial Arts majors had to take the basic Graphic Arts class. I had to take this class along with 4 more advanced classes. The basic class was demanding and time intensive. The Photography portion of this 3 credit class was 1/4 of the class. The other portions were 1/4 silk screen printing, 1/4 Lithography (camerawork and presswork), and 1/4 relief printing (platemaking and presswork).

For the Photography portion, each student was required to:

1. Load 2 sheets of 4X5 b&w film into a holder. 2. Expose these sheets in a Crown Graphic 4x5, using a hand held meter. 3. Process the negatives. 4. Contact print both negatives. 5. Enlarge 1 negative to 8X10. 6. Mount and spot the print.

If an entire semister is devoted to Basic Photography, I see no reason why all of the above should not be required in addition to:

1. A roll of 120 medium format film exposed, processed, and printed. 2. A roll of 35mm film exposed, processed, and printed, 3. A basic 3:1 head and shoulders portrait using hot lights. 4. A final photo essay containing at least 4 8X10 prints and text.

I don't like the idea of "dumbing down" anything. I think a student should be challenged. If a student can meet the challenge, he or she is rewarded with a lifetime skill and avocation. Tough but fair.

-- Joseph Wasko (jwasko@erols.com), January 08, 2001.

Doug, Many of us that photograph and have for some time tend to think about technique or equipment related issues. I think the best thing you can do for your students is to show them what other photographers create. Us ethe web. Use books. Many have never seen the beauty of Art Wolfe. Joyce Tennyson. HBC. Garry Winograd. Pick up a copy or copies of Black and White Magazine and show them what has been and continues to be created by photographers. Technique is easy to learn. Being creative is within all of us but it needs a mentor. Students need a little boost to get their creative juices flowing. We photographers get jaded and a little haughty thinking all that's needed is to just shoot and do your own thing. That type of thinking stifles real creativity. Just look at Misha Gordon. He didn't just come up with these ideas. He started with someone elses ideas and refined them to his own creativity. Kenna started with Bill Brandt. Adams started with Stieglitz. Give the students a tour of the possibilities and they will end up with their own ideas. And show them lighting from the days of the masters such as Rembrant and the other Dutch masters. Technique is easy. Creativity has to be taught. James

-- lumberjack (james_mickelson@hotmail.com), January 08, 2001.

i studied under dr john pennybacker at LSU back in the early 70s, and he was one of those people who was born to teach. when he taught the non-majors, he realized that it was not truly the technical information that drove them to his class - it was a love of powerful images. he tried to find a way to identify that passion in each student and use that inner drive to teach them - they learned the technical aspects in spite of themselves as a support system for making images. one of his favorite projects for those majoring in fine arts/photography was a duplication assignment. each student would bring in a single image, any style or format or subject matter, and would discuss it briefly with pennybacker to describe what they saw in the image that affected them, and then they would have to duplicate the image or create a variation of the image. each aspect of the image had to be duplicated, from the type and angle of the light, to the poses, positions, etc of the subject. i used a historic street scene. the effect of that assignment turned into a 20-year career in architectural photography.

-- jnorman (jnorman@teleport.com), January 09, 2001.

Doug, I totally agree with James. Technique is easy and can be learned anytime. What I really appreciated in Art school were the critiques. To be emersed in a group of people all striving to understand what photography "is" is very unique and so group critiques and group involvement would be highest on my list. Your group critiques may even be their only opportunity for such an experiance.

As james also mentioned, I think it is very important to show slides and work of many photographers. Depending on your approach, showing other artists' work gives the student a chance to understand photography in an Art Historical context as well as its role in a commercial world. Possibly the differences between the two.

To me, understanding technique in photography is important (without it you can't create), but understanding the "idea" of what IS an image, is the most important.

Your a lucky man Doug.

Good luck with it, Dave.

-- Dave Anton (daveanton@home.com), January 09, 2001.

Good answers. #1: Work HARD to help each student realize what's in him- or herself, not just ratify what the teacher already knows or is. Practically, there is no better way for students to quickly learn the potential of black and white materials than have each student use a $75 TLR and Verichrome Pan-the prints will glow. Stumbling with 35mm, the most difficult format to master, makes for stumbling learning. Have fun, you are lucky to be teaching.

