Introduction to Photography: Assignments

Class assignments are listed below, numbered by the week in which they are given. This is a provisional list, subject to change based on the needs of your particular class. They are offered with this caveat: Each assignment is based on the information discussed in class, and so the description below will only be fully understood if you have followed that discussion. Come to class. Pay attention.
Introduction and Preparation
This is a mechanical shakedown. Get the camera that you are going to use and bring it to class if you have it. Expose a roll of film, on a subject of your choosing. Use care in assessing your exposures, record your light readings and exposure settings. Then, process your film and bring it to class.

Also, please bring some examples of black and white work that you admire or wish you had done.

Subject: Your choice here.

Mechanics: Everything from camera settings to darkroom procedure. This is your first opportunity to "close the loop." We are not demanding perfection here, just an effort to complete it by next Monday.

Goal: Get your feet wet and be ready to work in week 2.

Resources: A 35mm or medium format camera with manual controls; Film for that camera-- ~ISO 100-400.
#1    1/17
Due  1/24
Lens Control #1:
Working with the tools that you have available--choice of lens, aperture, and most importantly, your choice of subject, position, and viewpoint-- create an image that is effective in accentuating the feeling of space or volume within the two dimensions of the picture surface. You will be using the same part of your brain as you did when you were using charcoal and paper, so work carefully and be selective about what you photograph. Unlike your drawing work, you will not be able to fudge details to adjust your composition. Crop them, include them, or make them work as part of the composition.

Shoot and process film for printing in Monday's class.

Subject: This is of your choosing, but that does not mean that you can shoot just anything! Some (but not all) landscape, architecture, or street subjects might work. I will point out though, that if your subject does not have a spacious sense it will be hard to show one in a photograph of that subject.

Mechanics: An understanding of exposure control; Aperture adjustment as a way of controlling depth of field; Camera focus.

Goal: You are at the beginning of the road toward making, building, or creating photographs instead of just taking them--seeing a photograph instead of pressing a button. The goal of this assignment is to slow you down to look with purpose.

Resources: The slide show I presented in class is here, and you might also take another look at the handout I gave you in class.
#2    1/24
Due  1/31
Tone Control #1
Take your time. This week we are working on pushing away from blind obedience to your camera's light meter, which, when faithfully obeyed, will render any scene 18% gray. Visualize and photograph a scene that is high key or low key, and make the necessary interpretation of your light readings to render the scene as you have visualized it. Take your time. (Don't forget those two exposures you need to make for your threshold test) I am hoping that you take the time you need for this one.

Subject: This is your call, but it must be supported by your decision to overexpose or underexpose the negative. We are looking for high/low key images, anything but that deadly middle gray that you will get from an automatic exposure reading.

Mechanics: An understanding of your camera's meter, aperture and shutter speed controls, and, well, whether you know what happens if the numbers get bigger or smaller. If you are having trouble with the effects of shutter speed and aperture, you will need to sort this out. Review the handouts, experiment with your camera until these relationships make sense.

Goal: Control, control, control... over the tonal range of your image. The goals of this week's assignment are to (a) Get you to visualize your final image; (b) Make a decision on the value range of that image; and (c) Use the exposure control tools you worked with in the past two weeks to commit that vision to film.

Resources: The handouts I gave you in class, your own camera's light meter pointed at a stable subject so that you can spend the time to work these relationships out, and your camera's manual if you have not mastered these controls. (Try googling it!) Also, the presentation I gave in class is here.
#3    1/31
Due  2/7
The Frame
This week it is time to bear down on both your reason for becoming a photographer and that part of your vision that you will bring to your work. I am asking you to explore a subject that interests you and spend time really being critical about how you compose your images within the frame. Use the cutout windows I handed out in class to look carefully without the distraction of meters and focusing grids. Remember that one way or another you are bringing your sense of organization to your subject. Look for opportunities to put the elements of design to work in arranging the pieces of your image.

Subject: The only requirement here is that it be something that interests you. (If it does not interest you, it will probably not be interesting to anyone else either.)

Mechanics: Do not forget what we have been working on for the past three weeks, but this week your main tool will be your eyes.

