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Visual arts faculty member develops cellphone photography class

2021-03-17-Cellphoto class
Students in Paul Dunlap's class are learning how to take professional photographs using their cellphones. Dunlap, professor of photography in the Department of Visual Arts at UNG, developed the course that could be taught fully online and not require students to buy new or expensive equipment.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt in-person instruction in fall 2020, Paul Dunlap wanted a new and engaging class for his students with two caveats: It could be taught fully online and not require students to buy new or expensive equipment.

The professor of photography in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of North Georgia (UNG) realized the answer would fit in the palm of his hand. He devised a cellphone photography course after researching several iPhone apps that mimicked the photography processes from the 19th century to the present day.

"I saw an opportunity to develop a course that could teach some historical context throughout the evolution of the medium," he said. "I also knew I could offer opportunities to study composition, light, color, theme, narrative, concept, and such to develop one's own style."

This semester, the cellphone photography class debuted. The course teaches students to compose photographs, express the use of color and light, develop a theme through narrative storytelling, conceptualize ideas and theories, and use a smartphone as a digital darkroom with several free or low-cost apps. 

The course accomplished Dunlap's two main objectives. It could be taught completely online for students who were uncomfortable with face-to-face classes because of health issues. Students who wanted more face-to-face instruction could be accommodated in equal measure. The new class also has a low cost, since most students have cellphones with cameras.

"While there is always a gamble in a course offering as unusual as this, I felt it was worth the risk," Dunlap said.

The risk paid off. Sixteen students registered for the course. They are divided into two groups of eight and meet on alternating Tuesdays or Thursdays. The class supplies students pursuing a visual arts degree with an upper-level studio course, as well as an elective course for those who are not art majors.

Jordan Mund, a senior pursuing a degree in graphic design, said she has learned an enormous amount of information from the class.

"I would have never known about the number of apps that are out there that help with photo editing without this class," said the 21-year-old from Cumming, Georgia. "I can share my art in a much easier way since I can edit my photos on my phone."

Mund said previously she took multiple steps to adjust her photos using a desktop computer or laptop. Thanks to the class, she can do all of those steps on her phone.

"I've taken nice quality photos with my phone that I am proud to show off in my portfolio," said Mund, who is on UNG's cross-country and track and field teams and hopes to become a sports or fashion photographer.

Obulu Anetor, a senior pursuing degrees in cybersecurity and studio art with a concentration in graphic design, is proud to show off her photos as well. A trio of them are displayed in her room.

"It was amazing how something so tiny on our phones looked so professional when we printed them off," said the 21-year-old from Abuja, Nigeria.

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Please note that some of the images and videos on our site may have been taken before social distancing, face coverings and restricted gatherings were required.

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