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Lessons in photography

This is one of my favorite photos that I've taken in recent years. Without the flag, this wouldn't have been half as good a photograph, but this came to symbolize for me the American spirit, the purple mountain majesty, that is our country.

My photojournalism class at EIU was one of the most fun and eye-opening classes I ever took in school. My professor was so passionate about his craft, and he made me look at the world differently. Whenever I teach photography to my students, I get excited, and I can see that they get excited with me.

I remember before we could even use our Canon Rebels in that class, our professor told us to go around campus and take photos with our 'eyes' and then report back to class to tell the class of the photos we 'took.' I recall venturing off to the cafeteria and snapping shots of the workers behind the scenes preparing the food. It taught me to see the shot before taking it.

I learned a lot of things about photography that year, and ended up taking a lot of shots for the paper and website. I shot rugby, hockey, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, any major news event, and remember shooting unique feature stories such as a student with a flamingo painted car. I played with white balance, shutter speed, aperture, the zoom lens, and after awhile, I prefered the manual focus versus automatic, so that I didn't have a delay in shots.

When I received a Canon Rebel for Christmas one year, I brought it everywhere. I took all our vacation shots with it, pics of nature, and carried it along to the board meetings I covered for the La Grange Doings newspaper. I still considered myself a writer/reporter first, but my love for photography carried with me wherever I went. I don't consider myself a professional by any means, but I developed a love for the craft from that class.

When I started teaching journalism, my students didn't even have cameras and they were forced to take photos from their smartphones for the paper. I lobbied for point and shoot Canon's last year, but made them find photos with their eyes first. I showed them a few short videos from professional National Geographic photographers and we discussed what works well for their photographs. Then we walked outside and I told them to try different angles as they shot pics of nature.

Seeing them fall in love with photography makes me remember falling in love for it all over again. Then as we made it into the lab, I showed them how to crop, use levels, dodge, burn, use the history window, image size and save the photo as tiff and jpeg. But I didn't stop there. We created memes for fun, we played with layers, I showed them how to cut photos out with the magnetic lasso, and then I told them to play around with the tools to figure more out on their own. I had a student go down state in the Infographics category in the IHSA Journalism competition because I allowed him to play with Photoshop for weeks leading up to it and refine his skills.

I encourage anyone who is interested in journalism to learn some basics of photography. If you are looking for some good videos to get started in learning the craft, watch the below. Underneath are some of the favorite photos I took over the years.

1. Making Simply Beautiful Photographs - National Geographic - I show this video in class, and it highlights some of National Geographic photographers favorite photographs, but they tell the reasons as to why they believe they make good photos and what they did to take them.

2. Photography Tutorial: ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed - This is a great video that not only talks about these necessary terms, but a photographer walks you through examples of them and what they look like taken through a professional camera.

3. Basic Camera Shots for Filmmaking - This applies to both filmmaking and photography. This teaches young photographers different angles they have to work with (low, high, medium, etc.) to take shots so that they can get unique photos. I show this before they go out to take pictures.

4. Best Photos of All Time - This isn't a video, but the website is in the name. This is Time Magazine's 100 Top Photos. It takes you through the stories behind these photos, and you get to see why these photos are considered the best.

5. Proof: The Photographers on Photography | National Geographic - Professional photographers talk about what their motivation is in shooting their shots and why they think their photographs work.

6. Beginner Photography MISTAKES - What to avoid to take better photos - This professional photographer walks you through what doesn't work with photos and how you can improve them. I've shown it with my students before, and it seemed to really help them.

*There is a 33 episode course on Photoshop online, and all kinds of videos on beginner and advanced. It just depends on what you want to learn or teach.

Below are some of my favorite nature photographs that I've taken over the last few years.

While Hawaii was photo-friendly anyway, this was my favorite of the bunch. The lighting as it hit the water, the two people playing on the beach, the sign juxtaposed next to the beautiful palms, and the mountains that surrounded it all made this the pick of my Hawaii litter.

The Salt Flats in Utah is truly a photographer's dream. It is like a blanket of snow backdropped with rugged mountainous terrain. The contrast made for a beautiful shot.

I thought shooting close up to the "End of Trail" sign here in Sedona made for a particularly perfect jaw-dropping scene. This was truly that last step you could take.

This would have been a perfectly ordinary photo had the one sea lion not chosen to sit up. I snapped a few shots here in San Francisco and smiled as I did so.

I'm not sure exactly where this was. I think we were still in Yellowstone, but what makes this photo interesting to me is that the geyser gushes up right in the middle of the clouds, giving a sort of optical illusion with the clouds surrounding it.

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