SchoolArts Room

Liquid Drips

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Apr 7, 2017

Anyone who teaches seniors in high school knows that, without a doubt, spring is the most difficult time to keep their interest in ANYTHING related to schoolwork! They start off the last marking period by going to Disney for their senior trip, then the senior prom, and then the countdown to graduation. It's no wonder that they have difficulty paying attention in class.

This article by Kirsten Smith is from the April 2017 SchoolArts Magazine.
This being the first year of running my digital photography course, I was extremely frustrated with their apathy. I had to come up with a lesson that would get them back on track and excited to learn.
We have been using the Davis Publications text, Focus on Photography, in class. As I looked through the chapter on Action Photography, I saw that it highlighted images of photographer Martin Waugh (Harold Edgerton in the new edition). During class, we took the time to visit his website, and discuss his various images of liquid drips. The students were intrigued with his results, and then I thought..."We can do that!"

Over the next few days I set up a lab situation in my classroom. I provided students with various materials and equipment. Of course we started with our digital SLR's and tripods, and I also provided various light sources. On a table I laid out all different materials to work with: plastic, glass, ceramic, and metal containers and lids, food coloring, tempera, watercolor, and acrylic paints, white and black paper and railroad board, droppers, straws, and pitchers.

Before students started shooting, we discussed shutter priority mode on the cameras. We talked about using a really high shutter speed and setting the camera to continuous shooting mode. We also discussed viewpoint. Should they point the camera above the drip? Should they position the camera to the side to get a profile view? What are some other possibilities? If you use lighting, how are you going to set the lights up? Then I showed them the materials they could use. What are the best ways to drip the water? What would happen if you change the surface that the water drips onto? What if you pour the water? What if you add color to the water?

When students were ready to get started, I told them they could use any of the extra tables or even the floor to set up, and off they went. Most students worked in pairs or groups of three, while some decided to try it on their own. My only rule was that everyone had to take his or her own photos. One student asked, "Can we just experiment today?" To this I replied, "That's just it - this whole photo shoot is an experiment to see what you get. You only need one great photo!"

Throughout the next few days, the students were all actively involved in the process of creating liquid drip photos. They all had three class periods to create their photos and edit their best shot in Photoshop. Problem solving was a key factor throughout the shoot. I went around to each setup and answered questions and gave suggestions. When they were shooting, I heard sporadic shouts around the room, such as “You should see the drip I got! It’s awesome!” Or, “Look at what it looks like when you drip on a metal plate!”
Some students spent the course of three days trying new techniques, and some shot for a day and edited in Photoshop for two days. Students were constantly solving problems over the course of the photo shoot, and were extremely engaged in the development of their artwork.
The results of their artwork exceeded my expectations for the assignment. Every photograph was unique. Some students chose to zoom in on the drip all the way, while others chose to show the surface or container. Some chose to experiment with Photoshop filters and colorizing their best shots.
During our critique students were able to see what their classmates produced, and were genuinely interested in each other’s approaches and techniques. They were really impressed with the outcome of their photography, and were truly excited about what they had created. One student commented that he must have taken over 200 photos, just to get his one perfect shot. I reiterated that one perfect shot is all you need!
Kirsten Smith is an art teacher at Washington Township High School, in Sewell, New Jersey.