Capturing Alaska in Digital: BLM’s Girl Scout photo workshops

When I was a girl growing up in Maine, I learned about photography from Girl Scouts using an Eastman Kodak “Brownie” cardboard box camera. What a miracle that camera was! It took 2 ¼-inch square pictures on 120mm film, and helped me capture the world as I saw it. I earned my second camera and first 35mm by selling vegetable seeds in a city to folks who didn’t have vegetable gardens.

GIrl Scout CameraAlaska State Fair Sign
Here is the official Girl Scout Brownie camera. Karen Laubenstein used this as a Girl Scout to learn about photography.Alaska State Fairgrounds welcome sign at the 2013 Girl Scout Camporee. Photo: Karen J. Laubenstein

On June 7, I relived those memories as I co-led a series of BLM photography workshops for nearly 100 of the over 1,000 girl scouts in grades 3-7 attending the 2013 statewide Alaska Girl Scout encampment at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer. Not all girls brought their own cameras or photography experience, so I passed out colored construction paper and scissors to create a ‘frame’ to use as a ‘viewfinder.’ I then proceeded to teach them about zooming (telephoto/wide angle), portrait and landscape orientation, composition and the Rule of Thirds, lighting, and capturing live subjects as responsible wildlife photographers.  Probably most importantly, I taught them to capture their feelings and experiences for the subjects through the lens, rather than simply becoming a “Clicker” and clicking at things.  As they quickly learned, Clickers find it tougher to make phenomenal photos.

 
Karen Laubenstein shows girls how to use view findersPioneer Peak
BLM-Alaska State Writer-Editor Karen Laubenstein points to the sun while holding cardboard 'viewfinders' as she teaches the girls how lighting can affect digital photography. Photo: Mike WrabetzView of Pioneer Peak and the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Valley in Palmer, enroute to the Girl Scout Camporee. Photo: Karen J. Laubenstein

It was interesting how the girls directed our volunteers, usually their Girl Scout leaders, on where to stand for a portrait. They told them to stand many yards away. I would explain the Rule of Thirds and that you do not need to get someone’s feet as well as their head in every photo; that usually people should not be so tiny you can’t tell who they are. If people want to photograph feet, then by all means, line those appendages up and click away! The feet will be much more interesting as a photo capture all by themselves.

The girls would forget to look at composition of photos, many of them placing the ‘models’ in front of a construction project, underneath cables, in shadows, or where people moved between them and the camera.  By applying the Rule of Thirds, the girls saw how to bring subjects close and still capture those backgrounds. They learned to compose their photos, to consider what or who their subjects really are, and to study their backgrounds and environments. They learned ways to make portraits different and unique, rather than simply people standing there smiling at the camera.

girl scouts looking through view finder and taking photosGirl Scout Photography badge
Girl Scouts practice digital photography at the 2013 BLM Alaska Digital Photography Workshops.  Photo: Mike WrabetzGirl Scout badge for Photography.

BLM-Alaska Land Law Examiner Ann Richardson, who is also a wildlife biologist by education, taught the girls about macrophotography. She brought plaster-casted fossil dinosaur and animal tracks, introducing ichthology or the study of fossil tracks, and examples of lady bugs and other tiny subjects. She led the girls on an odyssey of discovery unlike most of them had ever imagined! She also gave the girls Alaska dinosaur bookmarks and this year’s educational Campbell Creek Science Center woodpecker posters.

BLMers Ann Richardson and Mike Wrabetz

BLMers Mike Wrabetz and Ann Richardson. Photo by Karen Laubenstein
The girls had practice time with their construction paper frames or their cameras to apply what they learned. Natural Resource Specialist Mike Wrabetz from the Branch of Pipeline Monitoring and volunteer Ron Laubenstein, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Region visual information specialist, helped out with technical questions and analyzing the girl’s efforts.

What a wonderful way to teach about the natural resources and public lands BLM manages, and to encourage a different way of viewing the world than when these girls had arrived at encampment! Each girl received a copy of the Alaska Digital Wildlife Photography Handbook http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/viewing/pdfs/ak_digital_photography_handbook.pdf or http://alaska.fws.gov/external/education/pdf/ak_digital_photography_handbook.pdf that I developed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also received information about capturing the night skies and Alaska’s auroras (Northern Lights). Sharing our passions with these youth gave them some skills and tools to last them a lifetime. It also helped us go back in time to when we, too, were just learning about photography and how to capture our world.

 

-- Karen J. Laubenstein
BLM-Alaska State Writer-Editor