Photos: Effective Use and Limitations

The power of Photoshop is slowly becoming apparent to me. The coloring effects that are possible have the ability to completely alter the image from what it was before. The projects that everyone in the class put together really impressed me. The color detail that people were able to achieve was astounding. Many of the pictures I saw looked as though they were taken with color cameras, I was very impressed.

I am really surprised with how much this class has been able to alter my perception of images. I used to think of photographs as very explanatory however the readings and class discussions have done an excellent job of explaining the short comings of photographs. For example the background knowledge and expectations a person has significantly influences what that person sees in a photo. I thought the story that Professor Petrik told about the U.S. not seeing the WWII internment camps even though they were in photos was an excellent example of this. Another concept I found interesting from the reading is the importance of what is not photographed. Photographs are snapshots of the past and without an understanding of what is happening outside of the snapshot it is difficult to understand the significance of what is actually happening within the photograph. As a teacher I will keep these two lessons in mind and make sure to provide my students with a significant amount of context when showing the photographs.

The image design project has demonstrated to me the importance of using photography well to explain your point. The article we are examining does a poor job of utilizing the photographs to demonstrate the point the author is trying to get across. It has really made me realize the importance of using effective images effectively. It is not enough to find a good image, one must use the image strategically in order to effectively convey a message. I am learning a lot from this class and look forward to the coming weeks.

Image Restoration: 3 Swordsmen

I recently purchased a sword (dulled edges don’t worry) from a thrift store for $6.  While admiring my sword I decided to search for photographs using swords as a theme. I located two photographs on the Library of Congress website that I found interesting and needed some repair work. I chose a picture of a samurai and a picture of a medieval swordsman. You can locate these pictures by the Library of congress website and searching the gallery for “Samurai Portrait” and “Creston Clark Sword”. I began with the samurai:

Samurai photo


As you can see there are several issues with this photo that can be addressed using photoshop.  I began my restoration work by cropping and slightly enlarging the image:


Next I began to restore the photo using the curves tool in order to make the picture more clearly defined.  I found that if I made the image a little darker I was able to get more details in the samurai’s face as well as the color in his armor.  I then I used the exposure icon (exposure + .06, offset +.0252 and

gamma correction -.08) to help address some of the issues of lighting in the picture which also resulted in a more defined image.  Then I moved on to using the spot healing tool to get rid of marks throughout the picture.  Most of the marks I addressed were in the background but there were a few on his armor as well as some dots on his face that I removed.  I then applied the clone stamp to the background in order to adjust the lighting issues that remained.  I considered leaving the Samurai’s shadow for authenticity sake but I decided to show off my shadow removal skills instead.  Initially, I removed the shadows on his legs however it looked unnatural so I decided to restore them.  This is what the image looks like after I restored it:


After restoring the image I turned it into a vignette.  I decided to use the black background because I thought it seemed ominous.  After I turned the picture into a vignette I had to crop out an additional section above the Samurai because there was too much black.  Below is the vignette version of the Samurai photo:



After finishing with the Samurai I decided to use the Medieval Swordsman to exemplify matting and coloring:


I chose the medieval swordsmen because I thought his stance would look interesting after I matted it.  There was no real difference between the backdrop and the ground so I decided to matt the picture in its entirety:


After matting the medieval swordsman I continued to color him by overlaying layers on top of one another and adjusting the level of opacity.  I chose colors that I thought suited the character:



Thoughts on Images

I am really beginning to enjoy this class.  Photoshop’s complexity can be overwhelming at times but I am starting to grasp on the software’s concepts and layout.  The ability to alter photographs is going to be an extremely valuable tool to me in the social studies classroom.  The concepts from the readings are also going to be very applicable in the classroom.  Print the Legend was a fascinating take on the American development, benefits and limitations of photographs.  Not only did the book contain a significant amount of fascinating American history but it also provided many interesting insights on photographs.  I found the comparison between paintings and photographs of war to be particularly illuminating. The idea that photographs are limited in their scope and can only capture a single moment of a battle while paintings have the ability to depict any aspect of the battle in hindsight which allows the artist to create a scene that ideally symbolizes the battle.   This is an excellent example of how paintings can be more accurate and informative than photographs.   Another interesting concept from Print the Legend was the idea that “we may think we are going to [photographs] for knowledge about the past, but it is the knowledge we bring to them which makes theme historically significant” (326).  What we “see” in a picture depends greatly on what we already know about the subject. 

