My View of Rochester: Shooting Day 3

Today we will continue shooting photos outside to represent our view of Rochester. Here are some of my favorite photos taken so far. What makes each photo strong? What could make these photos even better?

Today we will:

  • Continue taking photos outside to represent our view of Rochester
  • Create a new blog post with the following:
    • The best photos taken today
    • A paragraph describing what went well, anything that you struggled with, and any questions you have regarding this project

The Pen Tool – Beginner & Advanced Tutorials

Today we will practice using the pen tool. We will use the pen tool throughout the year in both Illustrator and Photoshop. We will begin with two demonstrations: how to use the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator and how to use the pen tool in Photoshop to create a multi-layer composite image.

If you have never used the pen tool, or feel like you never quite got the hang of it, you will complete the vector practice tutorial in Adobe Illustrator.

If you consider yourself a pen tool expert, you will use the pen tool in Photoshop to create a multi-layer composite image.

Pen Tool for Beginners: Vector Practice Tutorial

  1. Download the “” file here.
  2. Unzip the file.
  3. Open the .ai file in Illustrator.
  4. Trace over each shape with the pen tool. (They are numbered from the simplest to the most complex.)
  5. Save your file as a PDF. (File -> Save as -> PDF).
    Remember where you saved your file! If you don’t know where you saved your file, the teacher certainly won’t.
  6. Create a new blog post. Upload the PDF containing the vector images you have traced and describe any difficulties you had with the pen tool.

Pen Tool Review for Experts: Creating a Composite Image in Photoshop

Today we will learn how to use the pen tool to path out part of a photo and copy and paste it on a new layer. This will allow us to edit just that part of the photos. This technique is called compositing, and serves many purpose. For example, sometimes part of an image will already be sufficiently exposed (is bright enough), while part of the image is too dark. In this case, you would want to lighten selective areas of your photo with a technique called compositing. You can also use compositing to put a filter on just one part of your photo.

How to create a composite image:

  1. Go to the “paths” window on the lower right side of the screen. It is likely tabbed next to the layers palette.
    Click the “new path” button. new_path_icon
  2. Go to the toolbar on the left side of the screen. Select the pen tool. pen_tool
    Outline the part of the photograph you want to modify.
  3. Once you have closed your shape by clicking on the first point, go back to the paths window.
    Right click on the path you have created, and click “make selection.”
    Feather the selection by 1pixel (this will soften the edges of your selection).
    It should look like ants are marching around the part of the photo you have selected.
  4. Control + click to copy your selection. Control + click to paste your selection.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you have pathed out, copied, and pasted all the parts of the photo that you would like to modify.
  6. Now here’s the fun part – modifying each part of the image. Go back to the “layers” window. Click on the layer you want to modify, then at the top of the screen, go to Image -> Adjustments, and select the appropriate adjustment. In this case, I want to make the background black & white, so I clicked on the background layer:
  7. Repeat the steps above to individually adjust the levels on each part of your photo that contains unique lighting.
    For example, the people in my photo seem a bit too dark, so I can click on each of their layers in the layers palette, go to Image -> Adjustments -> Levels, and adjust the levels on each person until I am happy with the lighting.

Today we will:

  • Practice using the pen tool by completing one of the following tasks:
    • Newbies
      • Complete the vector practice tutorial in Illustrator
      • Create a new blog post with the following:
        • A PDF of the work we completed today
        • A few sentences describing any challenges you faced when working with the pen tool, and how you worked through them
    • Experts
      • Use compositing to selectively edit part of a photo in Photoshop.
      • Create a new blog post with the following:
        • The before and after of each edited photo. Brian did a great job experimenting with different filters on multiple photographs.
        • A few sentences describing any challenges you faced when working with the pen tool in Photoshop, and how you worked through them



My View of Rochester Day 2: How to Take Great Candid Portraits

Note: Mornings are starting to get chilly, so come prepared with a jacket or sweatshirt. Short of a torrential downpour or blizzard, we will continue going outside daily. I expect you to dress appropriately for the weather.

Candid portraits, or portraits that are taken “in the moment,” rather than staged, are often the key to taking flattering photos of people. Here are some tips that will help you take great candid photos:

1. Take your camera everywhere. Probably the best way to take spontaneous photographs is to always be ready to do so. Taking your camera with you everywhere also helps people to be more at ease with you taking their photo. Once friends and family expect you to have my camera out, they will act more relaxed if they do catch you taking a photo, making the photos appear more natural.

