I’m so excited about the surprise I have to share with you all today! My dear friend Hillary Sloss has been on quite the photography adventure this year. Having been a photojournalist for years and a photographer in her personal life, Hillary took the plunge (she’s also a competitive swimmer!) into teaching photography to high school students. Yes, you read that correctly — high school students! Hillary has been teaching at the San Francisco Waldorf High School this year, offering Color Digital Photography and Black & White Film Photography to high school juniors and seniors. The group of 8-12 students meets for 90 minutes twice per week for 8 weeks. Hillary built the class that includes one photo walk and one processing/printing session each week. I have been so keen to hear how this experience has been for both Hillary and her students that I invited them to teach us a thing or two about their experiences and journey into photography. So today, I bring you lessons from the Waldorf School.
First from Hillary:
I just finished my first year of teaching photography to high school students. Oof! It wasn’t the students who were difficult; they were, for the most part, delightful, eager, engaged. The challenge was trying to harness my knowledge of photography since I first learned when I was their age — almost 40 years ago — and finding a way to communicate it clearly and simply. Just because I can make beautiful photographs does not mean I can teach others to do the same.
My questions became:
How to help develop their …
– sensitivity to light?
– ability to translate the 3D world into a flattened 2D world of lines, shapes and textures?
– awareness of every single thing in the frame, to include only what they wanted and none of what they didn’t want?
And how could I simplify the technical aspects of shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure?
And most importantly, how can I do all of that AND see each student and offer what she/he truly needs?
I blundered my way through this first year and endured many long nights of preparation. But it was well worth it when a student’s eyes lit up the moment he understood a control on his camera or when she arrived at the classroom and smiled, spying her photos printed and hanging on the wall. My photography career has shifted many times and I can solidly state that I still love it after all these years. Now, I have an opportunity to share my love of photography with young people, and my desire is to learn how to teach, beautifully.
I then asked Hillary to talk with her students and ask each of them to share one of their favorite photos with us, as well as some thoughts on the photo they chose and their overall experience. So without further ado, Hillary’s students, their work and wisdom…
From Charlotte, 17 years old:
When I took this photograph, I didn’t expect it to be very interesting. We were taking photographs of nature, so I was mainly focusing on trees and flowers. Then I noticed that this branch had little hairs on it. Because we were studying depth of field, I decided to see if I could focus with a small enough depth of field to capture the little hairs. Then when I was going through my photos for post-processing, I was surprised to find that this was my favorite photograph I had taken.
My favorite part of photography is being able to capture a moment that will never happen again. I think that this differentiates photography from all other art forms: photographs picture reality literally, but each one can be interpreted or appreciated differently for each individual. I particularly liked this class because in the age of quick camera-phone pictures, I felt able to take time to properly expose and record each moment as a piece of art.
From Jacqueline, 17 years old:
When I took this picture, I had already done a few reflection photos but this one was such a different reflection. I loved that there was a natural fisheye and I had a lot of fun with it. In most photos, we see what the photographer sees … But them with their camera, we can only imagine, which is also an interesting piece of photography. The photo is exposing but I didn’t want that so instead, in post-processing, I played with the shadows, first making the photo black and white, then adding a subtle light leak.
This class was definitely my favorite art class this year. Even though drawing is what I’m associated with, I tried something different that I had a distant admiration for and I am really happy with the class. Seeing everyone’s work posted on the walls, all of those pieces together, created the best picture of the class.
From Lindsey, 17 years old:
The train ran by right as I shot this photograph and I love the way it frames my upper body. I think the way my skirt is held up to the side as I look at my reflection in the door really speaks to the balance of girly-ness and frill within the straight lines and bars of urban life.
This photography class taught me that a photograph is something you make, not something you take.
From Heide, 17 years old (@mightyheidee on Instagram):
Taking this photograph, I chose to take it at a slant to make it more interesting. I love how there are three main structures of lines that complete the photo, all three very different in color, texture and feeling.
This class has really taught me to see. I look into the world now and see not only subjects and structures but light, angle, mood, motion and colors. Capturing a certain moment in time and analyzing it, to the point of sometimes over-processing, gives me such liberation. I love photography and I hope to continue taking snapshots of my life every day.
