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Lesson Plans

Arguments for teaching HS photography digitally

From: Chris Baer (cbaer)
Date: Fri Apr 21 2000 - 08:27:26 PDT

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    Hi everyone-

    We'd really like to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and criticism on the
    move to "go digital" in our high school photography program. It's a tough
    choice for us, but we feel we're making the right move. But we'd love your

    We are planning to knock down our darkroom walls in the not-so-distant
    future (2-5 years?), and keeping only only one or two enlargers. It is
    doubtful we will ever go 100% digital, but we are interested in switching
    from a 90% chemical emphasis to a 90% digital emphasis in our high school
    photography program.

    Here are our reasons for going digital:

    1) The consumer market is moving in this direction. Just as camcorders took
    over the Super-8 movie cameras twenty years ago, so are digital cameras
    taking over the 35mm market. Professional movie-makers still use film, but
    the rest of us now teach and learn the basics just fine on a camcorder. The
    same will hold true of digital cameras in the near future. We will need to
    adapt to anticipate what skills students will need in the future.

    2) Digital cameras allow students to shoot a series of images, evaluate the
    results, and then reshoot all in one short class period. The feedback loop
    is much shorter than with conventional methods (especially for my
    pre-darkroom intro photo students, who must wait two weeks for their film
    to be processed.) A faster feedback loop means faster learning. Instead of
    giving only 3-6 photo assignments to a one-semester photo class, we could
    easily assign 15 or more projects.

    3) "Film" is free, and students can take as many photos as they need to.
    There are no consumable costs until the student chooses to print. Right now
    we have to charge $100 per student to take our darkroom photography class,
    in order to cover the cost of all of the consumables (film, chemistry,
    paper, etc.) This fee could be slashed by $80 or more by going digital,
    allowing students of lesser means to take the course.

    4) Retouching, improving contrast, and generally improving an image is
    faster, easier, and more flexible using a computer. As we all know, we can
    do things with an image on the computer that simply cannot be done in the

    5) We hate pouring darkroom chemicals down the drain.

    Can you think of any more good reasons?

    There are also some arguments against going digital:

    1. Unlike 35mm cameras, which most families own, only a handful of students
    own a digital camera (yet - this is rapidly changing.) This currently means
    that we would have to provide them and allow students to take them out
    overnight (or longer.)
        However, we can use this to the benefit to the program. Since many
    poorer students cannot take darkroom photography because they don't own an
    SLR (a current prerequisite), we will be levelling the playing field for
    the financially disadvantaged.

    2. Digital equipment is very expensive - a digital camera comparable in
    quality and controls to a $250 SLR currently costs $600-$1000.
    (Fortunately, we already have easy access to a computer lab with Photoshop
    4 installed.) Prices are coming down rapidly, of course, and I am pursuing
    grants to fund this project.

    3. The quality of digital prints is (arguably) poorer than chemical prints
    from 35mm film.
    We are currently using a Nikon Coolpix 950 and an Epson Photo EX printer,
    both of which I am very pleased with. In my opinion, the results are
    comparable to (and sometimes superior to) traditional prints using 35mm
    film. Using a photo printer with photo paper, you have to look VERY closely
    to tell that it's not a 35mm print. The quality of the print under a loupe
    isn't really that important for us at the high school level, anyway. When
    teaching a 15-year-old how to see light, how to use light, how to compose a
    frame, how to tell a story with an image, how to communicate visually, how
    to work with the elements and principles of design, etc., I find that the
    digital camera is a better teaching tool than a 35mm camera because of its
    speed - the learning feedback loop is much shorter.

    What do think about all this?

    Thanks for your advice -

    Chris Baer
    Art, Design, & Technology Dept.
    Martha's Vineyard Regional High School


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