Classroom Photography - Opinions?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by NeonHotdog, Mar 29, 2008.

  1. NeonHotdog

    NeonHotdog TPF Noob!

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    Hello, all.

    I'm new here and, in fact, I'm not even really a photographer. I work in the Marketing Department at a small college and I've been tasked with coordinating a series of photo shoots on our campus for various purposes (our website, student handbook, course guide, and various brochures and promotional pieces). I have some professional photographers booked for this.

    I have very little experience with photography and photographers, so I'm sort of stumbling my way through this process. Some of my colleagues who've coordinated other photo shoots before have given me advice and explained the issues that they've run into in trying to get the specific types of photos that we need for our purposes.

    Our biggest need--perpetually--is good photos of professors and students interacting in the classroom. We do this by obtaining permission to sit on on actual classes and take photos. This is tricky for a number of reasons:

    1. we're disrupting a class, so the professors get upset (even when they give us permission to be there)
    2. the students don't have much say in whether they classes they are in are being photographed (the professor gives us permission) and some are very uncomfortable with it
    3. the classrooms are very small and it's hard to get good angles of professors WITH the students--we either get shots of the professor or shots of the students, rarely both and even more rarely both looking engaged with one another.
    4. the classrooms are, frankly, ugly. Bare white walls, very few windows. The professors usually have a blackboard or something in the background in the shots, but students usually have just bare white walls. The lighting is also usually terrible.

    Usually, we end up with 85% of these photos being unusable garbage, another 10% being decent but not ideal, and the final 5% being great and exactly what we need.

    So, coming in with a fresh perspective, I had an idea: instead of shooting real classes, get 6-8 volunteer students and 2-3 professors and bring them together in an empty classroom or other space and let the photographer have as much freedom as he needs to direct these subjects and light the scene. It's basically a staged shoot. This allows us to:

    1. not disrupt an actual classroom
    2. make sure everyone being photographed has VOLUNTEERED to be there and is comfortable with the situation. I can also try to ensure we have a good gender and ethnic balance of students, rather than whoever happens to be in the class (if it's 15 girls and no boys, that's not ideal).
    3. set up the shots anyway we want to get EXACTLY what we need, rather than hoping that at some point, several people are lined up JUST RIGHT from the photographer's angle (and in a real class, he has limited movement ability because there are 15-20 kids in the class and the professor is trying to lecture)
    4. We will have the ability to choose only the best and most photogenic classrooms on campus to shoot in. We can also potentially re-arrange the classrooms to suit our needs (i.e., move the desks so that there is a window or blackboard in the background behind the students). This would also allow the photographer to light the room anyway that is necessary to get good photos.

    This idea was shot down by the powers-that-be. I was told it will look totally staged, will not come off as genuine, and that "good photography is fleeting" and must unfold naturally.

    I'm going to discuss this with my photographers when I have a chance to meet with them, but I was hoping for some advice from you guys. As photographers by calling, I was hoping to get some insight from you: am I totally wrong? I'm told my several colleagues who've done more work with photography than me that I am, in fact, wrong, so it's likely that I am. But I can't help but think that if we continually spend tens of thousands of dollars per year on photography and get only a handful of photos each year that we can use and end up discarding hundreds more, maybe this is something worth trying.

    Am I totally wrong to think that an experienced, talented, skilled professional photographer can stage a classroom shoot and make the photos look natural and authentic?

    Any insight is much appreciated. Thanks!
     
  2. Stranger

    Stranger TPF Noob!

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    I feel you could easily make the photos look real and authentic.

    I think the real problem is the fact that they are not. We could all go out and buy fake clothing or accessories, but most don't. Although it looks real, feels real, and most will think it is real, the fact that it is fake makes people do otherwise.
     
  3. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    This depends upon how you define 'good photography' and the definition is dictated by the purpose of the images.
    In this case the purpose is to advertise and sell a product - the College. So in this instance 'good photography' means pictures that do just that. Whether the situations are created in a studio, or taken as 'candids' in situ does not matter so long as they do the job. And this last is down to the photographer.
    From experience I know that going into a classroom on spec to take some pictures just does not work because the students will play up or get nervous or embarrassed. It is much better to set something up.

    I would tell the 'powers-that-be' that if they know so much about Photography then they should do it and save the College money, but only on the proviso that they get a photographer in to tell them how to run their College.
    Professionals in their field are exactly that. They do it for a living and are the best judge of what will or won't work in a given situation. If they are going to employ a photographer to take pictures then they should discuss it with him and take his advice.
    One College I taught at, rather than coming to the Art Department and getting me and my team to do the job, asked a part-time Chemistry technician to design the College prospectus. The results were so diabolical even the Principal noticed and asked me why it hadn't worked.
    I told him straight that it was because he thought he knew best and had got an amateur to do a job that should have been done by a professional.
    Defending himself to the last he replied 'it's not a bad attempt for someone who has had no artistic training, though'.
    I said 'that explains why it's crap but it doesn't excuse it. Now work out how much time and money you have wasted on this and think about that the next time you have a bright idea.' :lmao:
     
  4. droyz2000

    droyz2000 TPF Noob!

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    You are 100% right to think that a professional photographer can make something stage look natural. That is they way the college I attended did all of their marketing photos. Then the people in the pictures cannot be annoyed because they volunteered.
     
  5. skieur

    skieur TPF Noob!

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    I have done a tremendous amount of shooting in classrooms from kindergarten through to university and it should not be a problem. A 70mm to 200mm 2.8 permits shooting in available light, as does a wide angle zoom also at 2.8. The telephoto allows me to blur out the background and the wideangle creates great depth of field. I have never disturbed classes in the process either but of course I have not used flash.

    skieur
     
  6. Socrates

    Socrates TPF Noob!

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    Well put.

    On the flip side, can you address the issues that were brought up regarding "real" photos? (I can't.)
     

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