-- David Stein (DFStein@aol.com), January 09, 2001.

From all of the various courses Iíve taken in both photography and art, and after watching my two sons struggle in college with photography classes, I think the most important aspect of photography is the artist's vision. Everyone can learn technique, but not everyone will be able to develop a vision and see the world. Seeing is most important.

I'm a 5x7 large format fine art B&W photographic artist, but if I were running a course I would have them all buy a $12 Holga and some chromogenic film of their choice. That would completely eliminate the technology of focus, shutter speed, aperture, ... of picture taking.

Nothing else left to worry about except subject and composition :-)


-- Doug McFarland (junquemail222@yahoo.com), January 09, 2001.

Wow! Thanks, all. You have all helped, either by fresh ideas or strengthening what I felt was important. I plan to give the students a good working knowledge of the technical side of photography, and then concentrate on letting them find their own way of seeing things. I do not want to turn out a room full of Doug Paramores. I think the technical side is important, because one cannot do the artistic side of photography without at least a good working knowledge of the scientific side. The technical / scientific side can be learned, the artistic side can be nurtured and encouraged. I am grateful for your comments and suggestions.

Highest regards,

-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), January 09, 2001.

Over the last twenty years I've taught a number of photography/photojounalist courses. Before I teach a course or even hold a one hour lecture, I ask myself: "What skills do I want my students to have once the course (or class) is over?" This is the absolute first thing to establish before you teach anything. This question assumes that you have some skills and that the students would be interested in aquiring those skills. If you have no skills or if you can't answer this question then don't offer the course.

But you do have skills and after you answer this question - at least in your mind - then you prepare your lesson plans so they take your students to YOUR goal.

All too often, and especially in fine art courses, the instructor doesn't have a sense of where they want to take the their students. They meander, they waste time; and sometimes I think that they are back teaching grade four and are forcing "seat work" on their students. If you ask for an assignment to be completed, how does this solve part of the final equation? If it doesn't - and this applies to all assignments or tests - then you are wasting their time.

So figure out where you want to take your students, and then provide a course that takes them there.

-- David Grandy (dgrandy@accesscable.net), January 09, 2001.

Doug, as a teacher, number one rule is that no question is silly or foolish, so your question is right on! In my experience, the words "repetition & standardization" are most important in technique.

I can not stress enough that it is the student's obligation to READ and STUDY if they are serious about their work--reading, looking, experimenting & asking questions are the attributes of a good student. Photography is also a study of its history--images, people, times, innovations, etc--this must also be taught along with technique. May I suggest the use of Polaroid 35mm slides--images taken from books etc. which you yourself make for classroom lessons AND make the students do likewise as a class assignment--to build up a "library" of images.

And lastly perhaps, as a teacher, you need to stress that Photography is a means of worldly communication--a universal language--- utilizing the body's senses--eyes, hands,cognitive,affective & psychomotor aspects of the brain. Your enthusiasim, honesty and personal charm are factors which contribute to being a good educator. Kick them in the ass Doug! I'm sure you will do well! Raymond A. Bleesz, Histographer

-- Raymond A. Bleesz (bleesz@vail.net), January 09, 2001.

First of all, I'd like to say that all the responses to this question have been absolutely first rate. This certainly is a great place to share knowledge.

Of the photography courses and workshops I've taken thus far, the ones that seem to be the most effective are those that alternate between the technical and artistic aspects of photography. Concentrating too much on one or the other in beginning photography courses leaves the students wanting in the neglected area. A good strategy seems to be to teach/learn a new technique and then apply it before moving on to another topic. This way, it can be experimented with while it is still fresh in the mind and any problems that come up are easily dealt with.

Every class will have students of varying ability, and it's important for the instructor to recognize that. While it is important to make sure the students with a more basic understanding don't get left behind, it's equally important to make sure that the more advanced students aren't bored out of their skulls. While teaching basic skills to students with essentially no knowledge of photographic processes, I think it's important to establish a basic knowledge of which control does what and why. That way, when mistakes are made, it's easier both for the instructor to explain what went wrong and for the student to understand why what happened happened.

