Teaching photography and workshops.

ApSciPhoto

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To eliminate questions or irrelevant answers, a quick intro before my questions:

-I have a BFA in photography from a good, well known university.
-I have a strong handle on photographic techniques, foundations of art, and the history of both.
-I currently teach black and white darkroom and advance photography at a prestigious art high school.
-I am a semiprofessional portrait and wedding photographer.
-I produce photographic artwork, both on film and digitally.

I also apologize for being long winded, but I feel like I never get my point across when asking for advice online, so I'll kind of ramble until I get it all out of my system.
__________________________________________________

At the beginning of the summer, I was asked to teach photography workshops at a local art center. I have done two classes so far: Outdoor Photography and Basic Photography. While I've had positive feedback from those that have taken the classes on what they've learned, I've only had average evaluations on the quality of class time. Gotta spice things up!! I have two classes starting up this week - Basic Darkroom and Basic Portrait. These classes will be 2 hours a week (one class a week), for four weeks.

I've never taken a workshop before and never really had formal education training, so I definitely have that major disadvantage. But I'm mostly fun, and know my stuff. I just don't know how to keep the classes fun. The classes are generally of men and women 30 and up (sometimes a challenge since it seems like they aren't really able to accept learning from a 25 year old that looks like a 15 year old until the last class when they realize, oh yeah, they've learned a lot).

When I was in school, class time was all lecture, and then we had tons of homework, then critiquing. Turns out lecturing is the worst way to go with these workshops.

Is it okay to give weekly assignments for short workshops? What can I do during class to keep things exciting so they don't feel like they're wasting their money? I can lecture and lecture and lecture for hours and these things - more so concerning the portrait class - but no one looks forward to that!

I know during the darkroom class the work is sort of done for me. They'll shoot, I'll demo how to process and print, then let them at it while I help hone the skills. I don't know why I can't figure out how to do that for the portrait class? I was thinking on bringing in lights, asking a few friends to be models, and after a short lesson, let them have at it. Would that be worth it? How can I do things like this for FOUR weeks?

And to go back to the Basic Photo class I just finished. This really turned into all lecture. Everyone was shooting digitally and were either unwilling or unable to take their cameras off of "auto." It was at night and I really didn't figure out any fun, age-appropriate exercises that could be done during class to make it worth while. I gave them small assignments to do outside of class to show and talk about the next time, but I was the only one that did them.

Have you ever taken a workshop? What did you like about it? What has stuck with you? What have you hated about it? How would you teach one?
 

pgriz

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I’ve taken and also assisted in a number of workshops and classes such as yours. Here are a few observations.

The range of experience in these classes tends to be rather wide. Self-assessment, in terms of people knowing where they need help, is usually wildly inaccurate, since it takes at least some knowledge and experience to know what you do know, and what you still have to learn. I’ve seen people take the “Advanced Digital” class who have no clue what an aperture is, or what ISO does. So… you have to start with basics.

There is not much point in talking theory. Hand out the relevant theory as reading material. Those who care, will put the effort in. Those who don’t, won’t. And you’ll know pretty quickly who is willing to invest the time.

One instructor (who has been doing this for years, and has all his classes oversubscribed) has organized his class into the following themes: 1) Understanding exposure, 2) Aperture and DOF, 3) Shutter speed and motion, 4) Metering modes, 5) Focal lengths, 6) Post-processing, 7) Flash photography. His pre-conditions were that people bring their instruction manuals for the cameras with them, shoot in RAW, shoot on a tripod, and bring their finished assignments on the memory card direct from the camera.

The class would start with a review of the assignments of the last class, then proceed to a short overview of the theory of the day’s class (with a handout of the more detailed readings to be done after class), a discussion of some sample photos illustrating the principles involved, and then some hands-on practice in class so that the instructor can see that the students understand what’s to be done. Now, this last step is really important. Most students will nod wisely when the instructor asks them if they understand how to do something. It is another matter entirely for them to have to actually demonstrate on the spot.

