Back to School

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Under basket picture of practice basketball net at SHS. 2014.
Under basket picture of practice basketball net at SHS. 2014.

The end of summer this year has brought my family into the school year in a few new ways. Both of my children are now in high school. My wife is attending classes at Bridgewater College working on her accounting degree.  As much as they all say they’re happy about going to school and are learning new things I truly believe I had the best back to school experience this year.

Let me explain.

I was fortunate to work with the Spotswood High School yearbook staff this week.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday I was in their first period class.  The goal of the “workshop” was to get the staff familiar with their gear and more comfortable with their control of light. We were able to discuss where they loved to shoot and where they hated shooting.  Not surprisingly they unanimously stated the gym was the worst place to take pictures.

“There’s no light.”

“It always comes out yellow.”

When asked if they knew why these issues plagued their efforts their answer was again a unanimous “No.”

And that was how my Monday began.

So off we went into the world of Aperture, Depth of Field, Shutter Speed, White Balance, Manual Shooting, Selective Focus, Composition, Perspective, Focal Length…WOW. We discussed photography. I did my best to explain, and when that wasn’t enough, we also had handouts or used the chalk board. Watching the students, as they were taking this information into their minds, was very rewarding. There were moments were I could almost hear the “click” as the answer was locked into place for a problem they had been encountering. There were also moments were I could almost see the dent in the wall as the information soared over someones head and smashed into pieces. I loved the head nods of agreement when they realized that their issues are the same issues all photographers face every time they open the shutter. In 90 minutes we had covered a lot of information. So much that I wasn’t sure what I even remembered after the class.

We were able take a hands on approach during the Wednesday class.  Our first destination was the dreaded gym.  The students paired up. The senior students took the younger students around the gym to show them the variety of places they could shoot.  They seemed to cover every nook and cranny the facility had to offer.  Just shy of scaling the bleachers they were able to shoot the same subjects from different perspectives.  Lots of questions and also a lot of smiles.  After some time in the gym we ventured outside to take in the blue skies and sunshine. I heard the expected cries from the results of their first shots in the sunshine.  The settings on the cameras hadn’t been changed and their pictures were all too bright.  After making the appropriate adjustments they were off and running. There were photographs of people, buildings, flowers, trees, etc… They were having fun. We went back indoors.  Chatted about what we had learned and I set the assignment for the last day on Friday. Bring in your favorite photograph. (Thank you Steve Kozak for this exercise.)


Friday arrives and we review the technical information on photography.  We touched on flash usage but drifted more to their questions and terms that were still not understood.  Then came the exercise.  They all downloaded their favorite image so we could project it on the screen  They then took five minutes and free-wrote about their image.  Why they liked it. What the image means to them. No technical data or setting information. Just the emotion and the meaning of the picture.  I have done this exercise in a room full adult photographers and now i’ve done it in a room of young adults. The effect was the same.  There were one or two technical/artsy pictures. There were images of nature and family as well. The stories behind the images ranged from “I thought it was cool, so I took a picture of it.” to  “Something pulled me outside to see this wonderful sunrise.”  There were tears and a few tissues were soaked. I thought it was a good way to finish the class with these students.

I don’t have any pictures.  I know…it was a photography workshop.  There are privacy rules in place in schools that I choose not to explore. Maybe i’ll see one or two in this years yearbook.  I had an incredible time with these kids and their teacher. Thanks Mom, aka Sharlene Schoenhardt.  I appreciate the opportunity to work with your students and look forward to seeing them at athletic events and other school functions.  Hopefully shooting with some more confidence than before.


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