Goal: The goal this week is to get you to take complete responsibility for the visual elements of your image.

Resources: Black framing cutout, the examples we looked at in class.
#4    2/7
Due  2/14
This week's assignment is to work in the tradition of architectural photographers--deliberately, graphically, purposely, to render a permanent man-made structure in monochrome values. I will remind you, as I tried to explain with my examples in class, that this does not translate into simply taking a picture of a building. Hopefully you will not be "taking" a picture, but rather "making" a portrait that describes the volume and character of the structure you choose. It will require planning to know when the best light for your subject occurs.

Subject: I will accept a loose definition of architecture as long as it is a permanent man-made subject and you are working with natural light to articulate its form. There are plenty of examples within walking distance of campus, so if you want to stray from this subject you do so at your own risk.

Mechanics: The use of a tripod would be extremely helpful for this assignment. If you have one, use it. If you can borrow one, please do. If you have been considering the purchase of one, there would be no better time than now. . . . Do not forget the lessons of the previous four weeks.

Goal: The purpose of this assignment is to focus your attention on composition and the effects of light on form and texture and to encourage you to build your image using the tools of the photographic medium--quality of light, composition, perspective, and choice of subject.

Resources: Check class notes for links to the sites I showed in class, or google architectural photography for the unabridged version. A notebook would be useful while scouting your site.
#5    Feb 14
Due  Feb 21
Documentary Portraiture
This week we're working on environmental or documentary portraiture-- showing a person in their surroundings in away that reveals something important about them. Unlike high-school portraiture, snap-shot portraiture, or other quick likenesses,we are striving for an image that represents your subject in a way that is genuine, authentic, objective, and insightful. As I tried to stress in class, this is not an easy thing to do. It is likely that more than one roll of film will be needed.

I'm looking for your best three images from your effort with one subject, using the environment that makes the most sense for them.

Subject: A person who interests you, and who you can convince to spend enough time with to fulfill this assignment. Clearly I cannot prevent you from photographing your beloved, but I advise against it for several reasons, which include your lack of objectivity in viewing them and your protectiveness in defending your work in critique.

Mechanics: All that we've learned so far. Since people change expression within a split second, shooting a lot of film will increase your odds. Confidence in your exposure will be important, and focusing will be critical.

Goal: The purpose of this assignment is to apply what you have learned in the previous weeks to a subject that moves, as well as to develop an image by working cooperatively with your subject.

Resources: Please look at some work that others have done. I've put a few links in the Class Notes section, but please do some research on your own to see what is possible.
#6    Feb 21
Due  Feb 28
A Story / Individual Meetings
Individual meetings this week during class period. Bring your progress so far this semester, and sign up for a time slot on my door Tuesday.

This week I'm hoping you'll tell me a story. It can be a true story or one you've made up, but the important ingredients are that you use a series of 4-6 images to describe something thoroughly. It can be an event that occurs over time, or an exploration of one subject. The important thing is to explore your subject from many points of view and perspectives and to show different aspects of it. Thinking of yourself not just as a photographer but as a story teller, make sure your viewers can learn what makes your subject interesting.

As in writing, you will introduce your subject, then provide more detail later. And as in film making, your will use establishing shots to give an overall view, and different levels of close-up to provide detail. Choose something you can spend some time with, and something that you will enjoy.

Subject: Your call here. Simple is always good.

Mechanics: You'll draw on all the skills we've covered so far, and especially the documentary portraiture assignment if you are doing a story about people.

Goal: The goal of this assignment is to put you in the position of a user and editor of photography rather than just the creator. Hopefully you will plan your shoot to include the important elements you'll need to tell your story.
#8    Feb 28
Due  Mar 13
Using Time
Refer to the class handout for this one. I am hoping you'll do something interesting with the ideas about time that are presented there.
#8    Mar 13
Due  Mar 20
Independent Projects 1
You are on your own for the rest of the semester. I'm expecting to see progress every week, so bring work prints to class. Be thinking about presentation...
#9    Mar 20
Due  Mar 27
Independent Projects 2

#10    Mar 27
Due  Apr 3