A Special Effects Photography course in the
School of Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT
At the request of students in the Advertising and Commercial Photography
program of study here in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences I
was cajoled, or arm-twisted, some years ago to design a new course that
would be based on something loosely called "photoinstrumentation" but which
would enable these students to at least learn about "cool" photography
but without the "math".
After some years of indecision ultimately I designed a course and called
it "Special Effects Photography". It now caters to just about every
major program in the School. It is designed for practicing photographers
and students to provide them with an overview of photographic effects
beyond those encountered in everyday situations in illustrative, commercial
and advertising photography.
Going further, the terms "Special Effects" is a term that includes a
whole host of techniques that photographers use to create images that may
or may not resemble reality but which usually have some unreal or questionable
quality about them. Usually the purpose behind using special effects is
to raise the impact or level of interest of an image or to produce images
that only exist due to the use of such effects.
Currently among the topics to be covered are stroboscopic, high speed
flash, matte box, front and rear projection, paper negatives, polarization
effects, strip photography, peripheral photography, in-camera masking,
infrared photography, the Sabattier effect, the Phoenix Process, slit-scan
photography, combination flash/tungsten photographic techniques and others.
In addition, students are encouraged to build "gadgets" that make various effects
possible or more readily achievable. These include the construction of a matte box,
a sound activated flash synchronizer, a "tailflash" synchronizer for leaf shutter applications,
a mechanical stroboscope and a rewind bracket suitable for motorized strip photography.
Special effects depend on the basic belief that photographs don't lie.
Photographers exploit this premise by presenting to the observer images
that are seemingly impossible to achieve in reality or which emphasize
certain features of a subject beyond that achievable by normal photographic
methods. In addition, special effects often modify reality for some ulterior
purpose such as to enhance aesthetic merit, to convey information in a
more effective manner than would be possible with a standard photograph,
or to confuse or deceive the viewer into a false interpretation of reality.
Special effects can be classified according to a variety of criteria.
Some occur prior to the making of the photograph. Others are used during
photography and yet a third class of special effect is that which is accomplished
by modifying the original image after the initial photograph is recorded.
They could also be classified based on the procedures used or the technology
involved. The techniques can be optical, chemical, physical, photographic,
electronic, or combinations of these methods. In fact, there are so many
techniques that could be called "special" that it becomes impossible to
attempt to list, classify, and discuss all of them.
Special effects and Trick Photography are sometimes considered synonymous
but the word trick suggests that the photographs are intended to entertain
or deceive viewers rather than serve more serious artistic and professional
The advent of electronic image storage, manipulation and output has
had a significant impact on the degree of sophistication and scope of special
effects. Not only has this technology allowed for improved quality in creating
traditional effects but it has made possible the creation of images that
were totally impossible in the past.
However, in my special effects photography course only special effects
produced by standard or traditional methods by still photographers are
considered. This is not meant to exclude computer manipulated as much as
to recognize that much can be done with computer manipulation but that
in the context of a course of instruction some limits need to be established
to reach some reasonable coverage of this vast subject.
Special Effects Photography is a 4 quarter credit hour, one quarter (11 week)
long, course meeting for 2-4 hours of lecture/demonstration per week and
periodic 2-4 hour group photography sessions.
Below are some examples of work completed by students who completed
- solarized hand
- mattebox photo
- linear strip photo
- linear strip car photo
- combined negatives
- high speed egg photograph
- splash photo
- stroboscopic model
There is an outline or syllabus of this course available online at the following address:
Contact the Andrew Davidhazy if you have
feedback, comments or suggestions about this course.