 I also found the in class discussion on the book to be useful as well.  The picture with the family farm and organ that we examined in class is one of the many pictures I merely glanced over during the reading of the book.  The amount of information and detail we were able to establish from the single blurry photograph was impressive.  I enjoyed breaking down the photograph of the fancy cowboy and spotting irregularities.  I thought it was important to note that these types of photographs built up stereotypes of cowboys.  This was one good example of how photographs can be misleading and are not necessarily trustworthy.  Treating photographs just like any other documents is an extremely value lesson that I pulled away from the book and class discussion.  Photographs should be examined for bias just as thoroughly as any other historical text. 

Image Hunt

Applying a variety of images for a variety of purposes is essential to teaching social studies effectively. In the classroom a picture can be worth so much more than a thousand words. When used creatively and strategically images have the ability to impact student learning in countless ways. It is up to the instructor to find suitable images and apply them in a strategic manner in order to maximize student understanding. Capturing student attention is one of the most simple and effective uses of images in the classroom. An image’s ability to draw student interest in a topic is priceless in the classroom, certainly more valuable and concise than a thousand words. Engaging students is only one of the many ways images can be applied in the classroom.

Economics is a subject that is oft perceived as complicated and tedious in nature. When teaching economics to high school students strategically applying images in certain situations can be the difference between an engaging lesson and a class full of intimidated/confused students. Bloomberg Businessweek (Businessweek) understands the importance of images in conveying its messages. Businessweek is a well-respected international business and finance magazine. On a weekly basis, Businessweek examines present and historical data and analyzes how that data will affect the economy. Its real world focus and diverse utilization of intriguing images makes Businessweek an ideal magazine to keep in a high school economics classroom. Textbooks are also excellent examples of how images can help support the learning of ideas. The textbook images below are from a fourth grade social studies textbook titled Our Virginia: Past & Present. It is a widely used elementary school textbook from which this will be focusing on Chapter 2: Virginia’s First Peoples. This blog will focus on several of the many ways images have been used to support the learning of Economics and History.

Capturing Attention

Businessweek CoverpngBloomberg Soccer Pic

Having the students interested in the material is the first step to having them learn the material. Without that initial engagement students will not learn to the best of their abilities. Interest can be sparked by something as simple as an image. Soccer players would certainly have their interests peaked by the image of the bicycle kicking soccer player and the mention of the world cup.   Relating the interests that students’ have outside of school to class material is an effective way to have students become more interested in the material. The cover of the magazine utilizes exciting cartoon images, which represent a diverse set of interests in order to capture the attention of a wide array of populations. Many pictures on the cover have page numbers that correspond to a story within the magazine that is related to the picture. These pictures therefore act as an attention grabber as well as a table of contents, enabling the reader to immediately dive into the story that sparked their interests.

Conveying Messages

Shrinking Japan Flagpng

Pollution Cartoonpng

Using images is an excellent way to convey complex ideas efficiently and creatively. After examining these two pictures students will have a solid understanding of what each article will be discussing. Pictures that convey messages force the student to start critically considering the content of the article before they begin reading it.   This picture format has students create and answer questions in their head opposed to being told a sentence from a title. This type of internal reasoning is exactly the type of thinking that teachers want to instill in students. The use of images such as these are quick and effective way to start off discussions/debates in the classroom.

