The clouds hung swollen and low on a recent Thursday afternoon outside Payson High School. The diffusion of light through the clouds decreased the threat of shadow, which increased the chance of a good portrait, said photography club teacher Beverly Adams.
The searching, capturing and angling of light is a pivotal lesson in photography — one that makes aperture and shutter speed useless unless it’s mastered.
Adams is a talented photographer. She took classes in high school and college, and also worked for a time at a mall portrait studio, but the poignancy of her photos exceeds the amount of formal training she has had.
And now, the growing number of students attending her photography club are privy to the expertise of both Adams and high school art teacher George Conley.
Conley fiddled with a digital camera paid for with money from Credit For Kids, which allows taxpayers to send a check to the school and write the amount off on their income tax returns. The money also bought a laser jet printer so students could print their pictures.
The students’ work is displayed in the lobby of the high school’s administration building, and for a time, decorated the boardroom in the district office.
Conley says his dream is to have a darkroom at the school, a red-lit space where chemicals swoosh over photographic paper that costs too much, intoxicating photographers as the images slowly and magically appear.
Today, photographers can snap indiscriminately on digital cameras without fear of wasting film. And instead of hunching over the mysterious and creaky old film enlargers, students hunch over their cameras and peer at the pixilated screens which instantly display images, immediately apprising an apprentice photographer of visual success or failure.
Conley’s son, Daniel, recently took 400 or 500 pictures on a trip to the Grand Canyon.
“If you kept 10 out of 100 you might be doing good,” Conley said.
“It’s kind of fun to take pictures and look at other people’s pictures,” Daniel said.
“Some of these kids, when they first came, they weren’t all that good to be completely honest,” said Adams. Now, she says the awesomeness of some of her students’ pictures is astounding.
The students posts their pictures on Flickr, a photo-sharing Web site.
“It’s a community. You can learn, you can share,” said Adams about the site.
The club began last year after a student begged Adams to start one. This is the first full year.
“It’s really laid back,” said student and club President Paula Scott. “Everyone told me to get involved in something, and photography was the only thing I could see myself doing.”
Scott enjoys creating art out of everyday life and showing people different perspectives of objects.
One of Adams’ lessons included taking pictures of small things — markers or belt buckles, for instance. The exercise is one of depth of field, which is how much of an image is sharp. By changing camera settings, a photographer can blur a background or foreground, or snap the entire shot in focus.
On Thursday, students shot portraits. The middle school grandchildren of one of the school secretaries, Chelsey and Chantelle Lopac, volunteered as models.
The two slight, blonde girls climbed on a fence outside one of the high school buildings in front of a heavily clouded and mysterious backdrop.
The gray diffused the light and reduced shadows, which made for good portraits. Conley called the light “beauty light.”
Had the lesson been landscape photography, however, the clouds would have become a burden. A sunny sky creates shadows, which is good for landscape pictures, Adams said.
Students are also learning about color, composition and focal points. They are planning a field trip to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
The number of students in the club varies, Adams said. On Thursday, about a dozen students wandered around wearing cameras.
The present numbers, however, represent growth. More students have starting coming since the club began displaying photographs.
“These kids — for a bunch of rookies, they’re really good photographers,” said Conley.