Photography 12 Major – Concentration

June 20, 2013

Arts, Breaking News, Photography

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If you are thinking about going into Photography 12 Major, it would be wise for you to start thinking about what you would like to focus on for the entire year. As a student who had struggled to find an interesting topic for the concentration, I advise you get inspired by looking at various themes and deciding your passion. I’ll give you my experience as an example.


When the actual concentration project starts, the whole class gathers around and discusses each person’s themes. There are multiple group meetings (including the small ones with peers) before deciding on a theme. Before choosing what to focus on for the entire year, I recommend that you listen to other people’s opinions.

Do not choose a theme based on your medium. It might restrict you from approaching subjects with different perspectives and mood. For example, even if you love doing medium format, do not choose your theme as a “medium format film.” Your concentration might end up being non-cohesive. Pick a subject/theme that you are constantly exposed to, and transform personal themes into universal ones to which people can relate. For instance, if you want to talk about personal traumas in your concentration, tie it with a ubiquitous topic such as “growing pains.”

For me, I started off with my theme as portraits because I love photographing subjects rather than taking landscapes. Then, I discussed with my peers and Donna, and they suggested that I pick a topic that I was passionate about. I concluded by deciding to photograph animals. In the beginning, I chose my theme as “lost” because I had experiences parting with animals in various ways.

However, I struggled to maintain this theme because I felt the images were very stereotypical and vague to portray visually. Then, one day I discovered that people and companions resemble each other. Then I gathered models of various ages with their pets and photographed them in a studio setting. This was my starting point to explore the human and animal relationship.


If you are more of a portrait photographer, I highly encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and interact with as many people as possible. You may start with your friends and families, but eventually having various age groups and ethnicities will embellish your project to be more sophisticated. When you are working with models, make sure that the studio and equipment are available. Always double check with Donna and your peers so you will definitely have the equipment.

Before meeting the models, set up the studio beforehand and do an exposure test with your friends. By having a lighting test, you will spend less time adjusting the exposure and more time interacting with the models. The best thing to do while taking the pictures is to relax the subjects. People (or animals in my case) are often tense and stiff if they are in a studio with all the lights directed towards them. The photos with unintentional tense muscles look amateur and unprofessional. You should start a conversation (or if they are animals, distract or calm them depending on their characteristics).

For me, I had various age groups and animals with different personalities. It was hard to keep them focused in the beginning, but I soon realized that it was best not to manipulate their body movements or constrain their facial expressions. However, in order to control the photo shoot, I had supervisors (often parents) help me. According to my experience, children and dogs should be taken in less than 30 minutes and adults, teenagers, and cats need 15 minutes to warm up to the environment.


Even though studio shooting allows you to focus on the subjects, emphasizing the details and body articulates, this type of  shooting also isolates the photos from reality because of the artificial lighting and background. If you want to create simple images without any distraction, I highly recommend using studio. However, if you are aiming for a daily, warm mood, I would suggest using natural light with blurred out background (if you are doing close-ups).

In your concentration, it is good to have a well-balanced use of studio because focusing only on the studio work might make your concentration too plain. Usually background gives the information and storyline to the audience. Since it gives the details in the scene, if your concentration simply focuses on the studio, your work might lack in storytelling.

For my series, I decided to explore the power and virtue of the photographic portrait to represent human to animal characteristics. After many attempts, I began to simplify the surroundings to eliminate any external distractions to focus the attention on the subjects. I was careful not to restrain or manipulate subjects’ body movements or facial expressions; the simple white setting enabled raw and realistic portraits to demonstrate the people, their companions, and the resemblances and connection between them. I then placed the image of the owner and their pet side by side to suggest the deep relationship between them.


At the end of the year, all grade 12 students have to organize portfolios, putting in the best-quality work. This year, the grade 12’s did final portfolios (20 working prints, 12 final prints, 14 contact sheets), final concentration (12 prints), and final online portfolio.  The final portfolios need to have overall flow, cohesive images and 8 different techniques and mediums for exploration.

It is best to get advice from peers and Donna to see what best suits your concentration theme. Even if the image is spectacular, if it hinders the flow of the concentration, you need to leave it out or manage another way to incorporate the piece without impacting the concentration. Do not plan to print your images at the end because the photo majors only have one good printer for all the students to use. Printing good quality prints is time-consuming so prepare them beforehand. For the artist statement, which is required in the portfolio, it is best to follow the criteria given by Donna. Online portfolios are a new way of presenting your work, and it is quite a pleasant experience to create your own site. Personally, I used wix because it was very easy to use.

Here is my site for reference:

<GR.12 Students opinions about a year-long concentration project:>

1) It was very overwhelming to do two rolls of concentration every month and other photo projects simultaneously.

2) Students started to procrastinate because they believed they had enough time to do the project later.

3) Students suggested emphasizing the importance of concentration throughout the entire year without making it “mandatory” for grads to do two rolls of concentration on top of other ongoing projects.

4) Students proposed to have an alternative of choosing the project and the concentration.

5) Grade 12’s also recommended combining the two projects together so that the students can finish the concentration and the project with one roll. (This method was already being used by the current grade 12’s)

<Advice for the future Gr.12 photography majors in doing a concentration:>

1) Try to find a personal topic for your concentration.

2) Think about objects, themes, and settings that you can easily access.

3) Always link with your photo projects and your concentration. This will allow you to have more variety and experimental concentration with less time.

4) If you are lost in your concentration, still shoot no matter what.  Taking photos will make you inspire other ideas.

5) Do NOT procrastinate. This project is not something you can catch up within the last few weeks.

6) If you need cameras, lights, models or/and studio, make sure that you book them early in time and remind Donna so she won’t lend out gear to other students.


This was my first time focusing on only one theme. At first, I felt restricted and overwhelmed because I had to think about my next shoot and pre-plan it, which was not my work ethic. I used to take pictures spontaneously. Planning the shoots beforehand was a challenge to me as was working with models other than my family members and friends. I had to contact them, make appointments, book the studio and contact the models afterwards with small prints as gifts.

Moreover, I started to talk to strangers, asking if they would be willing to be my model with their dogs. I often got rejected, but it allowed me to be more confident in front of people. Although there were several hardships along the way, I am proud of myself. Through this experience, I became interested in pet photography and the relationship with the human-animal relationship. I am thankful that I was given this opportunity, and I highly encourage future grade 12 photo majors to try their best with their concentration because it is hard to get chances to fully develop their ideas and explore numerous media.



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