Category Archives: Assignments

Photography and the Visual Image

Photography and the Visual Image

This week we will be looking at visual storytelling through images and photography. How does one make a good photograph? This year I have amassed a huge collection of family photographs. Literally hundreds of photo prints made by different members of my family over the years.

We really like picture-taking in our family but if I am brutally honest, most are mediocre, unremarkable snapshots. (My mom was a big fan of double-prints too, so often there’s twice the amount of prints too.)

What is the difference between a snapshot and a composed photograph?

Bill's first home with several people sitting on the front porch.

Snapshots are made by people with no formal training and lack having a natural eye for composition. In the snapshot above, there are some things I like and some things I don’t care for at all. I can see a front view of the first home I purchased (we no longer live there). On the porch is a gathering of my siblings, and I see a stroller/bike trailer on the sidewalk.

I can see my wife’s birdhouse collection and my family, but no details on either. In a composed photograph, the photographer identifies the key subject and emphasizes it. The photographer composes the frame and decides what to include and exclude. That is the job of the photographer — to tell the viewer what is important to see and what is not. (By the way, this fact is foundational to being media literate. All media are constructed. Media creators include and exclude things based on their tastes, preferences and biases. To be media literate, we must realize this fact when we view the work of others.)

What is the main subject of the above picture? It is hard to tell, isn’t it? Is it the house? Is it the decorations and landscaping of the house? Is it the family on the porch of the house? The bicycle and bike trailer? There is a lot going on here and the photographer decides to try to include everything; that is wrong! Well not wrong if you are making snapshots, but wrong if you want to make memorable photographs. I would much prefer to see faces up close, or certain interesting features of the house, or even the bike and trailer. I have literally hundreds of snapshot pictures and maybe one out of ten or twenty strikes me as really interesting to look at.

This next picture (below) is also from my vast collection of family photos. Although technically, this too is a snapshot made on what was undoubtedly a less complex camera than the previous photo (a Brownie camera perhaps?), it seems the photographer who made this one was more conscious of design elements that make a good photograph, or at least they lucked into using them.

The very first thing that strikes me in this photograph is the use of the Rule of Thirds. Notice how the subject, the two women, are not placed exactly in the center but are instead more towards the left. This automatically makes a more interesting photo to look at. Placing a subject dead center is static, and boring.

The photo is likely from the 1960s and I love the still-vibrant colors in this outdoor scene. Many photos of this age have faded, particularly the blues and greens and many photos like this have the reddish hue of age. Not this one! It has probably been kept in a relatively cool and dry environment out of the sunlight.

The mother/daughter duo appear to be wearing clothing of a similar style, although not matching. The similar cut of their tops (look at the angled waist hem) makes me wonder if they bought these clothes while out shopping together. I like that it is close enough to see their faces, yet far enough back to include their entire bodies. It is obvious that the people are what the photographer wants us to see. The background is simple. Rocks, trees and sky, and they are standing in the middle of the road which tells me this is an off the beaten path sort of place without throngs of traffic.

This is such a fun photograph, I attempted to make a small watercolor painting of it. I will probably try the same scene again to see if I can improve my technique any.

To recap, to make a quality photograph you need to select a definite subject. Make it obvious. Don’t make the viewer have to guess what you are trying to show us. Then to increase interest, put the subject not in the center, but off to the side using the Rule of Thirds. Finally, consider the colors and lighting of the scene. In my second example photo, the lighting is strong and bright, which caused the human subjects to squint and to wear sunglasses. It also creates harsh shadows, which are often undesirable. If you make photographs on overcast days, or in the shade, or during the dawn and dusk hours when the sun is low in the skies you can get really interesting results with your natural ambient light. If you do these things, the quality of your picture taking will likely move from simple snapshots into the realm of true photograph.

Cartooning Homework 2.1

Page 34  of the Brunetti book on Cartooning calls for three single panel cartoons paying attention to action within an identifiable place, line quality , composition and areas of solid black. This is the first of my three.

So far as an identifiable place goes, it may be that only people who do summer league sports recognize this location – a ball park. I saw this harried mom pulling two little girls in a collapsible wagon that is common to families who travel to various ball parks across the country.

I didn’t really make any areas of solid black, opting for hatched areas of gray  instead of solid black. Didn’t really think about using solid black.

 

Cartooning by Brunetti

I purchased Brunetti’s Cartooning book for Kindle some time ago. I started doing the exercises but didn’t stick with it for very long. You know, work, life, and things.  I recently ordered a hard copy of the book hoping that seeing it lying around in my work area would be more of a reminder to me than a bunch of bits buried somewhere deep in my Kindle would be. Below are some of the first week’s efforts.

