I joined Roderick Red and Jessica Simien on Friday for a presentation at Murrah High School for Mrs. Lynne Schneider’s newspaper/video production class. Rod, owner of Red Squared Productions, and I talked about our recent work together on the Friends of Hope Video project, and Jessica Simien and Rod talked about their collaborations for JessicaSimien.com, an entertainment and lifestyle blog.
All three of us have ties to Murrah High School. Rod and Jessica graduated five and six years ago. My three sons are students at Murrah. Rod was head of the photography department for the Murrah Hoofbeat, and was one of Mrs. Schneider’s students.
I know many of these students because I help with the Murrah Debate and Quiz Bowl teams, and they’ve been classmates of my boys for years. Here I was explaining how photographers use the “Rule of Thirds” to compose stronger images.
We divided the class into two groups and did two hands-on sessions: Rod facilitated the video session and I the still photography.
It always helps me as an artist when I teach. The students always ask great questions, which help me drill down into why I am doing what I am doing and make me consider how I could be more effective.
Click on the play button to see the Friends of Hope Video that Richard and I produced with Red Squared Productions‘ Roderick Red Jr. Let us know what you think.
Here’s Rod shooting some video along Highway 18.
We appreciate the time our interview subjects took with us. Thank you, Mrs. Myrlie Evers-Williams, Secretary Mike Espy, Governor William Winter, and Hope customers.
Here’s my favorite of the photographs we took while we were doing video. This is a garden snail I found under the leaf litter in my butterfly garden. It was just after cold weather had zapped my busy lizzies (impatiens) and the snails were all tucked in around the slimy stems.
Today I want to take video of a wolfsnail settled into a cool spot (on a brick). I filled a plastic container with bricks and I am hoping it will find a cool brick the best surface to settle onto. We’ll see.
You can see from the above photograph that I have decided I should be watermarking the photographs I post on the blog. Adobe Lightroom makes it very easy to watermark photographs during the Export process. One of my goals this coming year is to take more advantage of the organizational tools in Lightroom. As you might imagine from the number of photographs I share on the blog, we take and store a ton of photographs. We need to do a better job of clearing off the ones we’ll never use. I am going back through about 6 years worth of images stored on my external hard drive array and deleting anything that is clearly unusable (out of focus, awful exposure, etc.) As I do this, I am tagging the photographs with names, events, etc. Ultimately I hope it will make it easier to find photographs.
I’m planning to share some of the photographs I uncover as I go through.
We had a much better day of shooting video today.
We got the wolfsnail emerging, gliding along leaf matter, and EATING! I am very excited about the eating footage. It will have to be edited — heavily.
It turns out it takes the wolfsnail longer to eat a half-inch prey snail than it takes for our family to eat supper. Gosh! (The photo to the upper left is an old one, but it looks pretty much like what we spent the day watching.)
As fun as this video stuff is …
I also want to talk about two exciting new projects I’ll be doing with third and fourth graders in January and February. I am working with Davis Magnet Elementary School and the Mississippi Museum of Art to pilot a bookmaking project with topics inspired by the MMA Art Garden. My working title is: “Urban Ecosystems: Field Guides to the MMA Art Garden.”
The project with third graders is also a pilot project, in which students will use digital photography to illustrate math stories. Beth West, the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Davis, and I will be presenting a workshop teaching this new unit at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention in Philadelphia in April.
Both groups of students will be using a bookmaking form from Esther K. Smith’s beautiful and inspiring book, How to Make Books. Smith calls it the Instant Book. Here’s the page from Smith’s book that illustrates the steps to make an Instant Book:
Read more about Smith’s work here. I made my Dad’s Christmas present based on the Accordion Postcard Album from Smith’s book.
I will be posting in coming weeks about our plans and I’ll be documenting the process as we go along. I look forward to learning a lot!
After previewing some of the video from yesterday, we decided to go outside for a few shots. There seemed to be too much noise in the shot of the snail emerging from the shell. We took the camera outside, arranged a nice bed of leaves, and then, I went back inside to retrieve the Wolfsnail. I found an empty plastic container. An escape! I sounded the alarm and Richard and I examined each of the leaves on the plants, the stems, the fallen leaves, the crevices in the bricks, the space under the background paper. The humor was seeping out of me. Wolfsnails are not easily found — especially after the cold weather sets in. Then, when I lifted the third of four sheets of background paper on the last side of the tub, there it was, attached to the side of the plastic plant container. Phew!
(Of course, the wolfsnail did not escape from a lidded plastic container. We/I left it out after yesterday’s shooting. Rookie mistake.)
I placed the found snail on the bed of leaves, watered it with rain water, and waited. It emerged — very slowly — but beautifully. Tail first. High fives! Until Richard noticed that he wasn’t actually recording. Errrrrrrgh!
I used my finger to nudge the snail back into its shell, placed it again, and then proceeded to badger Richard with questions about what else could go wrong: Is there enough space on the card? Is the battery fully charged? Um, the battery is about to die.
The wolfsnail is now back it its small plastic tub, lid secured. It is sharing space with a juicy worm that I dug up for a shot near the end of the story. It is our hope the two will get along.
Richard has ordered a second battery. We are about to have a cup of tea, and hope for a better day tomorrow.
We’ve been talking for some time about making an iPad app inspired by Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. I started thinking seriously about making an app after attending a session at this year’s National Science Teachers Association Convention. (Read about my time at the NSTA here.) Richard made a start on an app that would run on an iPhone, but we weren’t convinced that it was working. We have had a few conversations with our editors at Boyds Mills Press, both Andy Boyles, editor for science titles, and Mary Alice Moore, editorial director. They had good questions that helped us re-think our approach. Some were: Are we making an app just because we can? or, put another way, Is there something about the platform (iPhone, iPad, or other tablet) that would let us do something different than the book offers? Who will buy the app? Who will use the app? Do you see it as a substitute for the book? If a person owns the book, would they also want to buy the app?
After thinking about these questions, we put the app for the iPhone on hold. We decided we thought the larger format of the iPad (or other tablet) would provide a better tableau for our content. We put the Wolfsnail project on the back burner while we finished the Fibonacci Folding Book Project app. It is a free app that contains a full-fledged lesson plan for a multi-disciplinary unit that works well with our book, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. (Read about that app here.)
About a month ago, Richard hit upon a good idea. We have decided to create entirely new visual content — in video. Rather than try to “animate” the photographs somehow, we are shooting video of every scene and action in the book. Luckily, I found a snail earlier this autumn (October 17 – thanks FB). We figured we’d have to do our video capture indoors so we set about to create a studio that would be appropriate to the task. I did some research into white boxes, but none seemed to be big enough.
We decided to build our own. Richard put together a frame with pvc pipe. I stitched muslin panels, which would bounce the light. We created a plant box from an under-the-bed storage container. We got a big bag of potting soil, planted the plants, and brought in a bunch of leaves. We’re using water from our rain barrel to keep the plants, leaves, and snails moist.
I’m still a sucker for still shots so I took a few. This whole setup reminded me of the snail playgrounds our son, Nathan, set up when he found the first snails a decade ago. I’ll see if I can scare up a photo of those playgrounds, often made from cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, and empty juice cartons.
I took these with a Nikon D700 using a regular lens. Richard is using the Tamron 90 mm macro lens on the Nikon D7000.