Digital Media Students Ace Photography Challenge

This week, our Year 10 Digital Media students were put to the challenge! 

Their task was to create and photograph a ‘piping hot cup of coffee’ that is actually anything but!

The girls put into practice their skills and knowledge to recreate a technique for photographing hot drinks – in this case, water and soy sauce as coffee. 

We had a chat with Melissa Marshall, Head of Digital Innovation, to learn more about the challenge and how it coincides with the Digital Media curriculum. 

What skills are you hoping students gained from completing this challenge? 

In Digital Media, our current focus is on photography and advancing skills. The challenge was to create a cup of ‘not-coffee’ and make it appear appealing enough to drink. By using props, considering colour, and some clever composition, we can build creative thinking and technical skill at the same time.

What did the girls do in the lead-up to the challenge? 

We have been exploring food photography and examining how this has changed over time – from the brown tones of 70s cookbooks to today’s Instagram shots. Nothing is as it seems! Today’s professional food photographers sure have some weird tricks:

  • Cardboard spacers add height to food
  • Motor oil is a syrup substitute that doesn’t absorb into pancakes
  • Toothpicks hold ingredients in place
  • A makeup sponge can add height to a burger
  • Vegetable oil adds a juicy look to meat
  • Glue is a milk substitute that doesn’t make cereal soggy
  • Dish soap creates longer-lasting foam in fizzy drinks
  • Corn syrup and food colouring can create ice cream that doesn’t melt
  • Super glue repairs tears in bird skin
  • Browning liquid can be made to photograph raw meat without cooking it
  • Shaving cream is used as whipped cream that doesn’t melt
  • Ramekins can be used to keep garnishes on the surfaces of soup
  • Small cups of boiling water are used behind hot food and drinks to create steam

As part of this unit, we have also been collaborating with the Year 10 Foods classes to take creative photos of their cooking in class.

How does the challenge apply to the Digital Media curriculum? 

We are using technology to create digital solutions through a range of different photography styles. The students are collecting their best examples of work in a portfolio due at the end of the year – there are already some exciting projects being uploaded! One way I like to teach photography is by setting up challenges that take just one lesson, that all students can participate in at their own level and generate portfolio material. It is a great way to see how they go about using our DSLR cameras to create digital solutions.

What was your favourite part of coordinating this challenge? 

I love it when students show me the final photographs and are proud of their work – maybe they have mastered aperture, or have to use the props well, or have only a few edits to make to really polish it off. We have completed quite a few challenges this year, but this was the first time we have tried this one, based on how professional food photographers create ‘fake coffee’ for their photoshoots. These days we all have a camera in our pocket, but the use of compositional skills and manual settings make a huge difference to the final product.

Why would you encourage students to take up digital media as a subject? 

Digital Media is an elective subject in Years 9 and 10 that leads to ATAR Applied Information Technology. Choosing technology-based subjects with a creative focus allows students to develop software knowledge and have fun using technology to create, rather than consume. We use industry-standard software such as Adobe Photoshop and find authentic ways to share our skills with other classes. Next semester we will be making our own animations and we even have an excursion to a professional photography studio arranged for next week!

We also asked the participating students what they took away from the challenge. Here are some of their thoughts:

What I most enjoyed about the photo challenge was I got to learn about how photographers created coffee for their photos, and I was challenged to try using boiled water in order to create a steam effect. Emma Piu 

I felt that this task was essential in extending my photography skills. It included many different interactive factors, engaging learning differently whilst also contributing to my knowledge of how professionals set up food photos. After all the effort and time spent concocting the fake coffee, creating the perfect bubble effect, and setting up our space with a variety of props, I created something I was really proud of. I also felt that I’d had my first real experience of mastering the procedures taken to create the ‘food photography illusion’ that is invisible to the general eye. Abigail Marra

I learned that in food photography the strangest things put together can look like food you would want to eat. In this case, the coffee was made up of soy sauce, water, and soap and it looks like something you would drink. Casey Wouts

We look forward to seeing more of their upcoming projects. Stay tuned! 

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