Draw cartoon characters from memory:

hand drawn cartoon characters from memory. You aren't missing much.

Draw 100 sequential five second sketches of whatever pops into mind representing a stream of consciousness:

Make a composition of many drawings using a unified theme:

Monday Feb 18 Writing

I wrote two pieces yesterday. One was about the food served aboard ship. I have been conversing with Desert Storm Navy vets about their favorite shipboard meals. Breakfast was a favorite, especially when fresh milk was available. Total length of that effort was 920 words.

I also wrote a piece on the daily routine aboard ship. I was having trouble remembering specific times that certain things occurred so I will have to do more research on that. But I covered things like morning quarters, sweepers, working hours at sea vs in port. Total length of that piece was 860 words.

Also watched about an hour of PBS Frontline special on Desert Storm.

Total for day was 1780 words. If I can maintain that pace this will be my best week.

Most Heartwarming Advertisement Ever

A year and a half ago, Gillette Razors released this short video, but it took me a year to discover it in my social media feed. It is probably the most heartwarming “commercial” I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of short-form digital storytelling. I often give an assignment to my students called mini-documentary and going forward I plan to show this to my students as an example of how it is done well.

The pacing, the lighting, the sound, the music and the story all flow effortlessly. It quickly draws the viewer in and you become absorbed in the story. That, my friends, is good storytelling. Please watch first, then come back and read what else I have to say after the video.

Did you watch the video? Read no further until you do. I will wait…

You’re back? It is really good, right? Ok, I have more to say, but that will come in another post. Click here to continue…

Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

 

Today’s Daily Create was to make a mashup. I decided to do one of music and an image. Then I decided to record my own music and use my own photograph. My New Year’s resolution was to make more things and write more on my blog, so this post is a daily create activity that sort of got out of hand. Daily Creates are typically done in 10-15 minutes or so, but this one took considerably more than that. But that’s ok. That’s the whole idea of doing daily creative activities. Sometimes it leads to something more substantial.

I used an app on my iPad called Voice Record Pro by Dayana Networks. I love this app. It is the Swiss Army Knife of audio recording apps. I sometimes use it in my Hardware and Networking class to demonstrate the concept of a server. Voice Record Pro is so versatile, it includes a web server feature that turns your iPad into a web server so you can easily download your recordings. There are about a dozen other ways to get your files as well. For example, you can upload directly to YouTube in video form, you can send it to your other Apple devices via AirDrop (my favorite way). If you are a user of Apple devices and don’t use AirDrop you are missing out. It is the simplest of ways to transfer files from one device to another but only works on Apple products.

I recorded the ukelele part, then I recorded myself singing as well and mixed these files together in Adobe Audition. I think when I get more confidence, I’ll play and sing at the same time. Finally, I brought the audio into Adobe Premiere and added some pictures and simple animations to be rendered as a video that I then uploaded to YouTube.

New Year’s Still Life 2019

My daughter has been asking me to paint with her. I finally made some time for painting over the New Year’s holiday. We set up a still life of objects we found from around the house. We put an ordinary desk lamp above it for lighting. Here is a photo of the items we found.

My daughter is working with acrylic paints and I have been using watercolors.

First, I suggested we make sketches as a warmup activity. Here is my sketch.

Then I painted a first draft painting. Here is my first draft.

I did two more iterations of the same still life arrangement. Each time I zoomed in the focus of my attention a little more. Here is my second painting

 

‘See how my strokes are bolder and more confident this time? I left out some of the details.

Finally, here is my third painting. I was interrupted in the middle of making this one. It is a lot more free than the first two.

Today’s Daily Create calls for making a composition using the Rule of Thirds. I typically have this rule in the back of my mind whenever I am making drawings or photographs although it varies on how closely I adhere to it.

Out of the three paintings, I think still life number two most closely follows the rule of thirds.

 

Creative Attendance Taking

After coming across the Near-Sighted Monkey’s post on using a drawing exercise for taking attendance, I had to share it here. This is absolutely the most creative way I’ve ever seen for taking attendance in a class. Starting with an original drawing, each student was to copy the drawing exactly except substituting the face with a drawing of their own face.

I love the idea of giving a creative assignment like this for taking attendance. I’m going to think about similar creative ways to take attendance in my classes. Well done!

