Learn with Hanford Mills

Capturing History: Photography (Pre-Visit)




Students will be able to use a modern digital camera and will understand the basic concepts of the art and technology involved in modern photography.


Students will review photography basics and discuss the importance of the discipline. They will also practice using a digital camera to experiment with the various effects of light in photographic image creation.


  • Excerpt from The Hanford Photographs publication of Hanford Mills Museum (entire publication available at Hanford Mills Museum) – either one copy if reading out loud, or enough copies for students.
  • Digital Camera(s) with charged batteries and USB cord
  • Access to computer with ability to read your camera
  • Camera film, optional (to show students who may never have seen it)


  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes
  • Class Time: 60 minutes


  • Read the “Horace Hanford and the History of Photography” excerpt from The Hanford Photographs aloud or print enough copies for each student to read on their own.
  • Questions to ask:
    • Have you ever used a camera before?
    • Do you enjoy photography? If so, why do you enjoy photography?
    • Why is photography important?
    • Why do people take photographs?
    • What can we learn from photographs?
  • Explain how to operate the camera.
  • Have students experiment with a digital camera in the classroom to see the different effects of lighting on photographs. Turn the lights on and off. Try in sunlight and out of sunlight. Try with the flash and without in the same location. Allow students to take turns with the camera. Try to continue until everyone has taken a photo, if possible. Be sure to keep track of each photo on a sheet of paper. Note the circumstances of the photo.
  • Plug the camera into your computer. Open the images as a slideshow.
  • Ask students to gather around the computer. You may opt to project the images onto a screen or wall if you are comfortable with using a projector with your computer and if you have one available to you.
  • As a class, view the slideshow, noting the differences in the circumstances of each.
  • Use the following questions to prompt discussion of the role of light in photography.
    • How does lighting affect photography?
    • Why is lighting important in photography?
    • What do we use that allows us to take better pictures in the dark? Why do you think this helps?
    • How soon do we see our picture with a digital camera?
    • Has anyone ever taken a photo with a camera that uses film? What is the film like? How long does it take to see the picture?
    • Does anyone know how pictures were taken one hundred years ago?
  • Explain that students will see many historic photographs at Hanford Mills Museum, as well as other forms of technology


  • Participation in class discussion (listening and speaking).
  • Ability to describe what happens as the light changes in the pictures.

NYS Learning Standards:

  • ELA Standard 1
  • ELA Standard 1
  • Math, Science & Technology Standard 5