Students learn lost art of darkroom photography at Hononegah | Local News

Robert G. Mull

ROCKTON — A lost art is being revived at Hononegah High School thanks to Career Technology and Education Department (CTE) teacher Rebecca Robinson’s photo 1 class, which includes darkroom photography.

Not only are students learning the logic behind camera settings but are discovering the beauty of stopping, slowing down and thinking. For Robinson, it’s a necessary education in today’s changing world.

“We are losing the art of thinking for ourselves,” Robinson said.

As part of the class, students use manual cameras which only accept film. By not having an automatic setting on the cameras, students learn to understand the aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity of film or ISO.

All photographs produced in the dark room are black and white. Although color photos can be produced in a dark room, it’s a much more complicated process so the class focuses strictly on black and white photography.

“Removing the element of color helps them focus more on composition, texture and lines. As color can really change the look and feel of a photograph,” Robinson said.

Most of the cameras are donated to the program from people in the public who heard about the program. Otherwise students will borrow from relatives which leads to new conversations and the opportunity to dive inside the aging cameras’ many mysteries.

“We take these cameras and open them up and see how the mirror works and how every part operates so we have a better idea what aperture and shutter speed means,” she said.

It’s a much different experience, Robinson said, than using one’s smartphone or digital camera.

“One of the beautiful things about it is students are given only 24 chances to take a good picture,” Robinson said. “We talk about when students are using their phone taking hundreds of pictures and deleting half of them. With a manual camera, students have to stop and think about each one and assess the moment and take that picture.”

Students get a week and a half to take their pictures.

Once in the darkroom students have to take the film out of their camera, roll it onto a reel and put it into canisters. They then begin the chemical process with a specific time and temperature to develop the negatives.

“There are six different chemistries involved with that process,” Robinson said.

Students then evaluate the negatives and go back into the dark room and use an enlarger to project the image on a light sensitive paper to create a print.

“At first, it takes about five hours to get a final print. By the end of the semester they can accomplish everything to get that final print in an hour,” Robinson said.

As part of the class, there are lots of decisions to be made and discussions amongst students about their challenges.

“They can help lift each other up. I think it’s something these kids really need. They are not only doing things with their hands but are having conversations about problem solving. They are forced to go outside and look at the world in a new way,” Robinson said. “I’m trying to teach them how to re-evaluate their lives and appreciate what they have around them, whether they know it or not.”

Hononegah senior and class photography assistant Kaitlyn Niedfeldt said she has found the class to be helpful. Niedfeldt has already launched her own photography business, Kaitlyn Niedfeldt Photography.

Niedfeldt started taking darkroom photography her sophomore year, learning everything from Robsinson.

“I really like the process of it. Unlike most of the average photographs that are taken with a digital camera, you have to take the time to learn about the camera, settings, and different aspects of photography and composition. It’s more of a hands on process, and good way for students to learn. Everyone should try this type of photography because it’s a really fun challenge to take,” she said.

Niedfeldt said she probably wouldn’t have learned as much about photography if she didn’t take the class.

“Before I learned how to use a film camera, I was using a point and shoot on automatic setting. Once I started to get into the class, I learned more about film technique, settings, depth of field and all of the elements of photography,” Niedfeldt said.

Niedfeldt is helping other students learn dark room photography.

“Since Mrs. Robinson has such a large class, it’s hard for her to get to every single student individually so I often step in and look at their pictures, evaluate their film and we talk about what was successful about the picture and how to create the best image,” she said.

Niedfeldt chose Augustana College to attend next fall because the it has a dark room.

“A lot of colleges and high schools have gone away from the classics of darkroom photography. There are few that have a full darkroom. A lot of schools don’t teach darkroom photography which is unfortunate,” Niedfelt said.

Niedfeldt said she plans to double major in graphic design with emphasis on photography and business administration. Her eventual goal is to be an art director.

These days Niedfelt loves capturing moments in time some people would overlook with her trusted camera by her side.

“I like to make it my goal to bring my camera with me wherever I go,” she said.

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