Make sure to listen to what the class is saying. If a particular class shows special interest in something specific, don't be afraid to go a little off curiculum and expore it more in depth. The last thing you want to do is kill curiosity, and letting students explore topics that interest them will help their curiosity grow.

I really like previous suggestions of introducing students to the work of established and famous photographers. I think every person here has a favorite photographer whose work has served as inspiration and/or a benchmark for comparison. Letting students find a photographer they can use for inspiration can do wonders for making them more enthusiastic.

Actaully, if I don't end this post here, I'll be late for (what else?) a photography class. Again, great answers, everbody- we've certainly got some great minds here.

-- Dave Munson (orthoptera@juno.com), January 09, 2001.

Oh, by the way, one last thought from me.

Your learning curve is the steepest. It will probably take 2 or 3 repetitions before you get your class requirements down based on skill levels, budget, etc. Most of the procedures can be pre-printed in a foolproof 1,2,3 etc. order.

Don't beat yourself up if things are chaotic. Just do your best. Not everybody is Ansel Adams; but it is better to ask for more than settle for the bare minimum. I would note well the comments of David Grandy and Raymond Bleesz.

-- Joseph Wasko (jwasko@erols.com), January 09, 2001.

Doug, if we can presume that the students will have access to some kind of lab, then my vote is for emphasizing making the print. Recently many thousands of photographers have, sadly, never made a print. One of the immense creative joys of photography is preparing an image from start to finish by oneself. If you can get them started with the print, then the serious ones will pursue their photographic education indefinitely.

-- C. W. Dean (cwdean@erols.com), January 09, 2001.


I am a 1967 graduate of Brooks Institute. It's been a long time and things were a lot different then. And this was (is) a pretty intense and inclusive program. We were all required to have a 4x5 view camera with an 8 inch lens. We did Dye Transfer and got pretty deep into the technical aspects of just about everything we did. And as I think back on what I learned and didn't learn it seems that the things that really stick in my mind were not those technical things but what was discussed at our weekly critique or "Crit," as we called it.

Here, we would mount our assignments on an unsigned board of uniform size, so that the instructor would not know whose work he was discussing. And then he, along with the rest of the class, would tear into them. After he gave each board a grade he would look at the back to see to whom it belonged and, of course, announce it to the class.

You can imagine what an adreline soaked experience this was for all of us, instructor included. Things used to get hot and heavy and you know, after 34 years I can still remember some of those "Crits" like they were yesterday. The lessons were meaningful and long lasting. Discussions would go well beyond what you would normally associate with lectures. They went to attitudes and they got personal. We learned, not only, how to do the things we wanted to do but we also got to see those things in some sort of context.

Previous posts have givin excellent advice on good things to teach and directions to take....I can only add: There's nothing like productive, well guided, and intense competition to really get the juices flowing.

Good luck, Bruce

-- Bruce Wehman (bruce.wehman@hs.utc.com), January 09, 2001.

Great thoughts from all the responses, and I would like to add one thought...

DO NOT allow the course to become an "easy credit". Students who are not truly interested in learning can make a darkroom seem like hell for the serious students, and the instructor as well. If you have ever worked several hours to make one good print, only to have it ruined by some jock needing a few credit hours, you know what I am talking about...

-- Dave Richhart (pritprat@erinet.com), January 09, 2001.

In one of the previous post Bruce mentions a critique method somewhat like I had in high school. The way we did it was to put our piece on the board and then be the first to critique it. The rest of the class followed. Positive points only. Start off by saying you like the print because Ö.. showing the others all the good stuff. The bad stuff is obvious. We have all looked at our work one time or another and thought it looked good enough to mount. Then, after a few weeks in the closet you see it again and wonder why you ever wasted the paper on it. You really do need to be your worst critique.My personal belief is that we can learn by seeing the best things in a bad print and then try to raise our standards to meet or exceed from there. Tons of magazines with quality images are not a bad idea either. Stay away from auto cameras as much as possible and focus on quality and composition. Regards, Steve

-- Steve Gilb (stevegilb@worldnet.att.net), January 10, 2001.

