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The Eye of the Beholder: Photography Lesson

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 7/12/2012

The proverbs are many - Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don't judge a book by its cover. Clothes don't make the man (woman). They relate to a children's book about a strange duck. Use this as the catalyst for students to find common items, which they photograph to create beautiful artwork.

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    Creating Something Beautiful

    Creative photo art projects on the Ugly Duckling, a children's book, can open students' eyes to seeing life in an entirely new way. In this lesson, students will photograph old, rusty, discarded and unusually placed items found everywhere. Using photo enhancing software, they will then create a picture that takes what others might have seen as ugly, turning it into something beautiful. (Note: If the school does not have photo enhancing software, then Gimp, which is a free download, can be used.)

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    Multiple Objectives

    In this lesson, students will -

    • discuss the meaning of beauty
    • photograph common objects and/or items that are no longer used
    • utilize technology to enhance their photograph
    • practice photo skills with black and white pictures
    • prepare photos, learning how to crop and mount pictures
    • create an exhibit
    • write a reflective essay on their experience
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    Learning to See

    Photography is an art that challenges the photographer to see through a lens, thereby limiting the view. Students will need to practice taking pictures at different settings and using different lens. On digital cameras this is simply a matter of settings.

    First, make sure all students understand how their cameras work. Have them practice taking close ups as well as using a wide angle lens setting of the same scene. Compare and contrast their pictures. Ask them to describe the differences, similarities. Which picture do they prefer?

    Now have them practice taking pictures of the same object in different light. What do they see change? Do some details jump out more than others? When? Which type of lighting gives the most detail? (Bright light, natural light, direct sunlight, backlighting, etc.)

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    Task One

    For this task, students will need an object that is old, used, torn, worn and/or rusty.

    • have student set there object up on a table or backdrop
    • photograph the object from various angles - think outside the box
    • use different lighting
    • take close-ups and distance shots
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    Task Two

    Once the students have finished taking their pictures, have them download and save their photos to the computer. Now, the students will -

    • view all the photos taken
    • pick three that they wish to work with for the project
    • copy and save these three pictures (this allows them to keep an original in case they need to go back)
    • begin enhancing their photos using the photo software by first changing the picture from color to black and white
    • experiment with various filters, cloning and perspective tools

    Important: Remind students to copy and save their work before going on to another step. This allows them to always have an original to work from while they experiment.

    The photos below demonstrate the various steps from original to various filters.

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    Object transformation

    OriginalBlack and white copyEdge filterGlass tile filterripple distortion
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    Task Three

    For this photo shoot, ask students to take pictures outside of the classroom. Challenge them to find scenes that are not commonly thought of as beautiful. Ask them took for abandoned house, old cars, railroad yards, junk yards, etc. Have them take photos using the same instructions as above. Remind them to think outside the box, to change their perspective to something other than what they see standing up and to look for the unusual.

    Below is a series of photos to demonstrate this idea. The first is the original photo take by me at a farm. In the second photo, I cropped the original, changing it to black and white. In the third photo, I experimented with one of the blurring filters. Finally, I cropped the photo to bring the old tub in closer, adding an oil painting filter to complete the transformation.

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    Transformation of Photo

    Original color photoTransfer to Black and WhiteExperiment with blurringFinal draft - close-up with oil paint filter
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    Task Four

    Once the students are satisfied with their photos, have them print them out on photo paper and mount them. Since they are black and white, one of the easiest ways to mount them is on black foam board. This can be purchased in 20' X 30' sheets, which can then be cut down to fit the students work.

    Once all the students have mounted their work, have them set-up an exhibit. Teach them how to group photos of like themes. Explain how to hang them at eye-level and why this is important. Finally, have them create cards that give details of who took the pictures, the title of the picture and technique used in creating it.

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    Task Five

    After the students exhibit their work and have had the opportunity to talk to viewers, have them write a reflective essay on the process. They should answer questions such as -

    • What was your idea of beauty at the beginning of this project?
    • Has your view changed? Why/how?
    • Why did you choose your particular item?
    • Why part of this process was the most rewarding for you?
    • What connections did your work have with the idea of "not judging a book by its cover?"
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    Seeing with Different Eyes

    The greatest lesson learned from these creative photo art projects is to look at the world with eyes that find beauty in the ordinary, the old and used and what some might call "ugly." Watching the transformation of the "Ugly Duckling" objects or scenes will engage students, making learning photography not only creative, but fun.

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