What is photography? An advanced TED video lesson

This is another image and video-based lesson. The students first discuss the concept of photography, watch a 6 minute video (Impossible Photography; a TED talk by Erik Johansson) and finally describe complex images.

Lesson aims

  • Giving opinion
  • Listening comprehension
  • Describing in detail
  • Listening for detail
  • Vocabulary building

Extra materials –

Many thanks to Márcia Elena Schaedler for providing a language page designed to help your students describe photos – click on the link to download the PDF.

Stage one – mind-map

Ask your students how they think photography has changed in the last 10 years.

Some ideas you might expect:

  • Digital cameras are more prevalent and cheaper
  • Digital storage of photographs means less space needed & easier to transport
  • Can print own pictures more easily now
  • Selective development of photos
  • Instant viewing of photos and the ability to delete unwanted images
  • Photoshop and digital editing more sophisticated
  • Camera phones capture news as it happens; more eye-witnesses

You can obviously expand and ask for more opinions. Let this section go as long as you feel it is useful.

Then ask your students to define the word photography – considering the difference between amateur and professional photography.

More questions:

  • Ask them if they think a digitally edited image can truly be called photography.
  • You could follow-up and see if they think digitally edited images can be considered art.

Stage two – comprehension

Erik speaks slowly and clearly and the language is fairly straight forward. Intermediate students and up should be able to follow without too much bother. You may want to modify the wording of the questions below to suit the level of the group. Dictate the following questions to be answered as a comprehension to the video below (suggested answers in italics):

  1. What question does Erik pose the audience? Is it photography?
  2. What was Erik’s first real passion? Drawing
  3. What conception of photography did Erik previously hold? You had to be in the right place at the right time, the process ends when you press the trigger.
  4. How did this inspire him? He wanted to create something that began at the press of the trigger, to make something different.
  5. What “common goal” do Erik’s photos have? To have an element of realism.
  6. Define realism as used in this context. Photo-realism: something that looks as if it could have been captured, that it looks realistic.
  7. What principles does he adhere to when creating an image? Little details: 3 rules – photos combined should have the same perspective, the same type of light and they should be seamless.
  8. Why is it easier to create a place rather than to find a place? Because one does not have to compromise the ideas in one’s head.
  9. How does he plan the photos? He draws a sketch, combines different photographs and follows the principles.
  10. What is his conclusion? We’re only limited by our imaginations.

Ask your students to compare answers in pairs. Go around the class asking for feedback. If they are unclear on the answer replay a section and let them find the answer themselves. The video I’ve embedded is on YouTube, but it is originally found on TED.com, the best website in the world.  The link is http://www.ted.com/talks/erik_johansson_impossible_photography.html

Stage three – describing deconstruction

The following slide show has a selection of Erik Johansson images. Each is copyrighted by Erik, though he gives permission to use them on blogs, so, cheers Erik! Erik Johansson’s website.

You can do this in several ways;  – either print out colour copies of the images, or show the images to  individual using a computer screen/iPad.

The aim for your students is to describe the photograph to their partner (or whole class) well enough for them to be able to reproduce it in sketch form. In this way, they will deconstruct Erik’s images to their base sketch-form and use lots of interesting vocabulary and description.

They will need some difficult vocabulary – so I recommend doing this in small manageable groups in order for monitoring to be successful. They’ll need lots of guidance. For more fun, you could have votes on who produced the closest image, etc.





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