Club Corner: High School Photo Club

Isabella Krell, Senior Communications Officer

Did you know that you can make a camera out of an empty Pringles can? That's right! You read that correctly. Members of Graded's High School Photo Club are introduced to the world of analog and digital photography, beginning with the pinhole camera. Later, they develop more advanced skills including gaining an understanding of a manual camera's exposure triangle, photographing with film, and manually developing black and white photographs in a darkroom. All of that, plus the opportunity to be Graded's official student photographers — using digital cameras — at campus events! 

The term "photography" is a magnificent word derived from the Greek words "photo" (light) and "graphy" (to draw). Photographers, therefore, are experts at manipulating the light around them to create beautiful images. Photographs have the capacity to evoke strong emotions in us, the viewers, and some images have even changed the course of history. 

People are drawn to the world of photography for a number of reasons, and as a result, students at Graded have different motivations for joining Photo Club. Florencia D., a grade 11 student and Photo Club leader, had previously only dabbled in photography before enrolling in an elective photography course at Graded. After she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the medium, photography became a significant part of her life,  changing how she viewed the world. "I now take my film camera everywhere I go," she exclaims. "What drew me into the world of photography is how a photo allows you to see the photographer's perspective of the world."

Graded Senior Julia L. has been a member of the Photo Club since 2019. She values photography because it allows her to store special memories and feelings. Julia joined Photo Club to learn more about its origins, develop her technical and editing skills, and understand camera mechanics. She enthuses, "Photography is for everyone. There are so many techniques and styles to choose from that everyone can find their favorite!"

Throughout the semester, Photo Club members are tasked with completing several photography challenges with specific goals and learning outcomes in mind. The first challenge consists of building a pinhole (or lens-less) camera and taking a photograph at school. To successfully capture an image, a photographer must utilize a camera obscura — Latin for "dark chamber" — with a hole that enables light to enter. A camera obscura may be anything: a box with a tiny hole, a Polaroid film camera, a Canon DSLR camera, or even an actual chamber with a single external light source. The pinhole camera mimics the concept of the camera obscura in that it is a box (or, for Photo Club members, an empty Pringles can) with a pin-sized hole on one side that allows light to enter the darkened space and project an inverted picture on the can's opposite side. 

During an after-school Photo Club session, fifteen students brought their empty Pringles cans into the Arts Center, eager to get their hands dirty. Each student carefully measured their can and used a pin to make a precise hole. They then spray-painted the inside of the container black and taped the can's lid to prevent light from entering. Finally, they devised a moveable cover for the pinhole that would function as the camera's shutter. They learned that the shutter must remain open for 30-40 seconds for light to flow into the Pringles can through the pinhole and effectively take a picture.

After constructing their cameras, the Photo Club students walked around campus, capturing interesting scenes they encountered. Julia, who participated in the activity, felt quite anxious during her first attempt. She explains, "I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly and that I didn't ruin my picture. After it was taken, I rushed back into the darkroom because I was very curious to see if it had worked."

Photography instructor Ms. Karin Gunn believes that "allowing students to build their own cameras creates a foundation and understanding of how a camera works. Even though we have all been shooting with digital cameras or smartphones for years, we are backtracking and learning how to take photographs with an 'original' camera." Julia, who agrees with Ms. Gunn on the value of the experiment, adds, "My favorite aspect of constructing a pinhole camera and shooting with it was understanding the mechanisms of a camera and how light is manipulated to take a picture. It still fascinates me that light flowing through a hole in a can produce an image!"

Such exercises lay the groundwork for students to become better, more confident, and more creative when drawing with light. "Understanding the principles of photography enables you to make choices such as how much light you want in the image, whether you want a fuzzy or sharp background, and if you want to blur or freeze a moment,” explains Ms. Gunn. She claims that “all of these decisions are personal and dependent on a photographer's intention. Because there is no secret recipe for achieving the desired results, mastering the technique is critical." 

And she's right: there's no magic formula for becoming a great photographer or capturing a heartrending shot. Instead, aspiring photographers (such as Photo Club students and perhaps you?) must take the necessary steps to gradually develop their talents. Here is the first recipe that might help beginners reach new heights. If you're willing to give it a shot, it's inexpensive and easy, and it will teach you the fundamentals of light and image. All you need is a strong appetite to empty that Pringles can.