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A Perfect Picture of Learning

Photography Class Moves from Darkroom to Digital


“It is not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” These words from Henry David Thoreau sum up why middle school language arts teacher Steve Duyck wanted to add a photography class at the middle school.

He has been with the district for over two decades and first taught photography skills in a darkroom. But today, guiding students to developing great photos is done not only out in the open classroom, but on individual computers.

The transition from developing film to working on photos digitally fit in perfectly with the district’s one-to-one computer initiative, made possible when voters passed a $58.6 million bond issue in 2016 to upgrade school technology and facilities.

And so with a Chromebook computer in the hands of every middle school student, the first semester of this school year offered Duyck a chance to once again teach photography. The class continues this semester.

“I couldn’t teach this without them,” he said of the newly supplied Chromebooks.

Madison Cantu’s close-up suggests the larger world of nature

For years while teaching at Englishville High School, before it was closed and its programs incorporated into the new high school, photography students learned techniques for taking photos as well as how to develop film in a darkroom.

“The darkroom work slowly transitioned to digital,” Duyck said. “And now there are so many things the photographer can do with his work.”

Seeing Education in Action

The longtime photography enthusiast sees many educational benefits to a photography class.

“Photography teaches students to navigate complex processes,” he said. “Middle school students have a hard time working through complex multi-step processes. This class helps build skills as students develop a workflow process to move their images from the camera to photo editing software to a final, published product.”

The day that the class practiced focus control proved his point.

He led students through several steps, from moving the photo onto the computer and putting it into the software editing program to deciding on a specific size as well as the color and lighting they wanted.

Pacience Benavidex-Cisneros shows off her project

Each student worked with a partner to set up a scene using a variety of “toys,” such as plastic soldiers, miniature vehicles and other small objects. Their task: photograph the scene and create a final photo that would tell a story.

“But do what you want, it is your picture,” Duyck told the class as he explained various filter options.

Learning to examine what one sees and being able to interpret it — that is, “Increasing visual literacy” — is one of the skills students learn. “If you can analyze a picture, you can analyze an idea or a text,” he said.

New Equipment = New Skills

Duyck cited these educational benefits, plus “bringing some fun into the learning day,” in pitching a grant proposal to the Sparta Educational Foundation. The foundation awarded the program $4,200, with which Duyck is purchasing new cameras for classroom use.

Want to check out his class? Just follow the student photographs lining the school hallways leading to their classroom.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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