What Schools Can Learn From the World of Photography

The best camera  you have is the one with you.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Nico Kaiser

I have taken a big interest in visuals and photography as I have found some amazing photo sites on the web, as well as simply enjoying using apps such as Instagram (along with a large chunk of the world).  Recently, I was struck by this quote:

“(On digital photography) No wasted film, slides, or prints. And we are aware of this relationship between mistakes and consequences when we pick up the camera—so we click away, taking many more photos digitally than we would have in a world of costly film. Because we know failure is free, we take chances, and in that effort we often get that one amazing picture that we wouldn’t have if we were paying for all the mistakes.” John Hamm

When I thought about it, I wondered about the photography industry and how it has probably changed a great deal in the last ten years because of the evolution of digital photography.  As I am admittedly no more of an expert on the field of photography as I am a strong photographer, I still wanted to share some observations and thoughts on what we can learn from photography and how it applies to what we do in school.  The field of photography has grown and schools could probably learn a few lessons from the field.

1.  The technology is better and cheaper which changes everything. When I first started teaching in 1999, one of my first purchases with a “grown up” cheque was a $600 digital camera that was considered to be “top of the line” at the time.  There was still at this time a huge divide in the “digital” camera camp and those that still used traditional cameras.  At the time, I used the technology to upload to my computer so I could print it off on bad photo paper.  The quality was terrible and I get much better images now from my iPhone, while also being able to take a lot more pictures.

Now, do we still focus on “digital” cameras as this technology has become the norm?  You can create some amazing images with even an iPhone and most people now literally carry a camera in their pocket.  With this access, the quality of images overall are not necessarily better, but more people have the opportunity to take part in this activity, in a meaningful way.  It is not just about developing pictures to post on a wall, but sites like Flickr, have made it easier to share our lives through visuals and have changed the way we even think about photography.  The biggest strictly “mobile” community is now Instagram and it is growing more every day.

When technology gets better, we must rethink the way we do things.  With more access to more people, the way we do things will obviously change.

A low quality photo from a “top of the line” camera in 1999. Still has meaning though since it is showing me and the kids :)

A higher quality pic of “the kids” in 2012 from my phone.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

2. Communities make us (or force us to be) better. Because of communities like Flickr and Instagram, there is more sharing that leads to more innovation.  I have seen some amazing wedding photos, some hilarious ones, and some that you probably wouldn’t post in an album.  With all of these wedding photos are being done, do you think that the “traditional” ideas are still used in such a widespread manner?  With this access to so many different ideas, it is not only the photographer that benefit, but it is also the customer that can share what they have seen to get the perfect picture.  The idea of looking through a “book”, or even website, at some of the best pictures one photographer has done limits the customer to only the mind and work of that photographer.  These communities can inspire everyone with new ideas that they can all use or build upon.

When we share ideas, everyone benefits.

An awesome and unique wedding photo…professional or amateur? Any idea?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by kelly niemann

3.  Create a culture where risks are accepted.  This idea was sparked by the initial quote at the beginning of this post and has resonated with me.  As a child, I remember using my parents’ camera and each image was like valuable currency.  You did not want to waste those images on any picture that could have turned out to be of a poor quality, and once the film roll was done, it was done.  Trying something different was out of the question at the fear you would literally run out of the opportunity to try it again.  Digital has changed that.  If we don’t like the picture, we can simply delete it and try again.  Don’t like the next one?  Delete it again.  The idea that there is little risk involved in our efforts, can lead ultimately to a better product although that it may take time.  Are we patient and comfortable enough with this mindset in schools?

Do we have schools that promote this type of culture where risks are encouraged?  The “digital photography” mindset is something that we should look to adopt more with both our staff and students.

4.  The more access, the more we have to rethink the way we have always done things.  With  the progressions in the field of photography, do you think the “professional” photographer has not had to adapt to the way things have always been done? I have many friends who have jobs and do wedding photography as a hobby on the side. No formal training, no formal schooling, but simply an interest in photography.

I will never forget when my sister was married and seeing the price of the actual prints and thinking how outrageous the cost was.  People are doing quality work for a much lower price which will ultimately have people that are industry rethink the way that we have done.

School is in this same boat.  Some educators are very hesitant about the “Sal Khan’s” of the world that are not trained educators, yet people like him are influencing the way many others outside of the profession think about education.  You don’t think it has impact?  Look at how many teachers are talking about “flipping the classroom” or “flipping the faculty meeting“.  It is not that Khan invented the idea of “flipping”, but did he help to make it mainstream?

With all of the options out there for education, we have to really think about the way schools do “business” or we are going to be “out of business”.  Just look at the music industry and how much they lost but they were only dealing with money.  We can’t afford to lose our kids.

If you don’t like changeyoull like irrelevance even less.” ◦ – General Eric Shinseki


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Byflickr

7 thoughts on “What Schools Can Learn From the World of Photography

  1. Melissa

    What a relevant post! And that last quote, in order to remain significant schools need to be willing to take risks and change when it benefits our students, comfortable or not! Sending this one to people on my staff! Thanks!

  2. John Downs

    I agree George. I think many are missing out on an untapped resource with so many iphones and other smart phones/cameras at our finger tips. I have become a better photographer just by looking around more often at the beauty that surrounds us and also with the inspiration of seeing a talk by Ken Shelton at NCTIES last year.

  3. Carina van Heyst

    This was very timely as I've recently been ruminating on my own participation in Instagram (@carinavh) and how this connects with teaching and learning and instructional leadership (I'd recently thought about starting a blog with this as the inaugural topic). Photography allows us to: think visually (even if we're not skilled with a pencil or paintbrush), make visual connections, "comment" on issues, communicate with others who don't speak the same language we do, celebrate beauty…. In a world so word-driven, it provides a different lens (pun intended) for understanding our surroundings. It provides our visual-spatial learners a way into learning through their preferred modality. As the tools to make great photos become affordable and easier to use, it's important that we figure out how to put them into our students' and teachers' hands. Lots to think about!! Thanks for a post that gives great food for thought.

  4. vickinewton

    Not so portable, but the inbuilt webcams in our computers make playing with images a favourite lunchtime activity at our school. The creativity and sheer fun of pulling faces & distorting images with friends is great to watch. I love the social interaction and laughter that this generates! Thanks for the post.

  5. CogDog

    Besides the impacts of the tools of photography changing (and thus changing the practice), the act of doing photography offers so much for being transformative- the barrier of entry is low, the impact is immediately seen, and it is something we can get better at simply by doing it more and more (and reflecting on what we are doing). The act of looking through a camera, of going from taking snap shots to pre-visualizing in our mind what our camera will see, practices like daily photo challenges have produced in many people new ways of seeing the world, their world.

    The publicness of photo sharing (flickr, instagram) is very key in my mind, the idea of learning in the open, having a community, often people we do not know closely but can come to, almost a sense of performance has some lessons for educators as well (I tried to make a few giant leaps of metaphors between the camera and learning http://cogdogblog.com/stuff/nv11)

    While I agree with the influence potential when technologies get better and cheaper, I am somewhat hesitant to pull a direct correlation to school- yes there are lessons to be learned about change and risk, but education is not an industry like photography, publishing, travel that can be undercut by doing it more efficiently or cheaply. The human factor is so much more complex here.

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