Reflections on Film to Digital Photography 1983-2008

My Simpson3 psx galleryHow many of your students own a digital camera?  Is a digital camera a toy or a tool?  If your students own a cell phone, is it equipped with a camera?  Teachers should welcome the digital camera as a learning tool.  Time to hop in the way back machine… remember when pictures were taken with film cartridges, sent to the photo lab, and half the printed photos were rejects after waiting a week?  OK, fair enough you can still use film and receive your photos in an hour.  My fascination with photography began in 1983 while attending Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, Maine as an 8th grader, when I learned the entire film processing workflow.  Snap, develop, and print.

Understanding the true wonders of film photography can only be experienced by breaking a film canister open in a darkroom, rolling the film onto a spool, inserting the spool into a canister, and then turning the lights on to add developer.  Pay attention to the time now — rinse, and then the moment of truth… unfurl your negative.  Simpson photographic film negative 1983If you are successful, you can immediately see the negative image of your shots.  Once the negative is dry, cut into workable strips, and then the fun really begins.  Turn the overhead lights off, turn on the funky darkroom light, and insert your negative into an enlarger.  Open the baffle to shine light through the negative and adjust the focus.  Close the baffle, align a piece of photographic paper on the base of the enlarger, open baffle — timings everything – let’s try 10 seconds.  No picture yet… immerse the paper in developer solution rocking the tray back and forth and watch as the ghostly image appears.  Another chemical bath, rinse, and it’s off to the drying rack.

While this was quite a time consuming process, each step provided ample opportunity to make adjustments by carefully monitoring each step.  For example, if I shot in bright sunlight, I would leave my negative in developer for additional 15 seconds.   The extra time would result in more silver depositing onto the negative increasing contrast.  The real artistry entered the process at the enlarger, masking parts of the photographic paper burned in sections of the image resulting in greater contrast.  The benefits to abandoning this somewhat ancient process to the digital domain is two-fold, (1) elimination of toxic chemicals into the environment and (2) increased time devoted to creativity and innovation.  Students can now spend time in the virtual darkroom using desktop programs such as Adobe Photoshop or its Web 2.0 cousin, Express to perfect their images.

Adobe Photoshop Meets Web 2.0

What happens when Adobe Photoshop meets Web 2.0? Answer: Photoshop Express (psx). Two of the central tenets of Web 2.0 are an ability to move content to the web and then provide an easy mechanism to distribute the content to others. Psx is a free beta program that provides 2GBs of storage with the ability to perform Photoshop style edits through the web. For the last year, I’ve used Flickr to post my images to the web. Each image has a unique web address (URL) that can be used to insert a link to the image. The image to the right was taken at the Chihuly exhibit at the de Young museum in San Francisco. The image is stored on my Flickr site and a placeholder is created on this Edublogs post that says, go fill this rectangle with whatever sits at the end of the link provided. Here’s the link as a web address.

One of the most difficult concepts for teachers first dipping their toes into the web pool, is to understand that web pages are assembled from diverse streams of content. Web 2.0 requires users to manipulate these streams of content to build web pages that pull content from many different sources. I choose one site, Flickr, to organize my photos which appear on three different blogs and several wikis. I’ll continue to use Flickr as a central storage site. What’s different about psx is that photos can easily be manipulated with Photoshop editing controls through the browser. In edit mode, you can perform basic adjustments such as resizing and exposure level and red-eye correction. There are also a number of tuning and effects tools that are familiar to any Photoshop user. Teachers will quickly find that Photoshop Express provides a nice first-step for students to dive into the world of photo editing. Another benefit that the program’s Web 2.0 nature affords is the ability of students to photo edit at home for school projects.

My flower slide show was produced with images taken on May 11, 2008 during Lilac Sunday held at the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The HTML embed code is automatically generated by psx.

Adobe Education Leaders Institute Report

What does a technical education guy do for summer vacation?  Answer: Spend a week at the the third annual Adobe Education Leaders Institute in San Francisco July 22-25, 2008.  Adobe Systems Inc. has continued to generously fund this unique gathering of educators from the United States and across the world.  We spent three and half days collaborating, learning about new Adobe software tools, and providing feedback to Adobe product developers.  I was especially honored when Bob Regan, Adobe’s Director of K-12 Education,  choose to show the Ferryway School’s recent Edutopia movie, Turning on Technology to kick-off the institute. Regan remarked that he appreciated how students were empowered to use technology as a tool for learning – the focus wasn’t on just using an application.

I’ll be sharing these resources in my school district this year:

  • The Encyclopedia of Life – Adobe’s XD Project group took on the challenge of creating a web-based system for visualizing the Earth’s living organisms. Here’s an image from one of their designs. I think it’s interesting that life can be visualized like a microprocessor. I’m excited to incorporate the EOL into our grade four science unit, Biome Breakthrough.
  • A new free word processor tool has been launched as part of called Buzzword.  The program is a beta, meaning that it still being developed, but you can register for a free account.  Buzzword renders pages using the Flash engine so your documents appear exactly as you expect on the monitor and from your printer.  The AELs were especially interested in using Buzzword to support collaborative student writing projects.
  • From the under-resourced teacher perspective, Photoshop Express – Beta, had to be the most exciting software development shown.  Our students have increasing access to digital tools for taking pictures, think cell phone and ever smaller and cheaper digital cameras.  Last year, I taught a photojournalism lesson as part of a field trip experience where students had to take photos based on categories such as engineering and colonial life.  We used a wiki to share images, but with Photoshop Express, students can perform basic edits on their photos in a Web 2.0 world from home or school.
  • Fellow AEL and art teacher from across the pond (England), Ross Wallis, presented an amazing body of student work.  (Digitial Creativity – Flash) Ross’ philosophy is to treat computers and software as just another tool in the art room.  He requires that his students learn basic art skills before using the technology.  The talking portrait project was particularly interesting since it required students to research historic people by selecting a painting and learning about the artist.  Students then used Photoshop and Crazytalk to make their portraits talk using their own recorded voices.
  • Why become an Adobe Certified Associate?   Because you know a lot about Adobe software and digital work flows and want an objective evaluation of your skills.  Adobe now offers teachers and students the opportunity to receive certification in the following areas:
    • Web Communication using Adobe Dreamweaver CS3
    • Rich Media Communication using Adobe Flash CS3
    • Visual Communication using Adobe Photoshop CS3

    Yes, you have to pass an exam.  The exams are administered by Certiport.

The Chihuly exhibit at the de Young Museum was fun to photograph!