2. Position yourself strategically. Anticipate what is about to unfold in front of you to increase the chances of getting some great shots. Which way will people be facing? What will they be doing? What will the light be like? Thinking through these issues will save you having to run around repositioning yourself when you should be shooting images – it’ll also mean you take a whole heap less shots of the back of people’s heads!


3. Zoom in. The further you are away from your subject the less likely they will be to know that you’re photographing them, and the more natural and relaxed they’ll act. Using zoom enables you to shoot from outside their personal space but keep the feeling of intimacy in the shot you’re taking. One of my students pretended to be upset with her fellow classmates. They then gave her enough space that she was able to take better candid photos without them noticing!

Note: This tip only works if you are using an actual camera, not a camera on your phone. Most phone cameras don’t have a true zoom; rather, their digital zoom feature merely crops your photo. Avoid zooming on a phone camera to prevent blurry images.

Photo Credit: Mariana, 10th Grade

Photo Credit: Mariana, 10th Grade, Class of 2018

4. Shoot first, compose later. And shoot lots. Don’t worry about framing the perfect shot while the camera is in your hand. Keep moving, getting as many angles and moods as possible. Click fast and often. Back at the computer, you can refine your raw material into a beautifully composed candid. Purists like Henri Cartier-Bresson shunned cropping as a kind of photographic half-truth; for the rest of us, there’s Photoshop. When you shoot multiple images quickly of a person, you’ll increase your chances of that perfect shot. This is especially helpful if your subject moves quickly or is a talker.


5. Don’t pose subjects. People look relaxed and comfortable when they’re engaged in activity – talking with one another, fixing their hair, petting the dog. Anything that keeps their mind off your lens is good. Wait until your subject is has forgotten that you are photographing them and is fully focused upon what they are doing or who they are with.


6. Photograph people with people. Something very interesting happens when you photograph more than one person in an image at a time – it introduces relationship into the shot. Even if the two (or more) people are not really interacting in the shot it can add depth and a sense of story into the viewing of the image.


7. Frame images with foreground elements. Purposely include something in the foreground of the shot to make it look as though you’re hiding behind it. You might do this with by shooting over someone’s shoulder, by including a little of a tree branch or the frame of a doorway.

Photo Credit: Bayleigh, 11th Grade

Photo Credit: Bayleigh, 11th Grade, Class of 2017

8. Be patient and catch people in the moment. Waiting is an important part of getting a good photo; wait for that perfect smile, or for your subject to turn to you. Capturing people in the moment provide the best results and details of what’s going on in a photo.


9. Add context. Without context, photos lack depth. Try positioning subjects to the left of right of the frame to show some of where they are or what they’re doing. Another great way to add context is to shoot through the environment that they’re in, like trees or people.

Note: Be strategic with the cropping. You don’t want to crop out so much of the environment that the photo loses context.

Photo Credit: Bayleigh, 11th Grade

Photo Credit: Bayleigh, 11th Grade, Class of 2017

10. Avoid clutter in the picture. At the same time, make sure anything in the background adds to, rather than detracts from the picture. Frame the shot by moving the subject left or right in the viewfinder. If the background continues to be too cluttered, use a wide aperture to blur the background. You can fake a wide aperture in on a point and shoot camera by switching into portrait mode.

11. Move around your subjects. If you’re taking a photo of someone candidly, you can’t exactly ask them move to create a better composition. It’s also pointless asking them to look natural, as that creates the most awkward shots of all. Get up and walk around your subjects until you have them positioned how you’d like and then take the photo.


12. Watch the back. Never take photos of people’s backs. Nothing is more boring than a group of people with all backs turned to the camera. It just doesn’t work.

13. Keep quiet and blend in. Do what everyone else is doing so you fit in with the situation. This will ensure that you do not distract from the main event. Your subjects will act more natural if they forget that you are photographing them.