For instance, let’s say this was the first class (understanding exposure), and the instructor gave the class the assignment to shoot a scene at their lowest ISO, and then do the same at the highest ISO, both in manual mode. This exercise requires the student to know how to set the ISO, how to set the exposure program (manual), and how to determine when a scene is “properly” exposed (using the in-camera meter and the exposure scale). The more experienced students can usually do this pretty quickly. The less experienced ones start to panic at this stage. Some hands-on demonstration by the instructor usually allows each newbie to see which buttons need to be pressed to get the desired result. Then the two exposures from two or three students get projected on the class projector, and a discussion of noise proceeds from here.
The next step in the same class would have everyone set their ISO at the base value for their camera (100 for Canon, 200 for Nikon – I think…), and each person would be asked to photograph a scene at “proper” exposure, and then up to five stops down and five stops up. One of these would then be projected on the screen and a discussion would ensue about how each stop of additional exposure (either by varying aperture, or by varying shutter speed), changes the appearance of the photo. From this exercise, the students also usually get a clear idea of the dynamic range of their cameras.

As you can see, it is the coupling of the theory to actual hand-on practice that gives the most learning value to the student. At times it is very uncomfortable for them, but I can guarantee that the learning (for those who want to learn) proceeds rapidly.

In the assignment part, the instructor would require the students to shoot samples of their choosing applying theory that they learned in class and tried during the hand-on portion. Then for each student, he would put their memory cards into the reader, and quickly scan the photos that were taken. From this set, he’d ask the student to show the photo that best implemented the assigned lesson, and he’d have the rest of the class critique it. At the end, he’d add his comments, but usually the other students will have covered most of the ground. This approach had the benefit of having the student receive critique from other students, and for those students to critically look at each other’s work.

The instructor that I had always made a point of finding something positive to say about each student’s work. It wasn’t always possible to praise the student’s “best” photo, but during the scan he would note perhaps another image that could be praised.

Anyways, I hope this rather long exposition helps you figure out how to best involve your students.
 
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A

ApSciPhoto

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Thank you so much for this! I've been finding it really difficult to get the answers I'm looking for on here.

I think my problem is that we hardly do any hands-on DURING class. When I tried this during the outdoor photography class...everyone just kind of wandered around talking instead of shooting. I should make a stronger point that work will be shown.

And I totally agree on the range of experience. I think this is where I get the most hung up - but I should start with all the basics, whether or not they think or do know them. And having an approach such as theory -> examples -> practice -> assignment -> assessment is exactly what I need to do.

Thank you so much! I feel much more confident already.
 

pgriz

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Glad to help. A couple of other thoughts that may take the burden off your shoulders - incorporate the buddy system, and a feedback system.

The buddy system allows you to pair up a very green student with a more experienced student, hopefully using similar equipment. You'll be able to tell after the first class who seems to know their stuff and who is floundering. If you're pressed for time, get the more "junior" student to do the in-class practice, with the "senior" student assisting. If the pair is truly stuck, then you give the necessary "key" for them to proceed. Otherwise, let each pair work out the practice assignment and present the class with the results. This has the benefit of creating "ownership" of the results.

The other point is that you need to keep tabs on what people are getting out of the sessions. With each assignment, a feedback form should be given out to each participant asking them to rate the amount and difficulty of information presented, their assessment of whether they understood the objectives and the assignments, and their feedback on what additional aspects they need help with. The benefit of this approach is that it forces the issues to the surface, and generally allows you, the instructor, to see if your approach is too hard, or too easy, or just about right.

Another thought - the instructor I have worked with always took the time at the first session to have each student introduce themselves, describe their experience, and their objectives in taking the class or workshop. He would take notes, and at the final class would review what progress the people thought they made.

I'd be curious how your classes/workshops are going and what you find works, and what doesn't.
 

