Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Photography Mini-Lesson: What is Your Subject?

Turning kids loose with a camera is always a fun adventure. You never know what you’re going to get pictures of—maybe a picture of a person with their head accidentally cut off or a picture of the floor when they didn’t know they were taking a picture, etc. With this mini photo lesson you can help your students slow down and think through what the subjects of their pictures are.

What you’ll need:
  • At least 1 camera your class can share. (Any simple point-and-shoot camera or smart phone will work.) Ideally, it'd be great to have 2 or 3 cameras so that you can split your class into teams, each with a camera to use.
  • A printout of the different examples used in this lesson. (Just click here to download.)


This lesson is broken into five sections––an introduction, three principles, and a conclusion. Each principle is broken into two parts: Group Time is a group lesson when the whole class will learn and discuss together. Team Time is when each photo team (camera in hand) will practice the principle they just learned.

Group Time
After you take a picture, you want to show people what you’ve done, right? You can show your parents, your friends, or your teacher. Well the people that you show your pictures to are your audience. When you want to take a good picture, it’s important that you always keep your audience in mind. You want to think about how they will see your picture and what your picture will communicate to them. Today we’re going to learn three important principles to help you do this.

Principle 1: What are you trying to show your audience?

Group Time
When you’re going to take a picture, the first thing you need to do is decide what you’re going to take a picture of. For example, let’s say I’m going to take a picture of my dog, Ralph. That makes Ralph the “subject” of my picture. So I take my camera, point it at Ralph, and snap the picture. I’m done right? Let’s look at the picture I took. 

You are my audience. Looking at this picture, can you tell that I was trying to take a picture of Ralph? (Have the students share about what they think the picture is really about.)

Ok, so it’s not too clear that Ralph was supposed to be the subject of my picture. This is why our first principle is so important. We need to make sure that our audience can tell what our subject is supposed to be. I clearly didn’t do that with my picture of Ralph. So what are some ways I could’ve done better at showing that Ralph was the subject of my picture? (Have the kids list their ideas. Possible examples: Zoom in closer to Ralph, wait until the girls walk by, or lay down on the grass so that you’re eye level with Ralph.)

Team Time

Now have your class break into teams and practice taking pictures that have a clear subject. Have each member of the team take at least one picture.

Principle 2: Check the background
Group Time
The second principle we’re going to talk about is double-checking your background. Now the “background” is everything behind your subject. You want to always check the background to make sure that there isn’t something distracting in your picture. Let’s look at this example. What’s wrong with this picture? (Have the students share what is wrong.)

Right! He has a plant coming out of his head. If the photographer had been paying attention to the background they would’ve spotted this problem. What could the photographer have done to fix this problem? (Have your students share ideas about how to fix the plant-head problem. Possible examples: Move closer to the subject when taking the picture, move to the right or left when taking the picture, or have the subject move so they don't have anything distracting behind them.)

So you see it’s not only important to clearly show what your subject is, but it’s also important that the background isn’t distracting your audience.

Team Time
Now have your class break into teams and practice taking pictures that (1) have clear subjects, and (2) don’t have distracting backgrounds.

Principle 3: Show your subject from different perspectives
Group Time
So far we’ve learned two important principles to help you (the photographer) communicate your subject to your audience. There is one last principle that we’re going to discuss, and that is making your picture interesting. We don’t want to take plain, boring pictures, right? We want to take cool pictures that are interesting to look at! This principle will help you do that. We make pictures interesting by taking them from different perspectives. This means that you show the subject in a variety of different ways. Example: Take some pictures from close up and far away, some from high up and some from low down. Let’s look at this example:

(Have the students list the different perspectives shown in the example. Talk about where the photographer had to be to take the picture.) So you see, you can have fun and be creative with all the different perspectives you take a picture from. Here is a good rule of thumb to make sure you get several different angles: Always take one picture close up, one from a medium distance, and one from farther away. (Show example)

Team Time
Now have your class break into teams and practice taking pictures that (1) have clear subjects, (2) don’t have distracting backgrounds, and (3) are from the three following perspectives: close up, medium distance, and far away.


Group Time
For the conclusion, have a show-and-tell time. Each team can show the class the pictures they took during team time (especially the one after Principle 3). Have them explain how their pictures show the three different principles. You can do your show-and-tell two different ways: If you would like to have the conclusion on the same day as the lesson, just have each team hold up their cameras and show the pictures on the camera's display. Or, if you don't mind waiting a little to have your conclusion time, you can download the pictures and show them using PowerPoint or your computer's image-viewing software.

I hope this lesson can encourage your students to not only think about their subjects but also enjoy being creative with perspectives and angles. Have fun with your budding photographers!



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