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Week 5: Telling Stories in Photos

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cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by ROSS HONG KONG

In doing ds106 Daily Creates you’ve already been using photography and drawing skills, plus you’ve had some practice on doing visual stories from our introduction to storytelling. In this week we go a bit deeper and give you the opportunity to practice telling stories in primarily visual form. Now it’s time go from someone who maybe takes a lot of snapshots to one who thinks more about composition, framing, and being more intentional with your photo making. Even if you are an accomplished photographer, it is always something you can can better at by honing skills or trying new approaches.

This will also be the first week most of our work comes from the ds106 Assignment Collection – make sure that you are writing up your assignments to meet the criteria of being a Blogging Champ

Form Your Radio Show Groups

Last week you had an introduction to audio storytelling via radio shows. Between now and the week after Spring Break, you will be working in groups to develop your own radio shows. Your goal for this week is to form your own groups that you will work with. Log into Canvas and look for the Radio Show Groups. You can add yourself to any group; the maximum size is 5 students per group.

If you have not added yourself to a group by noon Thursday, I will have Canvas randomly assign you. By the end of the week, you should have gotten in touch with each other, and chosen a team name. Someone from your group needs to tweet this to me and include the #ds106 hash tag.

Scan the archive of previous student projects to get a sense of the kind of shows that have done before.

By the end of week 8, your group will need to create and produce a recorded audio story that exemplifies the techniques you studies next week. IN your groups you may want to start brainstorming about what kind fo topics might be interesting or type of show (drama, documentary, comedy, etc).

This is also your new blog commenting group- get to know each other’ your blogs, and give each other feedback this week and next.

How to Be a Better Photographer

The suggestions 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, we’ve lifted 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.
  • Better Contrast Makes Better Stories Contrast can be in terms of colors and lighting, but also elements in your photos- look for things that maybe not belong together. 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. 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 balanace in your images will help you create images that are 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 evens 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 potos (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 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.

We’ve assembled many more resources into 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 week.

Write a blog post towards the end of the week that summarizes the tips you tried. Inlcude:

  • Link and credit for the tip
  • Embed an example of a photo where you tried the technique
  • Describe how you thought about this, or what approach (or variation) you tried.
  • Take your photo that you are most proud of in terms of learning a new photo technqiue, and write a summary in our shared Google doc How We Are Becoming better Photographers. By the end of the week, our class will have authored a guide for others to benefit from.


Here is an exercise that is a fun way to try out your visual interpretation skills. Below are a list of subjects to capture in photos that you must try andcapture within a 20 minute window of time. In this casem it is less about capturing artistic images, but just doing what you can to be inventive and interpret the list. Before you do this, pick a place that is likely to have a lot of variety of subjects (middle of town or campus, your basement, whatever).

Here is what to do on for the blitz!

  1. Your first photo is of something that shows the current time! Document when you started the blitz.
  2. In the next 20 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 color
    • 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 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)
  3. Take another photo of a timepiece that shows the time you stopped. It should be twenty minutes since step 1, right?
  4. Upload your five best photos to flickr, and tag them “ds106photoblitz”
  5. Write a blog post about your experience. Describe the place you chose to do this, and why you chose it. What was the experience like? What photos worked for you best? Give feedback/suggestions via comments for at least 3 other persons photos (you can find all the ones with this tag at What were the best ones you saw in the pool of photos? Why?

See also this mobile web app developed by John Johnston that can generate a photoblitz assignment whenever you want to do one.

Daily Creates

Keep doing them! Aim to complete at least three this week.

Pimp Up Your Flickr

You have been using flickr for a while, but these tips will help you to use it even more effectively. See also Flickr fun tutorial by Norm Wright (and a followup tutorial for even more tips)

That last one, making a Best of Set is required. Write a blog post and see if you can figure out how to embed a flickr set into your blog post. Write about the reason why you selected those photos. Write about the story you are trying to say with any of them.

Visual Assignments

Here you will get your first in depth experience with the ds106 Assignment bank where most of your subsequent work 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 week, you need to complete 10 stars worth of Visual Assignments — this could be doing 5 assignments rated 2 stars, etc. One of them is required by everyone, so we can all do the same one and compare our ideas, but beyond that, you get to pick the ones you want to do to complete your 10 pack.

In honor of the season, this week’s required assignment is by former ds106 student Sara who last year emailed us a challenge that our students had fun with. So you might want to start your visual assignments with the Valentine’s Day Caption Challenge (2 stars) where you get to add some funny captions to a cheesy set of Valentine days cards.

It is your choice which visual assignments to do- there are currently over 120 of them listed, and if you need to spin the dial, try a randomly selected one. Or go for one from this recommended set of ones that have been more popular among ds106ers

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

  • The visual you produced for the assignment, this must be 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.
  • 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 Visual Assignments324
    If you do this correctly, your own example will be added to the entry within an hour of your publishing your blog post.

Keep in mind that simply completing 10 stars worth of assignments is the bare minimum to satisfy your work for this week (a “C”). How you do it, and how you write it up is what elevates you. Bookmark and model the criteria for blogging like a champ.

Also note that part of your requirements for this course is writing up how-to tutorials. The visual assignments will likely be easier to document as tutorials than the later audio and video ones, so it might be worth your while to knock one or two of these off now. If you write a very complete post, it could include your assignment work and count as a tutorial. Note that there is a tutorial tag that goes along with each assignment.

And here is the nifty part- if you do not like the assignments on the site, then step up and add one yourself. This too is a requirement for the course, so like making Daily Creates, this is a good time to get ahead of the game.

Now go out and create some visual art!

Summary Checklist for this week

Here’s whats on your check list this week. Do not forget that ongoing requirements include active participation in the ds106 community via commenting on blog posts, flickr photos, youtube videos, and communicating via the #ds106 tag in twitter.

  • Join a radio show group in Canvas before noon EST Thursday, and come up with a team name that should be tweeted to @cogdog.
  • Give at least 2 blog comments to each person in your group.
  • Review the suggestions for photography. Pick at least 3 to try in the context of doing other visual assignments this week or just for practice, and write a blog post showing the results. Add the one that you think helped you the most, and summarize in our shared Google doc How We Are Becoming better Photographers
  • Complete the photoblitz activity, stick to the 20 minute window. There are no prizes or extra credit for how many you can do, just try and share the experience. Make sure your photos are tagged in flickr, and that you write a blog post talking about the ones you felt were your best and ones from others you saw in the mix that were commendable.
  • Review the suggestions for spiffing up your flickr page. Make sure you create a set for your best photos and add a few in there. Write up a blog post announcing it, and see if you can figure out to embed a flickr set in your post.
  • Do at least 3 daily creates, and write a one blog summary for all your creations. Make sure you are also narrating about them too, what it meant, what the inspiration was etc. Tell a story about your photos.
  • Complete a minimum of 10 stars worth of Visual Assignments one of which must be the Valentine’s Day Caption Challenge For each include everything in the requirements .
  • Again write up a summary of your activity this week- there is no need to repeat what you have written elsewhere on your blog, it is fine to link to your work for the week. I am looking for the personal reflection on what you have learned this week, what are challenges, how you are seeing the world differently, what you learn about photography, what it means to tell a story visually.


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