Derrel

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One of the trickiest things I've seen is the lack of actual "sample" or "C&C" images made by students until darkroom or beginner's classes are fairly well along...many students will have no actual work that they have produced until they learn how to do all the steps (developing film, contact printing, making an enlargement,matting or dry mounting the prints). I think it's nice to have visual aids--either enlargements, projected slides, handout photos, a book, or on-screen computer displayed images for people to look at during class time, to understand how things actually come together, or not, when the camera is being used in the studio or in the field.

"A picture is worth a thousand words." Some people feel the value of a picture is as high as ten thousand words.

The sooner a student can see a setup, a camera handling and exposure technique, and then an actual,finished image,the better.
 

pbelarge

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Are you permitted to use the facility for PPT. If you have access to a computer/laptop and projector, I am sure you can add to the class tremendously.
 

skieur

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I taught an extensive summer course in photography, 3 hours a day for 6 weeks. I broke it into the basic technical aspects: aperture, shutterspeed, ISO, lenses, focal length, flash etc. The next part was composition and the artistic elements and the third was looking at photos and critiquing them.

There was a lot of in class practical work shooting portraits of each other, macro work, textures, colour themes, building shots, flowers for example as well as looking at bad, mediocre and good photography. I even assigned them to bring in examples of bad technique and explain why it was poor and choose photos to critique that I brought in to the class. I also had the students critique each others work using a projector.

The theory part was not straight lecture by the way but rather questions from me to the students that lead to interaction, reasoning, learning and drawing conclusions. This is the part that requires an understanding of teaching and workshop methodology although a few instructors have a natural talent for it.

skieur
 

c.cloudwalker

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I started teaching the same way that pgriz did, as an assistant teacher in a workshop. Then I became one of the teachers. This was in a fairly well known workshop in the DC area where things were pretty laid back. We did have some fun but it wasn't like we were cracking jokes the whole time. How much they learn is more important than how much fun they have.

That said, being laid back and getting away from the lecture format is a good idea but it somewhat depends on the experience of your students and the workshop itself. The most recent workshops I've taught have been mostly with pros and you, of course, don't teach those quite the same as you would with amateurs. Btw, I've had people twice my age and others half my age in workshops and never felt it made any difference. I had no teaching experience when I started while you do so, it should help you.

The main problem I see with your workshop is how short they are, especially the darkroom one. So here are some thoughts:

Darkroom: On the first day, give them a tour of the darkroom explaining every step of the process as you go. If time permits, you could do a demo of a contact print and/or a test print. Then go back to the "classroom" and do some lecturing with visual aids such as the differences between papers, the differences between contrasts and what makes a good print and why. Finish with a shooting assignment to be developed at the next session.

The next session, you develop the films after showing them how to load the film, how to check the temp of the chemicals, how to decide the length of the development, etc. If everyone cannot process a film at the same time, make sure you have something to talk about with the group that is not in the darkroom. Your own work is a great resource here.

The next step is to make a contact print, check those out and decide what is going to get printed and how.

Next step again is to make a print followed by a discussion of the prints. C&C of the darkroom technique. And that should do it for 4 weeks.

Basic portrait will depend a bit on what time of day the class is. As in, are you going to do natural light or studio light? Either way, start with the simplest of gear. Outdoors for example you can start with no strobe, no reflector, no diffuser. Then move on to 1 reflector followed by 1 reflector and one strobe, etc, etc. Each week they have an assignment that will get C&Ced the next week.

Hope that helps.
 

gsgary

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When i was at college years ago we spent the who lesson talking about one photo didn't get bored once this is it Google Image Result for http://lwgms.davethegrinch.net/photographers/winogrand/artwork_images_396_427307_garry-winogrand.jpg

Can you set up a small studio where you can teach lighting ? get them all to bring in a favourite photo and try and recreate the same lighting we use arri continuos, then the same with flash learning to read flash meters and lighting ratio's, we were asked to bring in our favourite shot of a film star
 

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