Photo Credit: Yusuf, 11th Grade

Photo Credit: Yusuf, 11th Grade, Class of 2017


Today we will:

  • Continue taking photos outside that represent our view of Rochester
  • Create a new blog post with the following:
    • the best photos we took today
    • a few sentences describing what you were successful with and what you still find challenging about photography
  • clear the memory cards, remove the batteries, plug the batteries in to a charger, and return the cameras


Featured Photographer: Vivian Maier

Today we will take photos outside for our “My View of Rochester” photojournalism project.
Look over these photographs taken by Vivian Maier to get some final inspiration on how to portray YOUR Rochester:


1955, New York, NY




1954, New York, NYvivian_maeir_CHI-1025 CALIFORNIA



You can learn more about Vivian Maier by viewing her official website. It contains her story and hundreds of her photographs.

The following students still need to turn in their walking field trip permission slips: Brianna, Taylor, Shylamar, Raphael, Jordy, Jordyn, Yusuf, Marina

Today we will:

  • Take photos outside for our “My View of Rochester” photojournalism assignment.
  • Create a new blog post with the following:
    • the best photos taken today
    • a paragraph describing
      • how these images represent your view of Rochester
      • what went well today
      • any challenges you faced today

Photo Essay: Portray YOUR Rochester

For your major fall photography assignment, you will create a photographic essay representing Rochester as you see it. You may choose to photograph your neighborhood, family, sports team, or favorite after school hangout. Take as many photos as you can – the more options you have to choose from, the better. At the end of the unit, you will post the 10-12 photographs that you feel best show your vision of Rochester (along with a 250 word artist statement) to your blog.

A Teacher’s View of Rochester


Photo Credit: Ms. Lawson


Photo Credit: Ms. Lawson


Photo Credit: Ms. Lawson


Photo Credit: Ms. Lawson

Project Requirements:

  • 10-12 quality, edited (if necessary) photographs united by the theme “My Rochester”
  • Photos are black & white
  • Photos fit all criteria of a good photograph discussed up this point (proper lighting; interesting angle; clear subject that is in focus; tells a story; background adds to, rather than detract from, the subject of the image)
  • 250 word artist statement in the same blog post as the final 10-12 edited photos

Here are some examples of powerful photo essays:

Past “My View of Rochester” Photo Essays by SOTA Students:

The Speech that Inspired the Project

Shortly after taking office in 2014, Mayor Lovely Warren referred to Rochester as “a tale of two cities.” Here is a brief excerpt from that speech (you can read the speech in its entirety here):

“In his State of the State address just a few short weeks ago, Governor Cuomo candidly and accurately described Upstate New York as being in a “cycle of decline” — and the evidence of this is clear to see in Rochester.  The Rochester of today is far different from the Rochester of just a generation ago. Rochester is a tale of two cities.  One city is vibrant, hopeful, wealthy, and highly livable. The other suffers from escalating poverty, dysfunction, unemployment that is higher today than it was during the Great Depression — and a deficient educational system.  This divide has both immediate human consequences and short and long-term economic consequences.

The Mayor’s challenge — our community’s shared challenge — is to bridge these divides so that all people feel there is hope for them and their children; and we all feel that we have an equal stake in the future.  A recent report by the Rochester Area Community Foundation outlined the harsh reality we face; and the findings are a call to action that cannot go unanswered.

Rochester is the:

  • Fifth poorest city in the country among the top 75 largest metropolitan areas;
  • Second poorest among comparably sized cities in those metro areas;
  • Ranked third for highest concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods among cities in the top 100 metro areas;
  • Poorest urban school district in the State.”

Today we will:

  • Introduce the new photojournalism project: My View of Rochester
  • Create a new blog post with the following:
    • Any photos you took for previous assignments this year that you think may work well as part of your “My View of Rochester” photo essay. (You should plan to take new photos for the majority of your photo essay, but for now, it is ok to post 2-4 ones you may potentially use.)
    • A few sentences describing potential subject matter you may want to photograph for this project, as well as how you plan to photograph this subject matter (ie. if you want to take photos of your sports team, explain whether you have access to a camera outside of class, whether your coach would be ok with you taking photos, etc.)
    • A few sentences analyzing your current strengths and weakness regarding photography, and how you will use these to your advantage in your photo essay





Mini Assignment #4: Lighting

Today’s essential question: How can I use natural light to take great photos?

Today we will take photos with great lighting during the first half of class. During the second half of class, we will convert our photos to black and white. We will post both the original color photos and the black and white version to our blogs today.

