Picture Perfecting

Posted: October 11, 2013

AEE 440 teaches students how to apply media to agriculture-related industries, and this week, Frank is learning how to take photos.

“On Tuesday, I want you guys to meet me at the Arboretum. Bring your cameras with you.”

It didn’t really dawn on me how unusual of a request this was from my teacher, mostly because I didn’t expect anything strange in a class that was titled AEE (Agricultural Extension and Education) 440: “Communication Methods and Media.” I probably should have remembered that the “ag” part of the class meant that it was going to be different than I expected, because that’s been a consistent pattern for every class I’ve taken in the College of Ag Sciences. It was still 80 degrees outside, so my mind was still on summer; I don’t think I can be too much to blame.

Geraniums at the Arboretum at Penn State

To give you a little background on the class, taught by the friendly, savvy Brad Olson, this course covers mass media techniques that support extension and related programs. Don’t be fooled though: we’re not just watching videos that make farms look cool, and we’re not even just considering advertising, cause promotion, or communication techniques themselves. Oftentimes, we work with media that isn’t even related to the ag sciences, to learn about the best ways to convey a message, and often equally important, techniques that should be avoided. Then we can easily tailor it back to our college and respective majors, to understand how to successfully promote our own future “fields,” from Landscape Contracting to Agricultural Business Management. Basically, we look at effective communication from the roots up, focusing on the “why” behind everything. This includes, what makes a photo “good,” and that’s just what we went to learn actively that Tuesday at the Arboretum at Penn State.

Esplanade at the Arboretum at Penn State

A few days previously in class, we had gone over different strategies used in capturing beautiful and interesting photographs, which are almost always a necessary part of any form of modern mass media. These range from how and why you would focus on contrasting colors in a picture, to the “rule of thirds,” under which you focus on three main “sections” of your photo to create a well-balanced and appealing image. This lesson was especially interesting for me because, having almost no background in photography, I never understood or thought about why some photographs were so striking. Now we were going to Penn State’s lovely botanical gardens to put these techniques to work.

Overlook Pavilion at the Arboretum at Penn State

I initially thought, gathered as a class, our teacher would have us tour the area and take photos when and where he told us. That would’ve been okay. But when I got there, he handed me a sheet of tips for each technique, and said, “Go use them.” And that was great! I could test my own resourcefulness, creativity, and imagination to make class “really real.” After I had some fun trying to catch some sweet pics (and I surprised myself with how diligently I attempted to get just ten fine photos), I went back to my teacher, who reviewed them with me. His compliments and feedback  made me really excited because I realized, this is a new skill I can really develop! With this experience setting the tone for the class, I’m truly looking forward to how the semester unfolds.

Rocks behind Overlook Pavilion at the Arboretum at Penn State