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Meeting the Challenge of Photography in Yearbook

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Woman sitting on the ground with her camera getting ready to take a photo.

When I introduced photography to my students, I will admit that I focused on teaching what was important to my overall yearbook curriculum. I am the first to tell you I am not a photographer. I know just enough to take a decent shot that can be edited somewhere within the range of good to (sometimes) very good. Because I am not a photographer, I didn’t teach my students to become photographers. Instead, I taught them to recognize that the ‘story' is sometimes in the shot, and, maybe, a hundred pictures need to be taken to find the right one. I tutored my staff in ways to be ready for the shot. I shared my belief that their eyes and hearts established the shots they wanted to capture. I coached my staff in some camera functions and schooled them in composition. Some of these young people developed a passion for photography and took photographs that were so much better than anything I could ever take. And some of my staff never got the hang of it. I required all students to learn and apply the skills needed to work the cameras and cover the events. I preached, “Practice makes better! So, practice!” My staff’s ability to practice came from learning the basics. Here’s how I summed up Basic Photography:

Part I of Camera Checkout: A Letter To Parents/Guardians

I sent home a letter at the beginning of the school year that had to be signed and dated by the responsible adult in the house and the student. This letter detailed the following:

  • Camera & Kit–the cost of the kit’s total, as well as each individual item, was listed with the caveat that the student was responsible for maintaining the condition and returning the camera/kit/accessories when requested. If there were any condition issues or missing equipment, students were responsible for replacements.

  • Event Coverage or Work Assignments–detailed by kind, the fact that many would be after school hours and possibly on weekends, and, most importantly, how the substitution policy operated.

It was essential that all students comply with this documentation. As part of the inventory of the cameras, the camera/kit/accessories were identified with matching numbers. That number was placed on the returned letter when the student presented it for camera checkout. I kept each letter in a clear sleeve in the inventory binder. A copy of a sample letter can be found here.

Part II of Camera Checkout: Completing the DSLR Camera Worksheet

In order to gain access to a camera, all students had to complete the Camera Worksheet. From year to year, the format for completion changed. If I were to do this activity today, I’d require a 2-person team or 3-person small group TikTok demonstrating all the punch list ticks. I taught the parts of the camera, recorded the demonstration including how to charge a battery, and then I signed worksheets with each successful completion. I stored those worksheets, along with the parent letters, in the students’ sleeves in the inventory binder. A copy of the DSLR Camera Worksheet can be found here. Assigned cameras could then be checked out.

Camera Functions–Moving from Auto to Manual Settings

Remember that the camera is all about light. More specifically, it is about how much light interacts with the light-sensitive surface and how long that surface is exposed to the light. The camera controls 2 mechanical ways and 1 digital way of controlling light: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO otherwise known as “the exposure triangle”. There are some excellent online sources to explain this such as How to Shoot Manual in 10 Minutes - Beginner Photography Tutorial or APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED AND ISO/ THE EXPOSURE TRIANGLE MADE EASY!

Practicing with manual settings was very important to improve my students’ skill set. I proposed a photography scavenger hunt to my students. They practiced camera settings as they found and photographed the locations that matched the scavenger hunt hints. They kept an Exposure Triangle log which also cataloged the location's lighting conditions. Students needed to provide reasons for the camera settings they chose.

Aesthetic Concepts (Composition)

Understanding how to compose a photograph before taking the picture required some understanding of composition. I taught these concepts:

  • Lighting

  • Angles

  • Rule of Thirds

  • Leading Lines

  • Patterning/Repetition

  • Framing/Filling the Frame

  • Negative Space

  • Isolation

Part of the scavenger hunt learning activity was to apply these concepts, too.

A picture of a man is being edited in Photoshop.

Basic Editing Skills

There were many photo editing skills that were useful in yearbook class. The most important was recognizing Photo Formats. Photo Formats (or digital photo formats) were simply the image storage formats that were used. Raw, JPG, TIF, PNG and HEIC were the most common image formats. Please note: United Yearbook prefers PNG as it provides the best print quality. I also made sure that my staff knew that Image Size & Resolution referred to the actual size of the image. They understood that print media (like a yearbook) required all image resolutions at 300 dpi (dots of ink per inch) regardless of the size of the image, whereas digital media (any screen) required image resolutions at 72 ppi (pixels per inch on screen) for clearest views.

Some common editing actions:

  • Mode pertains to the type of color an image is, or to which it can be changed. Adobe offers a robust help service with explanations to assist the novice as well as the expert. Check this resource here.

  • Layers are often used in image editing to track and manage the changes made to the original file.

  • Auto Adjustments are automatic corrections to amplify or reduce Tone, Contrast & Color. Other adjustments, i.e. Vibrancy, Saturation, Levels & Curves are also usually available. Experimentation for special effects, such as the use of filters, can add dramatic or fun effects to ordinary photographs.

  • Cropping offers the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary elements from a photograph. It is a critical skill to examine a photograph and determine what is important and what is not important to keep in the photo. This topic can be addressed using multiple examples of uncropped and cropped photos. Highlight the changes in each photo, and list the reason why it should be cropped or not. Transform changes the size of and rotates an image. It is most important to keep the scaled image in the right aspect ratio.

There’s a lot to do to equip your staff to do the work expected in the yearbook class. United Yearbook understands this and offers resources to help both you and your yearbook staff. One of our Instructional Posters teaches the broad concepts of Photography. Our Curriculum & Resources instructional guides (with presentations), provides a Basic Photography presentation for use with your staff. We also tailor Workshop Sessions for anything from learning the PLIC Books software platform to Writing Captions, Building Teams and Leveling Up Photography Skills. Contact us. We are ready to assist you.

Former yearbook advisor, Lucy McHugh

Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.

Yearbook representative, Jessica Carrera

Editor: Jessica Carrera, Marketing Manager for United Yearbook and Associate Editor at TSE Worldwide Press, holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Biola University. She aspires to touch the lives of others through her words.


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