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WORKSHOP: Teach photography students of any age the first golden rule

Preparation and arrival

As students are arriving, have a set of digital cameras ready to go. Basic cameras are now so cheap, you can have a cupboard full. It is worth buying cameras that take AA batteries. No hassle having to recharge all the time. In many cases, students will be able to use their phones. There are pros and cons. Use your judgement.

As students enter, randomly pair them. At times, not so randomly! Never allow students to pair themselves. Use your experience and knowledge of them to make smart choices. By the time most have arrived, they are paired and holding a camera and you ask them to have a seat for quick instructions.

Five Minutes of Instruction

On the screen you will have this image:


Ever seen this? You might have spotted it as an option on your phones or cameras. This grid is known as the rule of thirds. And as you can see, the idea is that we divide the screen into three vertical and three horizontal sections. Where they meet is called the “hot-spots” or focal points. And this idea has a long history, going back into the world of painting. It’s to do with composition – where you place items in your frame. And what is most pleasing and interesting to the eye. Now look at these:

As you scroll through the shots, point out only briefly how they use the guiding grid. It is also important to touch on the idea of “pleasing the eye”, but don’t take more than 5 minutes at most. They will get it.

As you can see, when things are OFF centre, they are somehow more interesting, more dynamic. In these pictures, the SPACE around things is as important as the objects themselves. When your grandmother takes a photo of you, she puts you in the centre. Because she thinks you’re the most important thing in the world. She is not a training photographer learning about composition.

If you come back with a shot like this today, I’ll be delighted. So…here’s the challenge. You have about 30 minutes as a pair to get out there, spend 15 minutes each trying to compose shots using the rule of thirds. Try some with a person or people – use your partner. Try some with objects. And you MUST get back here with at least 10 minutes to go in order to get your photos off the camera, save and submit them. Any questions? Okay GO!

The success is astonishing. Wander out of the room a little. Make yourself available back at base for those students with issues like batteries dying or “We can’t get the grid to come up in the viewfinder”.

It is rare that a pair don’t get back in time to save and upload their shots. Many will get back early to share and show you. And your follow-up lesson is automatically prepared. For what needs to happen next is to look at all of their shots on a big screen and share some commentary on what has worked, what hasn’t quite worked, and why. You will never see students distracted when as a class you are looking at each other’s photographs!


You may have to deal with colleagues freaking out about the “lack of supervision”. How can you just send students out and about with no idea where they are or what they are up to?

In reality, you will count on one hand the number of times students do anything mischievous. Firstly, the pairing helps enormously. Just one reason why we are telling you never to let them pair themselves. Secondly, it’s too fast, and too much fun for most to be bothered deviating. Thirdly, if you are in a school at all supportive, there are eyes and ears everywhere. Those times when a pair might be overenthusiastic or noisy, someone is usually able to raise an eyebrow or ask them to move away from the classroom they are distracting.

This is NOT a big deal. Not compared with the payoff: the sense of ownership your students will have and the energy they take away with them and into your next lesson. What do you imagine they go away and tell their friends or their parents?

#Teachers #ToolsForSuccess

Photography rule of 3rds WEB doc
Download PDF • 436KB

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