Perhaps an outcome driven approach would serve to steer you in the right direction. I know it sounds obvious, but does the course description as it appears in the college catalog, give you a sense of what skills students should acquire in this course? Is this course(s) designed to prepare students for something that will follow? If this is part of a fine art program, you're approach might be different than if it is part of one in advertizing. I spent 4 years at an internationally respected art institution and got reletively little from my photography instructor. I learned more from the lab manager when working in the darkroom after class. As much in favor as I am of teaching the fundimentals of traditional photography, I'd be surprized if a student in advertizing weren't spending more time learning Photoshop than proper procedure for washing and mounting gelatin silver prints. But, if it's art we're talking about, perhaps two courses are needed to cover both the traditional materials and techniques and the modern!

-- Robert A. Zeichner (info@razeichner.com), January 10, 2001.

doug, one little note froma current photo student. i am a junior at nyu tisch school of the arts and have taken a wide range of photo courses.

the most helpful part of a course is when i am able to use what i am learning. a personal project, one in which the project is up to the student can be extremely helpful in using what is learned in the classroom in the real world. it helps to solidy and make real the tech details. it also forces a student to take pictures, but allows them to do so on their own terms. i would not say that this would be the sole aspect of a course, but for an intro or beginning course, it would compliment the weekly (or whatever) assignments nicely. this is how my photo one and two courses worked.

on the other hand, when i was in a tech class, such as lighting design, i had only weekly assignments and did very little personal work. i found myself much less into the course and into what i was learning. while i learned a lot, i didn't use it. and that is frustrating. for me using the class to broaden projects i am doing is what i really love.

just a thought. -m

-- michael meyer (mnm207@nyu.edu), January 10, 2001.

first off,

Good luck Doug... we're all pullin' for ya.

I've taken a wide range of juco and secondary university photo classes from intro and studio to fashion, LF, Alt processes... tons more so, I'll tell you what I remember of my wants behind the mouldering beerfog of my uh, hehehee ... yeah.

Do conduct intensive one on one crits during lab hours (get a TA/hotshot student to troubleshoot a lab for the crit time, trade lecture time, whatever you have to do) for the intro kids so that you can become familiar with what kind of photos they want to take and to discern what level of skill each has attained. Hopefully you'll get a handful that need no tech help and you'll be inspired and begin giving divided (art/tech) crits to them immediately but the majority, I'm sure, will need to go (tech/art) first.

For the advanced class... do them a favor... don't try to cover everything between 35mm to LF in a semester for every student. Pace it for the individual student's wants and abilities. Nothing new there.

p.s. Jucos rule. Mine had good teachers from Brooks and RIT. The secondary university programs around here are worthless.

-- trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), January 10, 2001.

