Picture perfect

CHS students learn photography history, skills in fine arts

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Cullman High School students learn how cameras work, and how to compose photos, as part of the school's fine arts photography courses. (Photos courtesy of Cullman City Schools)

CULLMAN, Ala. – If you want to take good photos, you first need to understand how a camera actually works. That’s the approach Cullman High School art and photography teacher Elizabeth Miller is taking with her students as they learn the fundaments of photography from the ground up.

Cullman High offers three photography classes across the high school grade level as a fine arts elective, building on the fundaments of photography and training students to hone their craft and create their own portfolios by graduation.

Students start by learning the history of photography and researching famous photographers — and are even tasked with building their own camera obscura to learn about how images translate. Students will also learn how to edit photos and the basics of composition.

“Many people don’t know how intertwined art and photography are. If it wasn’t for the drawing tool invention, the camera obscura, we would not have cameras today. My class created their own camera obscuras made out of cardboard and wax paper, and then we walked around the school to use them,” Miller said. “We just finished learning about the evolution of the camera. I have a small collection of old cameras for the students ranging from a 1939 folding camera made by Kodak to a 1972 Polaroid SX-70. I also have some regular SLR film cameras for the students to study.”

In Photography 2, students learn more about digital cameras, including how to shoot in manual mode, including the basics of shutter speed, ISO and aperture and how to balance these to achieve the perfect picture in different settings.

“I teach this way so that the students are in control of the photograph just like professionals,” Miller said.

In Photography 3, students work on honing their craft and creating a portfolio of their work. If students are serious about pursuing photography professionally, they can develop the tools to gain an internship with a professional photographer or start their own business when they graduate. Photography classes are also collaborating with the yearbook staff to put those skills and talents to use.

“The students always seem to love this class and it is one of my favorite classes to teach. Everyone can be creative and that is a trait that is sought after in our job market today,” Miller said. “Fine arts classes, including photography, help our students think outside of the box and to be able to problem solve. I believe this is one of the reasons why this class is so popular at our school, the students don’t feel the pressure to already be great at their craft before taking the class.”