Both of the above pictures are from Businessweek magazine. Each article presents an argument with a political cartoon and then provides a brief history of the subject and a detailed discussion centered around the cartoon’s meaning. The picture that depicts the circle on the Japanese flag gradually shrinking discusses the history and current state of the Japanese economy. Thanks to the depiction the circle, as well as the title, it is clear to the reader that the Japanese economy is gradually shrinking. The picture effectively labeled ‘meh’ , depicts the authors unimpressed attitude toward our country’s new carbon emissions policy. The slight change in size of the images depicting pollution forces the reader to put our country’s long-term goals into perspective.

Minimizing Intimidation

Cow Graphpng   Nativie American Text

Images are an excellent way to make complex concepts seem much less intimidating. By adding a simple graphic related to the content within the text the students’ first impression is a nonthreatening cartoon graphic opposed to a plain text or an unfamiliar chart. The pictures allow the students a less formidable starting point for the information which they are able to use as a jumping off point for the rest of the material. Student perception can go a long way in the effectiveness of activities. Large font and appropriate spacing are other ways of making texts less intimidating.

The graph with the cow on it (above) is a graph discussing the rate of dairy exports, focusing on China’s increased consumption. Without the cow and large text that graph would likely be quickly glanced over by a high school student.   The addition of the cow and large text increases the chances the student will examine the graph and take away meaning from it.   The picture depicting Indians (above) is from the fourth grade Virginia history textbook. For a fourth grade student the idea of reading a full page of text can be an intimidating event. The pictures are meant to make the reading seem less formidable as well as to expose the students to the culture they are examining.


Beetle ForestpngNative American Text Pic

When exposing students to new material it is important to provide pertinent images so the students have a concrete image to relate the information to. It is difficult and dangerous for students to conceptualize their own images of what they are learning.   In order for students to have an accurate understanding of information a teacher must provide them with relevant and accurate images. After examining the above images the students will have a much more concrete understanding of what they are dealing with. Images can help students relate social studies to real world situations.   Translating social studies from the book to the real world is a vital step to creating a real understanding of the subject.

The picture of the forest is from Businessweek and is related to an article concerning the social and economic impact of a specific beetle’s impact on federal forests. The picture demonstrates the actual effects the beetle has had on the forest which prevents the students from imagining completely arbitrary types and levels of forest destruction. The picture labeled Virginia’s First Peoples is the first page of chapter 2 in the textbook. The picture exposes students to a common depiction of Native American culture. It would be difficult for a fourth grade student who has never seen a feathered headdress before to imagine what one would look like.


Virginia Mappng Bloomberg Mappng

Maps are a useful tool that allows an individual to clearly depict a vast amount of information into a clearly labeled and easy to understand format. Map reading is an important and useful tool when examining social studies. Being able to decipher the meaning and purpose of maps is a skill that students will have to use throughout their entire lives. Maps come in all shapes, sizes and formats so it is important to expose students to a wide variety of formats.

The map of South America is depicting the projected growth of each country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2014. The map utilizes different colors to represent different levels of growth as well as large font to clearly demonstrate the numbers. This map is an excellent example of how maps can clearly depict large amounts of information in a simple format. The Virginia maps indicate the effect that settlers had on where Indian tribes live. Maps can be used at every grade level and can depict exactly what information you want them to.

It is absolutely vital to incorporate a wide array of images into every social studies classroom. Images engage students with the material much more quickly and effectively than a thousand words can. Images are capable of conveying messages and forcing students to think critically about a subject before ever reading the text. Minimizing intimidation is an important aspect of education and images are a great way to do that. If students do not feel comfortable with the material then they are unlikely to learn to their furthest potential. Images are also a useful tool for exposing students to the real world in a concrete and easy to understand way. Maps are useful tools that students will be responsible for deciphering their entire lives so it is important for educators to expose students to a wide variety of them. It is the teacher’s responsibility to strategically use images to help instruct students more effectively.

History Via Photos