I know this is coming in a bit late, sorry ...Field trip. What's important in a photo class? I hope you have been thinking about this for a while, and did not just get hired on last week and trying to pull it all together. When I teach a photo one course, the first thing I try to do is de-mystify the camera. I will have a class of ladies saying, "my husband always took the pictures, or I am just not technical" Infuriating. (in our area the average student at the JUCO is 37 and female) So make things simple for the photo ones. Basic, film loading, focus, shutter speeds, aperture. the basic workings of the camera. The reason I am stressing this part is, when the students get to advanced, you will be surprised how many of them will not have this basic knowledge. Oh sure, there is always someone in the class that has tons of experience and is taking the class to work in the darkroom or for some other reason. They can sometimes have the worst habits. After the basics, then be very careful to teach proper film development. Then the basics of print making. You can finesse their work in advanced classes. Have local pro's come in and show their work or go to their studios. Lots of field trips. As much one on one as you can. Give them your home phone number, so when they are stuck they will call you. Praise their efforts, remember this is a foreign language to most of your photo ones. And when you have critique, don't let them say things like I did not have time to complete, because... blah blah blah. Make the images stand alone, no excuses and no blaming. If you do that at the get go, they seem to get more motiviated and work a bit harder. when I start critique, usually within the first month, I let the students know that the viewer does not care if the shooter had a bad day. the viewer only cares about what is being viewed. So I hold whats called a no excuses critique. Critique is for overall impact and design, composition and subject matter. All the other stuff is written on the back after critique and given to the students next class. (spotting, mounting, matting, etc.) Personal comments are left to the written word, the student then appreciates the time effort you as instructor are spending with their work. Encourage your students to take photographic risks. Let them know that its normal to imatate, then innovate, then inspire. Sometimes that takes years, other times only days. Do not under any circumstances show them your personal work. Otherwise you will have created Doug clones. If you must show them your work do so during the last class of the semester. Have them bring in all kinds of images instead. Talk about them all the time. Learn from the masters and the locals. Slide shows, books, magazines, videos. Use everything you can get your hands on. Photo One is a hoot to teach, I love it when the light comes on and they realize they can do it. Have fun with it most of all. If you need any teaching info you can e-mail me direct. I have been instructing photography in JUCO and University since 1984 and I keep thinking I will retire, but they keep coming up with classes for me to teach. Now I am teaching mostly advanced students, just got back from exploring the desert under the full moon. Fabulous trip. Oh I almost forgot, the advanced students will let you know what they need. Teach them well.

-- jacque staskon (jacque@cybertrails.com), January 11, 2001.

Best of Luck with the new courses Doug.

From all of the answers that you have contributed on this forum we can all see that you are more than qualified to teach photography courses. If I was to sit in on one of your classes I would be less worried about the particular area you were to focus on but rather I would be more interested in how you taught me. What I am trying to say is that whatever area you elect such as focusing clearly and attention to detail, or composition techniques, or perhaps exposure basics I would be more interested in how you explained this to me. Every one of your postings is telling me that you can easily relate to newcomers and can converse on their levels. This is an excellent quality in a teacher that you clearly have mastered. In summary I would suggest that the topic selections can be yours, but please teach me clearly and throughly at least one basic skill that I can continue to build upon when I have completed your class.

From previous experiences I know that you will enjoy teaching almost as much as photography itself.

-- GreyWolf (grey_wolf@telusplanet.net), January 11, 2001.

ya got me thinkin' Doug...

I tried to remember my favorite class from back when... why and how it affects me and my work now.

it was b&w 1...

My teacher forced us to use fiber and learn to mount them properly... and just that tiniest bit of nitpicky-ness over quality, dry to dry, seems to have lasted me. Our first lesson was to watch him do it from exposing to drying the print and not just ponder the end result on his office wall. He explained why he was rating his plus-x at 90 to why he wanted us to use a single weight fiber.

you may not have the equipment to do this for them and these days with good rc materials you won't need to necessarily... but like everyone above intimates... show them how to make one, just one fine print and they'll start asking questions like we do around here and the rest will be fun and easy.

-- trib (linhof6@hotmail.com), January 11, 2001.

Irrespective of how advanced the class is, send them out with a 35mm camera and atleast one roll of slide film. They need only set camera on auto and the lens to f8. On their return get the films processed (if the college has an in-house lab) and returned to them preferably the morning after. Next get them to mount 6 of their favourites from their roll for projection. Get them to talk about why they took that photo and what they would do to improve it and why. After this get them to shoot the following(again 35mm for now) 2x selective depth of field 2x extended DoF, 1x object on tele lens, 1x object, the same size on a wide angle, 2x panning, 2x high key, 2x lo- key 2x high contrast 2x composition. The above suggestion is an extract from thr camera techniques module I did in college. Other things to show them can be basic portraiture and B+W processing and printing.

-- David Kirk (david_j_kirk@hotmail.com), January 13, 2001.

you can only learn so much in the classroom. but i found that looking at bookstores and seeing photographer monographs were very helpful. this is not the case of all teachers, but if they're teaching full-time, 90% of the time its because they aren't good enough to be full time photographers. so why would you want to listen to everything they say? unless you want to become a teacher like them, go for it. if not, then go out and just shoot. you'll learn more that way.

-- cmc (chinster@hotmail.com), November 07, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