While teaching YDS students about the “ideate” phase of being a designer, we had a lesson on using photography as a design tool. A Cape Town-trained film technician, Aurora Drummer, was on-hand to give expert visual insights and career tips.
We discussed that in order to be a good designer and problem-solver, you need to be a detective! You need to be able to show what is going on around you. You can do this by:
Telling – through asking questions and recording observations
Showing – through drawing or photography
In this class on photography, we explored how you can use photos as a communication and storytelling tool. We experimented with photography as a method not only for taking nice pictures, but as a way to tell stories, and to learn stories about the people and places you photograph. We used photography to explore our ideas about ourselves, our identities, and our communities (both human and structural).
For our students who were experiencing photography for the first time, we ran through a set of basic concepts, including light, motion, subject, shapes, and space. We also introduced techniques like framing, distance, level, angle, focus, leading the eye, and the rule of thirds.
In preparation for taking our own photographs, we practiced first with paper frames, testing views from different heights (level), angles, and distances. We also examined some examples of famous photographs and well-composed photographs in magazines. We analyzed them for techniques used, and how we could tell what kind of story was being told.
Once we had mastered the basics, we moved on to using real cameras! Thanks to an AMAZING group of friends from both the USA and South Africa who donated cameras, we had 11 digital cameras available for our students to use. We explained the parts of the camera and proper handling, safety, and maintenance.
Before we started taking photos, we introduced the idea of community, asking students to brainstorm ideas about who is included in their school community. They shared a broad and insightful list, including students, teachers and tutors, parents, and building/groundskeeping staff.
Our first in-class activity was to take photos that:
(1) represented or showed the community around them
(2) represented what the community meant to them
Here are one group’s photos about their community at Muizenberg High:
After discussing the community photographs, we gave our first take-home assignment: to take a photographic autobiography. The photos they took needed to tell the story of their day-to-day life, depicting people, places, and things important to them, positive or negative. They were tasked with taking 10-15 well-composed photographs, using the techniques we covered in class.
Here is a sampling of the incredible results!
Throughout Youth Design Studio, our students used photography as a tool to tell stories and learn stories. Stay tuned for more! Curious about how we get our students moving, creating and designing at the start of each class? Check out our post on Youth Design Studio Creativity Exercises!
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