Photo class explores night and self

Projects have students experimenting with capturing nightlife and self-portraits to explore lighting


Photo courtesy of Raza Ali

Junior Raza Ali takes a mirror self-portrait covering half his face with a camera. He plays with the lighting by opening the blinds to bring contrast and shadows to his portrait.

With digital cameras, students get to take as many shots as they want in order to capture a perfect photo.
But with film photography, students only get a limited number of shots to capture how they see themselves.
Photo 1 and Advanced Photo are unique classes that teach students the art of photography without modern technology. Students get to work hands-on by taking photos with film cameras provided in the class and then developing the prints themselves in the class’ darkroom.
This semester, students are capturing the world at night and their inner selves as part of an annual night light and self-portrait project.
In “Night Lights,” students get to shoot at night to explore shadows, light, and different shutter speeds, which is how fast a camera takes a picture.
Meanwhile, in their self-portraits assignment, students photograph themselves without outside help in a way that represents who they are.
Students are expected to use tripods and self-timers, both concepts which they have already been working on and learning in class.
“The idea was to do everything yourself without anyone looking at you because how you interact with the camera is going to change,” Photo 1 and Advanced Photo teacher Paul Fortayon said. “I wanted a photo that tells a story, that teaches others something about you.”
Along with telling a story through photos of who they are, students such as sophomore Mia Andrews love the freedom this project gives them.
“Mr. Fortayon is really big on shooting what you want to shoot and not because you have to,” Andrews said.“I’m a cheerleader so I like to shoot cheerleading, my dog, hanging out with friends.”
Other students had a variety of different ideas and concepts as well.
“For my self-portrait, I wanted to do sort of like a set of photos that capture who I am as a person,” junior Meghan Boyle said. “I feel like a lot of times I can be pretty quiet and in class. I’m kind of shy, so I wanted to do something so that I could show people who I am without necessarily saying anything.”
Boyle photographed herself in nature during a hike because she feels connected to the world when she is outside. She also took a photo of herself in a mirror with her face covered since she said that she isn’t really extroverted.
Junior Mia Stapely also used mirrors for her project and a tripod to get different angles. She wanted to portray how she saw herself, and how that could be different from the way other people saw her.
“I really like this class because you are really involved with everything, from taking the pictures to getting results,” Stapely said.
Fortayon said the self-portrait project is an assignment his classes have always done.
“It’s a pretty classic subject matter in art,” Fortayon said. “It’s something that I always like the kids to do and recently it’s become even more important because the difference in what you guys know as a selfie is completely different than what a self-portrait is. I always do this project, and even the people in Advanced Photo revisit it.”
The process of getting finished photos starts with taking them. Students can either borrow cameras from the photo class or use their own. They take their photos any way they want and then develop them in the class’ darkroom.
The darkroom, designed by Fortayon, has lab stations for developing and printing in the room. The students learn at the start of the year how to develop photos under the red-glow of paper-safe light to get ideal results.
“Film photography is a really cool art, and it’s also a bit of a dying art,” Boyle said. “Even if you did take photos with cameras, you don’t really get the chance to develop it yourself, you would probably send it to a lab to get developed. I chose to do it because I thought the class sounded really cool, since it’s very hands-on.”
Students receive all the materials they need to take the photos, then have time in class to develop and get negatives. They also get to print the photos they like the most to get credit for their projects.
“Photo is kind of a different art form than like painting and drawing,” Stapley said. “I really like how involved you are in the whole process of getting results.”
Photo is a very unique class offered at Cal High because it opens a different art path for students to explore.
“Photography is just so fun to do,” sophomore Nick Neumann said. “My dad got into it last year and I decided to join him.”
Students say it’s a great class for people interested in film photography or trying something different than digital photo.
“In the class, you get a lot of freedom to kind of explore what you want to photograph, and even the projects are pretty open,” said Boyle. “You have a lot of time to just do what you want to do in the class and it’s really fun.”
Staff writer Lexi Broughton contributed to this story.