Tag Archives: ansel adams

Photography in the Garden: SOL22 Day 14

Last week we learned about Jane Goodall and her passion for animals. Today we began learning about Ansel Adams and his passion for nature and photography. I want students to see that there are lots of ways to take action to make the world better–and following your passions is a great place to begin.

It’s surprising to me that I haven’t had students use their iPads to take photos before this point in the year. I’ve used iPads sparingly this year–I think partly in response of the intensive use of devices during COVID times. So today was the day I decided that we simply HAD to do some photography.

I started by showing my students a slide show with three photography techniques: bug’s eye view (a view from a low perspective), bird’s eye view (a view from above), and using the rule of thirds (framing the subject using grid lines to help with positioning). We did a quick practice in the classroom where I could give some immediate feedback by walking around the room.

After lunch, we came back to the classroom where I gave a few pointers about taking our iPads outside, and then we headed out into the garden to take photos using the three techniques. I limited them to 10 photos, but encouraged them to explore and experiment, deleting any that weren’t good.

There’s nothing like watching first graders take photos. They have no hesitation about laying on the ground, crawling under a plant, or taking an angle that I would never have imagined. As we walked back from the garden, we made a few stops to snap a couple of extra photos of some California golden poppies growing along the fenceline, some other wildflowers, and a lizard doing some sunbathing. And of course, I couldn’t resist a bird’s eye view shot of the class on our way back.

Back in the classroom we took a few minutes to look through the photos, identifying which technique (or combination of techniques) we had used. Tomorrow we will explore some editing…and select our best three for some caption writing.

There’s more to come on this project…stay tuned!

SOLC Day 2: Garden Inspiration

I’m fortunate to teach at a school with a garden.  No, I really don’t have a green thumb–and I love the idea of gardening much more than the practice of gardening.  So, lucky for me, we have a garden teacher who directs a lunchtime club that gets things growing…and then I can take my students out to use the garden as inspiration for photography, art, and writing!

Today I started to teach my students about photography by reading them the book Antsy Ansel by Cindy Jenson-Elliott.  (I’m fortunate to know Cindy and have her as part of our local writing project too!)  My recent trip to Yosemite further inspired my teaching about Ansel Adams and appreciation for the natural beauty around us.  Below is photo of El Capitan with the sun setting and casting its glow on these impressive granite slopes.  If you look closely you can see a heron in the foreground who decided to hang out and watch the light change from its vantage in the Merced River.


I like to show students that photography can be more than just taking pretty pictures.  Photography can be a form of activism–another way of expressing your views and spreading information to others.  Adams’ photography played a role in the establishment of our National Park system, something I am grateful for!

So today after a quick lesson on a variety of composition techniques (rule of thirds, leading lines, bug’s eye view…), we headed out to the garden to take some photos.  With iPads in hand, students explored through their camera lens.  They got low, looked closely, climbed slopes, scrambled under bushes…all in search of an interesting photo.  I haven’t yet gotten a look at their images…we barely made it back into the classroom in time to head out for lunch! Tomorrow will bring next steps…and some inspiration from Dorothea Lange.

And of course, I had to take a few shots along with my students.  Here’s one of some students in action.


And another experimenting with black and white…something I will ask my students to do tomorrow to help them see the world through Ansel Adams’ lens.  This is a bright yellow flower I found blooming in the garden.


We’ll be doing some writing tomorrow as well…hopefully we’ll get far enough that I can share a slice of student results soon!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Path

Some weeks I find myself retracing my steps, traversing paths that are familiar, my feet knowing the steps almost automatically.  But sometimes I have to stop, bend low, and take another look to see the path in a new way.  I felt that way in my back yard earlier this week.  It’s been raining a lot here this winter–or at least it feels like a lot after six years of drought, so plants are growing, weeds are growing, cacti and succulents are sprouting these magnificent blooms.  And the scented geranium beckoned with a green that nearly glows.  I love the sense of abstract art conveyed with this shot.


Over the long weekend I was lucky enough to be in Los Angeles (playing with my grandson) and hanging out with my son and daughter-in-law. My usual path as the sun sets leads me to the ocean.  But in this part of LA, the ocean isn’t near.  I found this sunset while standing on the upper level of a parking garage, looking out over the LA skyline.


I frequently walk this path at a local beach…this is the place we call “the corner,” where the beach seems to turn slightly.  It’s also a place that is difficult to get past when the tide is high.  This particular shot feels like a painting to me.


I’ve been playing around with black and white this week as the clouds create paths in the sky and diffuses the light, creating shades of gray.


Yesterday, after a rainy morning and with forecasts of rain all day today, I decided I needed to squeeze in a walk on the beach on my way home from work.  I stopped at Torrey Pines–a path I frequently drive by, but seldom stop to walk.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Ansel Adams as we’ve introduced him to our students through the book Antsy Ansel written by our colleague and friend Cindy Jenson-Elliott as part of a study of photographers, photography and biography.  As I walked I found myself drawn to light and shadow, trying to capture the contrast knowing that I would be transforming my image with a black and white filter.  I know from experience that I need the right image to get my intended effect in black and white.  I loved the path the sun was taking across the lifeguard tower, the dark of the cliffs and the shades of white and gray of the clouds in the distance.  Here’s the original photo (no edits).


And here is my Ansel Adams inspired black and white version.


I do love the effect!

As predicted, this morning dawned wet, painting my morning’s path with raindrops, puddles, and watery lights reflecting in the darker than usual sky.  I couldn’t resist a quick photo while stopped at the intersection, capturing the action in that split second.  It was also a reminder that I would spend my day inside with more than 40 energetic children excited by the wind and rain, a path that we don’t often travel in this arid climate. Mixed blessings…needed rain, the exuberance of childhood, and an opportunity for me to practice patience and appreciation.  I do love my work!


