Student photographers shadow the pros

May 29, 2012

From “Students snap pictures behind the pictures” — The assignment for Pierre Stephenson’s students was simple: To photograph photographers taking photographs.

A Madison Area Technical College instructor and photo pro himself, Stephenson paired each of the 27 students in his advanced Location Lighting classes with a professional working in the field. The students were in the final months of the college’s photography curriculum — a two-year associate degree program so popular it has a two-year waiting list, Stephenson said.

Their homework was to capture a working photographer juggling all the tasks it takes to run a successful business — “anything from actual photography to meeting with clients to post-production and building albums to editing on the computer,” he said.

“There’s this general belief — and a very strong push by manufacturers and labs to say that ‘Anybody can do it — if you buy this camera, you’ll be a professional photographer.’ What we really wanted to document was the vast array of skills that goes into being a professional,” Stephenson said.

“A lot of those have not changed from the film days — all the skills with lighting and posing and making your client comfortable and to flatter them. All the technology in the world doesn’t make a difference.”

For student Phoebe Guenzel, the real-world experience was to contrast her own interests in editorial and commercial photography with the photojournalism of sports photographer Todd Olsen. “I got to follow him to a basketball game and he’s sitting right there on the court,” she said.

Student Nicholas Hanson shot pictures of portrait photographer Michael Mowbray at work in his studio. Hanson’s task wasn’t easy, Mowbray said, because of the extra challenge “of working around us without getting in the way, and being able to utilize the available light and not contaminate any of the lighting that I’m using with my client.”


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