Digital photography surfacing from the underground
De Soto High School journalism students learn in computer age, digital image is everything
Michael Sullivan has no qualms with the recent addition of digital technology to his journalism program at De Soto High School. He doesn't consider himself a film purist, many of whom are struggling in the digital era of photography.
"As a teacher it's been a great thing for the students," Sullivan said. "The technology allows the kids to shoot photos in less time with lower costs. It's a great thing for them."
In April, the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education approved the $15,400 purchase of six digital cameras and the necessary equipment is now in high school classrooms.
Students like Zachary Wilkinson are not sad to be removed from the days of making last-minute trips to Dillons to get film developed. As the senior editor of the Mill Valley High School newspaper, Wilkinson has seen nothing but great things because of the digital switch.
"It makes life a whole lot easier for photographers to see their work right after they shoot," Wilkinson said. "When you use film, you don't have the same confidence because you are waiting for it to develop before you see what you have."
Thanks to the efforts of Kathy Habiger, journalism instructor at Mill Valley High School, the district's two high schools successfully made the digital switch during the summer. The transition to the new digital equipment in the production process of the school newspaper and yearbook has been a relatively easy one for teachers and students.
"There was a significant up front cost to this equipment, but it pays for itself over time," Habiger said. "Most importantly, it eliminates time developing the photos, archiving and other work that we used to do."
The days of students spending hours in the darkroom to get photos prepared for publishing are a thing of the past. Cabinets that used to be filled with rolls of film negatives have been cleared out, while digital images can be stored more conveniently onto compact discs. The digital cameras allow student photographers to take hundreds of photos at a time, and then conveniently thumb through their work on a computer screen.
"If you see a photo that can't be used you just hit delete and it disappears," Sullivan said. "Now we just recycle space on a disk instead of having to physically dispose of film and other waste materials."
Despite the new technology, the process for newsgathering remains the same for the journalism students. Even though they are no longer required to know how to scan film negatives, Sullivan still stresses the same principles to producing good photojournalism.
"The dark room is now obsolete, and I'm not buying chemicals anymore to put the paper together, but that doesn't change what we try and do," Sullivan said. "You are still trying to get them to understand how to anticipate the next shot and getting into position to capture it."
The cost of the equipment to the school district required faculty to constantly track its whereabouts as students come and go from the building in search of their next story. The checkout process requires a great deal of paperwork as part of the insurance policy that covers the school in the case of lost or damaged equipment.
"The students are great about communicating with me so that nothing is turned in late or is thought to be missing," Sullivan said. "We haven't had any problems yet, and that is crucial because this equipment has to last for a very long time."
The upgrades to student news and publications at the De Soto high schools do not begin and end with the photography.
"I anticipate that our video capabilities will soon see an upgrade to the digital technology," Habiger said. "The new equipment just pays for itself. The community has shown a willingness to fund us with the best technology, and the kids have a healthy respect for the quality of what they are carrying around."
De Soto High School's broadcast room, once relegated to the basement, has relocated on the first floor connecting to Sullivan's other homeroom space. The new three-room alignment allows Sullivan and his students a luxury never enjoyed in the past. The stocking of numerous computer terminals at this central location for all-things-journalism completes the feeling of a drastic makeover.
"We used to have kids running up and down the stairs to get stuff back and forth just to get simple tasks completed," Sullivan said. "Now we can get the newspaper, yearbook, and video announcements all done next door to one another. The district's commitment and support to our journalism programs is really going to benefit the student's work."
For now the old equipment will be laying around journalism rooms at the two high schools. Habiger expects to hang on to it just in case there is renewed interest from students who want to use the old-fashioned method.
"It's not going anywhere," Habiger said. "I think you might see a separate photography class come together where students would want to see what the traditional film process used to look like."