School Photography Clubs – Suggested Activities

Here are some suggested activities for school photography clubs to consider.

1. Focus on history. Watch the development of the photographic process, camera obscura and the evolution from film to digital. Build a pinhole camera. Dust off some old hand-held 35mm bodies and make a few rolls of film.

2. Focus on focus. Talk about how an image is focused. Try to get some photos sharp and aligned. See depth of field and the role of the aperture in controlling depth of field. Create a series of increasing DOF images to illustrate.

3. Focus on speed. Talk about shutter speed and its impact on exposure. Discuss when slow shutter speed is best and when fast shutter speed is best. Conduct some photo experiments with students being photographed while moving, using different shutter speeds. Try high-speed photography with water droplets or flying insects or other fast-moving items. Try shooting waterfalls at different speeds.

4. Focus on sensitivity. Talk about film sensitivity and digital camera “ISO” settings. Discuss when low and high sensitivity are best applied and the tradeoffs for each. Create a series of low and high sensitivity images and examine the impact on the images. Try shooting the same image at 100 and 800 film speeds if you have film cameras. Discuss grain on film versus noise in digital imaging. Discuss the artistic merits of film grain and review ways to reproduce digitally.

5. Focus on lighting. Discuss the parameters that affect exposure – shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity, exposure. Talk about exposure compensation. Create a series of the same subject, varying parameters and resulting exposure. Discuss manual versus automatic exposure and the different exposure modes.

6. Focus on color. Check out the color wheel, saturation. How exposure choice affects saturation. Edit photos and adjust the saturation from overboard to black and white. Talk about which cameras and films have different color characteristics. Check white balance. Experiment with the right and wrong custom white balance settings. Learn more about custom techniques and tools for setting white balance. See how to change color settings in post production.

7. Focus on black and white. View historical black and white photography. Check out ways to convert – grayscale, channel mixer. Influence of filters on black and white (grayscale) tones. View color versus black and white images side by side and discuss the visual impact. Have each student convert, view and discuss the same image using different methods or mixtures.

8. Focus on filters. View polarizing filter and impact on glare, exposure, color saturation, etc. Samples of with and without. Discuss the applicability of neutral density filters. Discuss split neutral density filters. View and experiment with filters for heating and cooling and temperature adjustment. Watch and experiment with close-up filters.

9. Focus on editing. Review darkroom film development technique. Check out various photo editing tools. Focus on basic functions when editing photos. Build a multi-step learning experience around acquiring image editing proficiency. See my article on the 12 Best Photo Editing Tips for more on this.

10. Focus on printing. Discuss paper/inkjet versus photographic process and press press. Consider asking a professional photographer or lab to print samples of the same image on gloss, gloss, metallic photo paper, press printing, and canvas. Discuss print profiling and color management.

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11. Focus on appreciation. Discuss what makes a photo “great”. Some compositional elements will come through, as will the choice of subject, lighting, and technical and finishing elements. Have students bring a magazine or other print samples of photos they love and discuss them. Plan an excursion to a photo exhibition. View the portfolios of professional photographers and students and give positive and negative critiques.

12. Focus on composition. Review rule of thirds, poses, lighting, camera angle, camera position (macro vs tele), lens choice and other compositional elements. Spend time experimenting with some classic subjects – still life, egg, human subject, and have students work on different aspects of composition and lighting. Consider borrowing some professional lighting equipment for some extra experimentation.

13. Focus on careers. Discuss the many types of professions that rely on photography (journalism, child/family, marriage, architecture, sports/event/school, etc.), as well as the professions that benefit from it: (insurance, real estate, forensics, etc.) .) Consider taking guests to these areas to talk to the club, or have each club member conduct an interview and collect samples for a group discussion.

14. Focus on giving. Have the club brainstorm ideas to share their talents with the community. Volunteering to help with nonprofits or school, and creating unique gifts are good ideas here.

15. Focus on fundraising. To keep the club financially healthy, brainstorm ideas for raising money for the club. Some starting suggestions: photo calendars and art sales (from the club’s talents), photo buttons or key rings, and regular fundraisers (food, coupon books, etc.)

16. Focus on technology. Discuss technical things that change in camera and editing technology (sensor size, image size, stabilization, speed, live view, in-camera editing, camera features.) Discuss things a student would pay attention to when comparing and contrasting cameras. Give them some scenarios and let them do some online shopping to pick the best camera and price. Discuss negotiation, gray market and warranty. Discuss obsolescence and upgrade options. View storefront, mail order, and used or closed sources (eBay, Craigslist, etc.)

17. Focus on competing. Review the grading rules and sheets and develop your club’s own grading and award processes and criteria. Research and participate in external competitions. Hold a club-only competition every month on a specific topic (nature, sports, family, pets, architecture, etc.). The top 3-5 of each category advance to club finals where external judges select the winner. Work with labs, shops and local photographers to offer great prices and professional printing of the final items. Use winning items in your visual arts fundraisers. Offer to run outside of submitted competitions such as student-only, professional-only, and school-wide.

Enjoy your school photography club and use it to grow, develop and have fun!