Before smartphones became commonplace in our society, very few people would devote additional space in their bags and backpacks to carry around cameras because they added too much extra weight and bulk. Early mobile phones with cameras helped solve the weight and bulk issue but the picture quality was so bad that the photos were essentially unusable outside of the phone. But now that smartphones have become more and more ubiquitous in our society, most people have a high-quality camera with them at all times. Smartphones have also reinforced users’ interest in taking photos with the ability to share photos instantly with family and friends through various social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Many people now rely on these apps to provide a digital memory book of their favorite experiences.
So while there are many benefits to requiring to students to unplug from their electronic devices while they are at residential environmental education centers, depriving students the opportunity to take pictures of what is often one of the most transformative educational experiences in their lives seems rather unkind. But as mentioned above, most students only access to a camera is through smartphones and it can be virtually impossible to limit students to only use the camera while at these residential environmental education centers. Disposable cameras provide another choice for students to take pictures without other distracting features but they are not without their challenges. These cameras restrict the number of photos students can take to around thirty, offer no options besides a viewfinder to compose photos beforehand or delete unwanted photos, and finding a store that still develops film is becoming harder and harder. Providing a group of students with a single communal digital camera often limits each student’s ability to take pictures and distributing pictures to the appropriate children after the fact is very difficult if not impossible.
But despite all of these challenges, photography can still be a valuable art medium to teach as it provides so many benefits to students beyond helping to preserve memories. Taking photos encourages students to experiment with viewing at nature from different perspectives and often ones that they would never experience without a camera. These new perspectives foster the creation of art students might never have conceived in their own heads as well as provide students frustrated by other art mediums a more satisfying outlet for artistic expression. These art pieces in turn sometimes cause students to create greater connections with the subjects they photographed which can lead to a greater sense of stewardship for their environment. So while many residential environmental education centers might dismiss technology as too costly or in opposition to their goal to allow students to unplug, I hope that this article gives greater insight into how photography can be an engaging way promote the creation of original art, explore nature in new ways, and capture memories that will hopefully last a lifetime.
For those interested in leading photography lessons with students, here are a few lesson ideas:
- Patterns in Nature
- Students use view nature from different perspectives creating art through those found patterns. Discussion of how those patterns are made can follow. Photos are best shared as a gallery walk (photos mounted on the wall while everyone walks and views at own pace).
- Photography Perspective Story
- Students choose an object in nature and take a set of photos that tell a story from the object’s point of view. Photos can be shared as a gallery walk, collage, and many other ways but the story should be shared. Can lead to discussion about looking at the world from someone else’s perspective.
- Photography Ecosystem Assessment
- Students take a set of photos that represent their perspective of an ecosystem. Students make a collage of their pictures to recreate the ecosystem. The ecosystem collage is shared along with why they chose the different elements that they photographed. A discussion about similarities and differences between the collages can follow.