Advanced photography class at Sutter Middle School yields creative outlet, awards

Smartphones produce great pictures, some even good enough to win awards at the California State Fair.

Over the last four years, Sutter Middle School's photography class won 111 collective awards out of 138 total entries, according to Paula Turner, who teaches the class. Out of the 10 first-place awards the students received this year, three of them were taken with smartphones includes of traditional cameras known as single-lens reflex camera or SLRs.

The competition at the California State Fair is open to children ages 5 and older, but Turner's students submit entries, each costing $9, as an assignment each year. Photos are judged using a Danish system similar to other state fair contests – where the work is judged on meeting the criteria versus head to head competition.

Sutter Middle School is the only middle school that offers an advanced photography program throughout the entire year. Advanced photography can be selected as an elective and is always in high demand, Turner said. The program started four years ago with Turner teaching this along with other classes, and eventually the class became year-round, allowing Turner to teach it full-time.

"It's imperative for students to be able to use this as a creative outlet,' Turner said.

Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove also has an advanced photography program. The students have the opportunity to take photography classes all four years, according to Catalina Haynes, photography teacher at Laguna Creek High School.

The photography program at Laguna Creek has approximately 240 students and some of them entered the California State Fair competition as well. In the past four years, Haynes has helped motivate and complete the process for students entering the competition but this year only two students entered. Even though she couldn't help the students with the process, they both placed with their works.

"Photography is such a part of our social culture now and we are inundated with hundreds of images a day. It is nice to slow down focus on one, get it printed and put it on the wall- or exhibit it," Haynes said.

Aside from this year, there are usually about 15 student entries from her program and it is rewarding for the students and the school to receive these awards, Haynes said.

The students enjoy having the ability to be creative and find themselves, all while learning about photography.

"Photography was an outlet to capture what I see around me. There's really no way to mess it up because it's what you perceive as a good picture," Sutter Middle School photography student, Ruby Webb said.

Although the class is an essential to help students build their skills, it also is expensive. Principal Cristin Tahara-Martin bought cameras four years ago for the class, but it is hard to keep up technology and paying for the supplies necessary to create prints, Turner said.

"I have to fund my own class, everything basically comes out of donations," Turner said.

To offset it the costs, the students raise money with a photo booth at every school dance and other school events to help, says Turner. Parent donations and funding from the Parent-Teacher-Student-Organization have helped a lot this year as well.

Both Turner and the students love the collaboration, camaraderie and critiques everyone contributes while still having a good time. The class doesn't require much homework other than taking photos at the dance – but a lot of the time, Turner said, they will just come back with photos they've taken and that's what is the most exciting.

"They will just come back with photos to show me and watching them with so much pride, when they're excited about their work, that's just the best feeling in the world," Turner said.