From Maya, 17 years old:
In this photography class, I learned how to create double exposures which was something I was able to use for my school project on a Hamlet quote “Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” By layering two of my photos on top of each other, I was able to create a feeling of looking at the world through a veil of thought; a theme expressed in this quote.
I have learned a lot from this photography class. I have learned how to look at the world in a new way, noticing new lines and looking from different angles. I have also learned to appreciate light in a new way. Light is what we are capturing when we take photographs, and it can be so challenging and fun to try to get it just right. What I have learned in this class is something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
From Julian, 16 years old:
In this photo I was experimenting with post-processing. I played around with color vibrance, saturation and hue and it ended up bringing out the imperfections of the concrete in the picture in a very interesting way. It was an interesting surprise to see the final product after post-processing.
It is interesting for me to reflect on how I took photos before this class and after this class. Before I would take as many random pictures as I could and completely disregard any matters of composition. After the first photo walk I had taken 150+ photos. Now I put more thought into each photo to look at the lines and subject before I take the photo. After the last photo walk I had taken 23 photos.
From Annie, 17 years old:
I took this photograph on, I think, the third try. After we were finished, we post-processed our photos. I added some contrast and upped the amount of blue and green seen in the photo. I toyed between adding stars or flames. In the end the flames were the only choice. The idea grabbed me more than the stars. In a way it represents life. How easy it is to fall and burn and how hard it is to stay where you are.
I enjoy watching the natural world. It makes so much sense to me. Occasionally I have the thought that I wish I could show it to someone. I also like to look at photos of the world, to see places I cannot see myself. Photographs show me places and things and maybe one day, because of the photographs, I will be able to see them for myself.
From Nora, 17 years old:
After this photography class, I found myself walking around and noticing things I wouldn’t normally see. It’s almost like I was looking for something to photograph even though I didn’t have my camera. Photography made me more aware of my surroundings.
From Ida, 17 years old:
I like this photo because the diptych effect can make a photo more visually interesting. I put the two together because the flowers in the first photo match the ones in the second. I also liked the bee suspended in the air. Overall I just thought the photos would complement one another.
I really enjoyed the class. It opened my eyes and taught me that a photo doesn’t have to be a “point and click.” You take time in capturing what you really want to show. My favorite thing was going on the photo walks since your perspective changes when you’re actually looking for something to photograph.
From Liana, 17 years old:
This picture was a fun surprise! This wasn’t how I meant the picture to turn out but I love it! I love how you can see the blurry strap and the clear beautiful background. Even my leg was in the shot, I was supposed to be doing a cartwheel but the camera took the picture as I finished the cartwheel.
Post-processing was a challenge for me at first, but over the course of this class, I got better and now feel more confident in my abilities using the computer and post-processing. I love the thought of capturing a moment. The camera allows us to do this. We may look back at old memories and become flooded with emotion. I find this incredible!
From Marcelle, 17 years old:
I like that this picture included my hands, which I love. My henna and blue nails really set off the picture. The challenge with this photo was not to include my face, so I set the area behind my hands in the shadow. This picture is a very ME picture.
I prefer to photograph nature and animals as opposed to people and urban environments. Capturing the beauty of the natural world is very important to me, because it is a beauty that must be protected and shared.
From Che, 17 years old:
I really like this picture because it’s not something you see every day and the fact that the shipping container is vertical makes the viewer wonder how I took this picture. I also adjusted the light and cropping around the picture to make the white outline of my shoes stand out more. I really liked this assignment because it made you be creative about how you took the pictures because you could only take your feet and nothing else.
In this class I learned a lot about all of the different elements that go into making a picture and one of the most important elements of taking a picture is the moment. One must find the perfect balance of creative thinking and knowledge to take an amazing picture, and I feel like I accomplished that.
WOW! I am SO impressed by the work these students created and the impact that this photography course has had on them. I feel like I have learned so much from seeing photography and the world afresh from these high school students’ perspectives.
Meghan of Life Refocused