Here are some photos taken by SOTA students that make great use of lighting:

Photography Lighting Tips

  • Go outside. The sun is a more even, flattering source of light than anything you can find inside.
  • Avoid harsh sunlight. Cloudy days are better for taking photos, because the clouds diffuse the sunlight, softening both the light itself and the shadows it creates. For the same reasons, it is better to photograph in the morning or evening instead of high noon.
  • Diffuse harsh light with position and location. We can’t control the weather, but we can work around it. If the lighting is particular harsh, move your subject to a shady spot, such as under a tree or against a building. Check to make sure there aren’t any harsh shadows being cast. Also, try walking around your subject or having them face different directions. The lighting can dramatically change depending on the direction you face.
  • Hold still. If you are working with limited light, the shutter will remain open longer to properly light the photo. If you (or your subject) move during this time, the photo will be blurry.
  • Avoid flash. It will over-expose the light areas and under-expose the dark parts of your photo, and you won’t be able to correct it in Photoshop.
  • Shoot with the sun to your back or side. Shooting facing the sun will cause the same issues as your camera’s built in flash – it will over-expose the light areas and under-expose the dark parts of your photo, and you won’t be able to correct it in Photoshop.

How to convert your photos to black & white:

  1. Open Photoshop from the Start Menu at the bottom of the screen.
  2. Image -> Mode -> Gray scale
  3. Image -> Adjustments -> Levels
  4. Look at the image that pops up. If your image has sufficient contrast, the “mountain range” will extend to the edge of the window.
    If your image looks similar to this, you do not need to adjust the levels, and can close out of the window:


    If your “mountain range” of values does not extend to the edges of the window (such as the example below), you will click on the left cursor and drag it to the beginning of the left side of the mountain.
    You will then click on the right cursor and drag it to the beginning of the right side of the mountain.
    You will be able to preview what you are doing as long as the “preview” box is checked.


    5. When you have adjusted your levels, click ok.

    6. Save the black and white version of your image. (File -> Save as.)
    Do not replace the color version, as you will need to post both to your blog!

Today we will:

  • Take photos with great lighting during the first half of class
  • Convert the photos to black and white
  • Create a new blog post with the following:
    • BOTH versions (black and white and color) of the photos you took today
    • A paragraph answering the following questions:
      • What did you learn about photography and lighting today?
      • What (if anything) will you change about the way you take photos in the future to ensure quality lighting?
      • Do you prefer your photos in black and white or color? Why?

Photographing Line, Shape, and Space

Today’s essential question: How can I use the art elements line, shape, and space to create interesting photographs?

Today we will take photos, trying to capture line, shape, and space in interesting ways. (Seniors, if the above assignment is not sufficiently challenging, feel free to focus on color instead.) You must post your best photos from today to your blog AND write a reflection according to the instructions at the bottom of this blog post in order to receive participation points for the day.

Look for photo opportunities that already exist, but at the same time, be ready to stage photos if you get an idea that fits today’s assignment.


line-476935 line-Leading-Line line-High-Speed-Rail-Tokyo-500x330 line-End-of-the-lineVCTFH0001


shape-creating-heart-shape-on-a-book-with-a-ring-photography-trick shape-geometric7-1-of-1 shape-grapes-multi-color


Through the keyhole space_fence

space_beatrice_small ruined_doorway_small

Senior Option: Color

Seniors, if the above assignment is not sufficiently challenging, feel free to focus on color instead.

Here are some tips to take great color photos:
  • Look for a Dominant Color
  • Create Contrast
  • Use Colors of Similar Intensity
  • Keep It Simple


    Photo Credit: Bayleigh, Class of 2017

  • Use One Color Against a Neutral Background
  • Know When to Use Black & White!


    Photo Credit: Deanna, Class of 2015

Today we will:

  • Take interesting photos of line, shape, and space (or if you are a senior, you may instead choose to focus on color)
  • Create a new blog post with the following:
    • The best photos we took today
    • Label each photo with the appropriate category (line, shape, space)
    • A paragraph reflection on the following things
      • What are some ways your photography skills have improved over the past few classes?
      • What are some things you still struggle with?
      • Which of the elements you photographed today (line, shape, space) was the easiest for you? Why?
      • Which of the elements you photographed today (line, shape, space) was the most difficult for you? Why?

The following students still need to turn in their walking field trip permission slips: Brianna, Taylor, Quamae, Shylamar, Raphael, Jordy, Jordyn, Mya, Yusuf, Marina