Authentic Writing Assignments

 

File Photo writing a letter to US Marine
writing letter to US Marine

One of my deepest frustrations that I felt as an undergraduate student were the “contrived” assignments that I was given in the courses in my major of computer science. In my introduction to networking class, we did a lot of readings from the textbook and memorized a lot of facts for the exams we took, all while I was working as an IT director redesigning and installing my first network at the school where I was working. In my database class, we did some case studies of fictitious companies from our textbook, and actually created some databases in MS Access. That was happening while I was working for a municipal utilities department responsible for creating databases that tracked and reported data on water usage in the city.

Now I’m on the other side of the equation, a college teacher. I realize that sometimes we have but little choice but to “make up” scenarios for students to explore and experience. However, when it’s possible, I am a big believer in setting up authentic learning experiences. The more realistic a learning experience is, the messier things can get. I think this may be one limiting factor that makes educators favor the contrived over the authentic. We can make things cleaner and go smoother if we pre-plan every detail in advance. But life never works that way. Usually in life when we embark on a new project, we have no idea of how things will ultimately turn out.

One of the greatest things that our digitally-connected world has to offer students is a learning environment in which the classroom can extend out into the world. This can happen in numerous ways. For example, Mystery Skype is an activity where classrooms in different parts of the world can connect and play a guessing game trying to learn where the other class is located. Experts can interact with students through live video conference, or other online platforms like Twitter.

In many writing assignments, the work is assigned by the teacher, then the student completes the writing work knowing full well that the only reader of the work will be the teacher/grader. If you’ve ever read this type of writing, it often consists of the student writer imagining what the teacher expects, and typically the writing is just as artificial as the assignment.

Early in my teaching career, I was frustrated by my students’ writing.  I wanted to have writing and communication assignments that were more authentic and real than the teacher-as-audience type of assignment.  I read a piece by Connecticut middle school teacher Paul Bogush, describing how his students were motivated by writing for a global audience, rather than the traditional teacher audience, and it spoke to me.

Why not have students write for a wider audience? Why not assign projects and assignments that have potential for having an impact on the outside world? In a world where information is freely available but the quality varies wildly, why not have students share what they are learning with the world? What great practice it is for students to share what they learn and believe, so long as they are asking deep questions, and doing what they can to find evidence-based answers to these questions.

One suggestion I’ve read, and I forget where I found it, is to simply write a letter to a loved one about what is being learned. Explain something complex in terms that a non-expert can understand. I think that is a good place to start. I’m still exploring this idea. How can I create assignments and projects that students will get excited about working on? How can I get them to want to make a difference with the work they are doing in school? I think the more real, the more authentic, the more relevant these assignments and projects are, the better.

 

 

 

Exponential Growth Simulation

I’ve been working at improving my Unity3D skills. We are using Unity in the Game Programming class I’m teaching this semester. I wanted to build a project that focused on creating some GameObjects that interact with each other through various public methods. So I made a growth simulation that represents a group of bacteria eating and reproducing.

The game objects include bacteria, food, and a game manager. All the food object does is keep track of how much food is available, and provide a public method called supplyFood(), with which the bacteria can acquire food to eat. The game manager object creates a grid of food tiles to be used as a food supply. It also keeps track of the number of bacteria in the game through public methods addBacteria() and removeBacteria().

The bacteria does a number of things. I tried to make this object class self-managing. So it has a timer that makes regular calls to the eat() method, and reproduce() method is based on doing a number of eats. There is also a die() method that takes the bacteria out of the game. But it doesn’t completely work correctly yet, I’m still debugging it.

One tricky part was finding out if the bacteria was touching a food tile, so it could eat. I used a collision detection method to initiate that. It is interesting how objects can connect with one another. Here is an example of how the bacteria connects to the food.

These variables are declared to give access to the foodTile object and the supplyFood() method of its food script:

  public GameObject foodTile; // the food object 
  public food food; // the food script found in the foodTile object; provides access to the supplyFood() method. 
  private int foodAmt; // the food counter

When a bacterium collides with (sits upon) a foodTile tagged “food” it opens a connection to the script it contains called “food.” I was concerned that doing this each time a new bacterium is created and collides with a foodTile, it would be a lot of processing overhead. But so far, it seems to be working.

   void OnCollisionEnter(Collision collision)
   {
      if (collision.collider.gameObject.tag == "food")
      {
         foodTile = collision.collider.gameObject; // connects the foodTile to this bacterium
         food = foodTile.GetComponent<food>(); // the food script of foodTile gives us supplyFood() method
      }
    }

Here is the eat() method that uses that uses the food script of the foodTile.

     public void eat()
     {
         int foodAmt = food.supplyFood();
     }

It took me a while to understand how getComponent works. It basically allows access to any component of a given object, including scripts. object.getComponent<component>();

Here is a video of what it looks like in Unity3D right now: