Unit 5: Pictures in the Attic

This Unit focuses mainly on photography and gives you the opportunity to practice telling stories in visual form. You may go from someone who takes a lot of snapshots or quick mobile photos to one who thinks more about composition, framing, and being more intentional with your photography. Even if you are an accomplished photographer, you can always get better by honing skills or trying new approaches.

This Unit most of the work comes from the ds106 Assignment Bank – you must write up your assignments to meet the criteria of being a Blogging Champ — this means not only blogging the media that you create, but writing about the idea/inspiration behind it and information on how you made it.

Becoming a Better Photographer

The suggestions below are borrowed from TEN: Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft. None of Them Involve Buying Gear a $5 ebook by David duChemin. You don’t need to buy the book, here are some some key points:

Get Pickier: Instead of using your camera like a rapid fire machine gun, spend more time pre-composing in your mind. As you get more practice, you can be more selective, and more deliberate. See if perhaps you can decide before taking a shot if it will be good.

Better Contrast Makes Better Stories: Contrast can be in terms of colours and lighting, but also elements and subjects in your photos- look for things that maybe do not belong together (juxtaposition). Look for near and far perspective.

Change My Perspective By Changing Yours: Find different and unique points of view. Look down, up, lay down on the ground, anything different from your normal view of the world at head height. Seek perspectives of lines.

Create Depth: Look for ways to add dimension of visual depth in your 2 dimensional images- play with foreground, lines, use of wide angle lenses, use of dark backgrounds.

Get Balanced: The rule of thirds is not only about placement on a grid; duChemin describes visual mass, elements that draw more attention in a photo and how to balance that effectively. “Becoming more intentional about creating and playing with balance in your images will help you create images that more intentionally express what you have to say.”

Pay Attention to the Moment: Sometimes it means slowing down, but also being more aware of the action in a scene, trying to anticipate the moment of something interesting before it happens e.g. watching a family at the table preparing for when baby might spill the glass of milk? at sporting events trying to be ready for the kick that scores the goal?

Look to the light. Probably the most key lesson – be aware of light that works and what does not. Knowing about shadows, directions, aiming for directions where light is strong (or not). Good light makes every photo. Learn how to sense when light is good (and when not, and you can skip lousy shots).

Use the Best Lens: If your camera uses different lenses, understand better what a wide angle does versus a telephoto not only in terms of what it can fit in a photo, but what effect it has one photos (squashing or expanding space). If your lens is fixed, understand what its limits are (how close you can get, what happens at severe angles).

Expose for Aesthetics: Learn how to use aperture, shutter speed, iso to control the image- what the effects of these all play on depth of field, motion freeze vs blurring. For fixed lens camera/mobile, at least understand what the level of light means for your photos (why are those low light photos are blurry?)

Put a Great Foreground in Front of a Great Background: Pay attention to the near and far. A landscape scene is dull without something in foreground to give depth and scale. Learn to avoid clutter and distracting elements.

These are of course, very general guides. You get better as you look at your own and others photos. You get better when you think more before you press the shutter. You get better when you try new approaches. You get better when you break the rules.

 Here are more ds106 resources in a web based collection on Storify.

Pick at least three tips from these resources and try them as you do your Daily Creates and other assignments this Unit.

Get used to looking at photos and thinking about what makes them good and interesting to look at. Do they ‘tell stories’? Check out the BBC News ‘In Pictures’ website for examples to look at each week.


Here is an exercise that is a fun way to exercise your visual interpretation skills. Below is a list of subjects that you are asked to convey in photos that you must try and capture within a 15 minute window of time. It is less about capturing highly artistic images, but just being inventive and trying to interpret the list of subjects. Before you do this, pick a place that is likely to have a lot of variety of subjects.

This is not a test! You do not have to get them all, just try to think in interesting ways about how to interpret and capture the list. Here is what to seek in your own blitz:

Your first photo is of something that shows the current time! Document when you started the blitz.

In the next 15 minutes, try to capture as many of the following photos as you can

Make an ordinary object look more interesting, almost supernatural.

Take a photo that makes use of converging lines.

Take a photo dominated by a single colour

Take a photo of something at an unusual angle

Take a photo of two things that do not belong together.

Take a photo that represents the idea of ‘openness’

Take a photo that expresses a human emotion

Take a photo that emphasizes mostly dark tones or mostly light ones.

Make a photo that is abstract, that would make someone ask, “Is that a photograph?”

Take a photo of an interesting shadow.

Take a photo that represents a metaphor for complexity.

Take a photo of someone else’s hand (or paw)

Take another photo of a timepiece that shows the time you stopped. It should be fifteen minutes since step 1, right?

Upload your five best photos to Flickr, and tag them ‘ds106photoblitz’.

Write a blog post about your experience using the ‘blogging like a champion’ guidelines. Describe the place you chose to do this, and why you chose it. What was the experience like? What photos worked for you best? What do you think was the most inventive?

See also this mobile web app developed by John Johnston that can generate a photoblitz assignment (20 minute challenge) whenever you want to do one. Go on, test yourself again.

Daily Creates

There is no further requirement to complete any Daily Creates from now on, although you can continue to do so if you like. But now is the time to focus on the assignments and to begin to select your best work for assessment.

Visual Assignments

Now you will get your first in depth experience with the ds106 Assignment Bank where most of your subsequent work in SMPds106 will happen. This is a collection of assignments that have been contributed by ds106 participants. Each one has a star rating indicating how difficult/complex it is (rated from 1=easy to 5=hard).

For this Unit, complete at least 8 stars worth of Visual Assignments — this could be doing 4 assignments rated 2 stars, 2 assignments rated 4 stars, or 1 rated 5 stars and 1 rated 3 stars, etc. It is your choice which visual assignments to do – there are currently over 200 of them listed, and if you need to spin the dial, try a randomly selected one. Try things you have not done before, and make interesting interpretations of the assignments rather than just ‘chasing  the stars’ that you need.

If you are having trouble picking visual assignments, below are ones that have been more popular with previous ds106ers:

Splash that color

Image with a message

Album Cover

Illustrate 106

Unlikely Intersections

Common everyday objects

Find Yourself

Return to the scene of the crime

Art Comes to Life

Buddy Photo

For each assignment you do write an individual blog post that includes:

The visual you produced for the assignment embedded into your blog post.

Write some text that shares your thinking behind the assignment, your inspiration, what it means to you. Think of this as similar to the extras on a DVD, the ‘making of’ material.

Share your process. What tools did you use? What techniques? Think of this as information that would help someone else doing the same assignment.

In other words, model the criteria for blogging like a champ.

To have your work connected back to the assignment, your blog post must include the two tags for the assignment, one will be Visual Assignments and the other will have a name like VisualAssignments324.

If you do this correctly, your own example will be added to the entry within an hour of your publishing your blog post.

Unit 5 Summary

During this Unit you should have:

Thought about how to become a better photographer by looking at tips and ideas associated with photography and looking closely at photographs

Completed a blog post about the photoblitz task

Completed 8 stars worth of Visual Assignments and created a blog post for each assignment following the criteria used by ‘blogging champions’.



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