So, as you head out on your daily pathways what will you find?  What’s usual?  What’s unexpected?  Will you seek out a new path with your camera in hand?

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #path for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Whether you let your feet determine the path or your eye, head out with your camera and document what you find.  What will your path reveal?

The Power of Community

Our students are writers, but even a few short weeks ago many didn’t see themselves that way.  They were worried that they didn’t know how to spell, that their writing wasn’t “right,” that others knew something that they didn’t about this mysterious practice called writing.

Like we do every year, we’ve been working to build a community of learners and writers in our multiage class of first, second and third graders. And like Margaret Simon reminds us all in her #digilit post this week, that requires practice, patience, and persistence. Margaret was talking about the use of digital tools–but I would argue, it is the same with or without the digital tools.  But I want to remind us (and myself) that practice doesn’t mean drudgery.  Instead it means establishing a practice, regular opportunities to write in meaningful ways.  It means low stakes opportunities to explore the possibilities of writing, to play with words, to share your attempts with others who are also trying on and experimenting.  And it means knowing that your first attempt is not your only attempt, that writing takes time and multiple iterations that come from layering inspiration, mentor texts, and supportive instruction.

A week ago, we were inspired by the life and poetry of e.e.cummings.  (If you have not yet read the picture book biography of cummings by Matthew Burgess, Enormous Smallness–you should.  It’s quite a treat!) Burgess’s description of cummings exploring the world with “his eyes on tiptoes” made an impression on our young writers.  After studying love is a place by cummings along with a few other poems by various authors as mentors, our students set out to compose a poem about something they love.

They wrote these poems in layers–a little each day over the course of a week–and in a community of other poets (including their teachers) working to express their thinking and visions about something they care about. We read our works-in-progress, noting language we loved, noticing techniques we could borrow, and learning how to “fit” something into a page already full.  (A major impediment to revision for young students…we continually work to show our writers how to make changes without erasing or starting over!)

The resulting poems are magical…and incredibly varied.  From the one that begins, “Shall I compare winter with a magical place…” (inspired by her own knowledge of Shakespeare and her love of snow and ice) to the one that ends, “Time doesn’t exist on a boat on the ocean when fishing,” my heart swells knowing that the power of our writing community has taken hold.

And sometimes you get the piece that feels momentous, a powerful expression from a student who previously didn’t claim writing as something he even wanted to own.  But he is feeling the magic of his words and wants to share them, giving me permission to share them with other writers and learners.  Surrounded by a community of writers and learners and inspired by the mentor text, Trouble, Fly by Susan Marie Swanson and the story, The Waterfall by Jonathan London, B knew he had something to say about writing that is worth sharing with others.


B’s effort shows the results of practice, patience, and persistence.  But this didn’t come from a single lesson.  Instead, it is the result of cumulative effort now in its third year for this student.  B expects to write for many reasons and in many ways on a regular basis. That’s what we do in our learning community.  On Thursday, the National Day on Writing, students put some of those reasons for writing in print to express #whyiwrite to the larger community of writers on Twitter.


As I think about myself as a writer and as a photographer, I know that practice, patience and persistence also apply to me and my own learning. I wrote last week about writing with light through my photography.  This morning as I walked the beach in a light rain, I wanted to capture the quality of light and feeling of expanse I experienced.  As I poured over and thought about the photos I took, my mind wandered back to one of my photographic mentors, Ansel Adams.  And I found myself inspired by his words…and by his use of black and white to express nature’s powerful beauty.  I took my photo and used a filter to transform it from color to black and white, capturing the mood and expansiveness…and the quiet I was looking for.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs.  When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.   Ansel Adams




Reflections on Photography and Rain

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams

I saw this Ansel Adams quote on Instagram (thanks @lyndango) today and had an immediate and visceral connection to it.  I wasn’t always a photographer, in fact, I am only now beginning to identify myself with that description after taking and posting daily photos for more than a year and a half.  It is that daily practice that has transformed my photographs.  Before I took photos of people I loved and things I wanted to remember, but I didn’t put a lot of thought into the composition and I didn’t pore over my photos the way I do now, thinking about the messages they carry and convey to others.

I am coming to understand this Ansel Adams quote as I reflect on what I choose to photograph and how I choose to compose my photographs.  Even the editing process draws on my experiences and interests.

On a rainy Saturday morning, in the midst of the San Diego Area Writing Project Spring Conference, I was drawn to the windows to try to capture the rain and its energy through my lens. It’s hard to see rain through my camera lens…but the rain splattered window helped me out.


And I love the juxtaposition of the name of this building, The Sun God Lounge, with the rainy morning.

And across the room I noticed the interesting lines of the window panes.  As I walked closer,  I could see the distinctive architecture of the Geisel Library through the lines of the panes. Even though I have been in this building many times before, I had never noticed this view of the library.

library through the window

I like the iconic eucalyptus trees between the window and the library building…trees that are prevalent on the UCSD campus.

And yesterday we experienced the rare stormy day at school.  My students were fascinated by the bending of the palms… “Look,” they said as they pointed!  “The trees are bending.”  I like the way this photo not only captures the wind and windiness, but also the school-ness of the context with the four square courts in the foreground.

windy palms

I definitely bring the pictures I have seen, the books I have read, the music I have heard, and the people I love to my photography…and my photography brings them back to me, helping me to better understand who I am in the world.

How does photography impact your understanding of the world?  Or do you have another form of art/creativity that serves a similar purpose?

slice of life