Liz Orton / Project Diary / Queens Park Community School / Visual Literacy activities

Trying out camera settings for front cover images

blog sessions 7-9
Pupils are progressing with their magazines. They have prepared some supporting information on style, readership, unique selling points and key content. So each magazine is shaping up and now it’s time to shoot an image for the front cover.
I set up the studio in a nearby classroom,  which is a large computer suite. We create a large area in the middle, pushing all the desks to one side, pull down the blinds and cover a ceiling window with black out cloth.  The room is almost dark. The school has studio flash lights, a digital SLR and tripod, and I had ordered a 3m roll of white backdrop paper.  The white background allows for greater flexibility when working with the image afterwards. The white space is useful for laying out the masthead and coverlines on the front cover, or the subject can be removed entirely and put on a new background.
In the first session I introduced pupils to the concept of a studio – a space where you can completely control the light to get the effect you want. I demonstrated the use of balanced side lighting to eliminate the shadow on the backdrop and keep it perfectly white.  It was a new experience for all of them to be in a studio of any kind, even an impromptu studio, mocked up in a PC suite.
Every pupil had a chance to practice using a digital SLR camera. Most of them had never looked through a viewfinder before, being used to taking photographs with a phone or point-and-shoot camera. They had to practice looking through with just one eye! I showed them how to use the focus and how to zoom in and out of the subject, and kept the other settings on auto.  In the second and third studio sessions, pupils came individually, or in pairs and small groups, to shoot their front cover images. Most of the boys were making football magazines, and wanted to catch a moment of action with the ball. This sounds easier than it is – when the frame is tight to the subject the timing has to be accurate down a fraction of a second. In the end most of them found this impossible and found a still pose with the ball.
The shots for the fashion magazines were tricky for different reasons. The instinct of the pupils at first was to try and perfect a particular pose and then take one shot. But it’s not easy mimicking the poses of professional models, and one shot tends to capture the awkwardness of the situation. Once they realised they could take hundreds of shots, they felt freer to make mistakes and experiment, and found themselves with more than enough front cover images to chose from.
The task now is to use the images to create convincing front covers so its time to start working in Indesign and Photoshop.

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