The Davidson Day School student-photographers are busy at work with the day’s lesson: light painting.
Armed with flashlights, laser pointers and tripods, the class meets in the locker rooms to photograph objects and each other in a deep darkness illuminated only by the small, hand-held lights.
By varying exposure times, students are learning they can show the movement of the light in a single photo. Students trace their initials with flashlights and check the digital screen to see how their “light paintings” translated into an image.
This class is for students in their second and third years of photography. In the first year, students learn basics of composition and the elements of art. The second and third years are more about light. By now, the students have already studied natural light and are learning some studio lighting techniques, like today’s lesson.
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Teacher Laura Mueller Woods has a passion for telling stories through pictures that translates into her teaching. She was a staff photographer for The Charlotte Observer for more than 20 years before becoming Davidson Day School’s photography teacher. She teaches four classes of ninth- through 12th-graders.
“Most of what we do is hands-on, because that’s how they’re really going to learn,” said Woods.
She encourages students to tell a story with their pictures, to take photographs “with a beginning, middle, and end.”
Each of her 62 students recently had a photograph featured at an exhibit at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte. Woods said the Mint’s director of education invited the Davidson Day School photography students to be featured there after she took her classes on a field trip to the museum in December to see “Bearing Witness: The New York Photo League and Sonia Handelman Meyer.”
On the field trip, the students saw photographs from the 1940s era by New York Photo League members, who included some very well-known photographers and iconic photographs, such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”
Woods had the students think about what inspired them about the photos they saw on their field trip. She then took them to Main Street in Davidson to try to capture this sort of inspiration in their own photos. This assignment became the students’ exhibit of photographs of Davidson at the Mint Museum, Jan. 20-31.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to be put in a museum that’s so big,” said sophomore Rachel Marks. “Not a lot of people get to do that. It made me feel accomplished and like a professional.”
Hannah Wolter, also a sophomore, agrees: “It was cool because it was different. I never had the opportunity to see my work in a museum.”
Woods was impressed with her students, as well.
“I was very proud of them, and amazed, too. I think they’re far ahead of where I would have been at that age because they have been taking pictures all their lives,” she said.
Woods believes teaching young people photography is important for several reasons, including strengthening their powers of observation.
“Another thing I want them to take away from the class is what makes a great picture, because we are inundated with images nowadays. … They’ll be making pictures all their lives, so I want them to be able to take great photos and to tell their stories,” she said.
The photography classes have a lot more planned this school year. They are going on field trips to visit professionals at local Glen Roberson Photography and Blair Phillips Photography.
The student work also will be shown March 3-31 at Davidson Town Hall.