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Beyond the ugly selfie: Students learn how to take a better photo

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Many students at Bethel College have “snapped” up the chance to join one of the college’s newest clubs, and to get “exposed” to photography learning experiences.

One of the first convocations of the school year features different student groups giving plugs for their club or organization, with information booths outside the auditorium afterward where other students can sign up.

“We’re gotten over 50 people interested” in the Bethel Photography Club, said Audra Miller, the club’s student representative and a fifth-year senior from Hesston. The club was a new option this year.

Miller, who has been taking photos for years and even has her own business, Miller Photography, led a shutter-speed workshop during this past January interterm.

Students and one staff member, Paige Townley, learned about different shutter speeds and using a higher speed to stop action. The shorter the time the camera’s shutter is open, the better it will freeze action.

Miller also talked about slow shutter speeds and depth of field (how much of the field is in focus in front and back of what the photographer is focusing on).

Miller and Kaylyn Rhodes, freshman from Wichita, were the workshop models. Rhodes swung on a swing while others took her photo.

Miller dropped leaves on the ground as Xi Cheng, freshman from China, took photos with her Canon E05 Rebel T2. Cheng then grabbed more leaves and threw them in the air as Miller snapped some photos. Finally, they huddled together to see how the shots came out.

Cheng said she enjoys the club.

“I like it because we can do lots of cool things with photos,” she said. “I wish we had more meetings – more group activity.”

Rhodes has a fondness for photography, as well.

“I like taking different angles of pictures that haven’t been seen before,” she said.

She’s gained some new skills, too.

“I’ve learned the rule of thirds, and … [that] you can find different objects and images when you zoom in, that you don’t usually notice,” she said.

Miller – a perennial favorite in the Bubbert Awards, the student film competition held every spring – enjoys taking still images, too.

“I like how photographs capture a moment in time and are a way to physically save memories,” she said.

When the club met at the first of the school year, they had a 15-day photo challenge. A different theme went up each day on the club’s Facebook page – such as “getting ready,” “water” and “shadows.”

Club members then posted their photos on the page (

Shianne DeFreese, junior from Goessel, posted a photo of a graceful faucet for the “Curves” theme. For “Shadows,” Matthew Rodenberg, freshman from Halstead, posted a photo of people’s shadows cast on Bethel’s Administration Building.

Peabody freshman Zachary Preheim enjoyed the challenge activity.

“I had a lot of fun finding different things to take pictures of,” he said. “I like capturing images to look back on in the future.”

Cheng liked it, too.

“I learned a lot how to take a good picture, like the rule of thirds,” she said.

One reason the club was formed was to help students take better photos and to become more creative when snapping pictures.

“This way, you don’t get [just] their ugly selfies all the time,” said Donalyn Manion, club sponsor and Bethel College communications coordinator. The club was her brainchild.

Manion led a similar group at Wichita South High School, where she taught graphic design and photography before coming to Bethel. The group met over the lunch hour.

The high school students did challenges as homework, and had regular show-and-tell.

“It was a success there, too,” she said.

Manion also likes photography. Outside of exploring and documenting family history, her favorite kinds of photography are street scenes and abstract.

“I like that it captures the moment or time in history or you can preserve that moment,” she said.

The 2013-14 academic year is an experimental one for the Photography Club.

In her nearly five years at Bethel, Miller has taken hundreds of photos for Bethel activities on behalf of Institutional Communications, where she is a student assistant; for publications (Context, the alumni magazine; The Bethel Collegian, the student newspaper); for many senior recitals; and for Bethel theater, including show documentation, promotional poster photos and actor head shots.

She’ll leave a big hole when she finishes in May.

“[We’re] trying to find a way to educate people about how to use a camera, and how to notice and take good pictures,” Miller said. “That’s the starting plan.”

Having a 35mm camera with all the bells and whistles is not a requirement for joining the Bethel Photography Club.

Some students use their phone cameras. Bethel owns a handful of cameras for student use, but these cameras are stretched between departments, Miller said.

The Photography Club is working to raise money for a club camera – their first activity was a slingshot booth at Fall Festival last October.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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