WISS Today Article

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams 

When students at The Western International School of Shanghai (WISS) enter Grade 9, they are presented with a new option in the Creative Arts: MYP Media. In Media Studies, students learn various critical skills and techniques necessary for film production and the foundational rules for applying different methods.   

Media Studies at WISS aims to provide a solid foundation for the various skills students will require should they wish to pursue DP Film in Grades 11 and 12. Students learn how to film, manage lighting, edit video content, manipulate audio tracks, and take their first steps in acquiring the skills to analyze film. However, at the heart of Media and Film is an art that many of our students are familiar with but may not have considered previously: photography.

Photographer: Brandon, WISS MYP student

The first introduction to the field of Media trains students to manually control the exposure of an image, place a subject in the frame, and arrange the subject relative to the background to achieve an engaging image.   


Mr. Al McDowall is the Media and Film teacher at WISS. According to his experience, photography always presents new experiences for students:  “Of course, almost everyone has a phone, so taking photos is not a new idea. But once they start exploring the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, and experimenting with light on their subjects, photography becomes a way to explore, craft, and create rather than simply taking snaps. Even the simple matter of using black and white as opposed to color in portraiture develops their conception of how photography can communicate with a viewer.”     

Photographer: Dongun, WISS MYP student

Photographer: Eva, WISS MYP student
Photographer: Jakub WISS MYP student
Photographer: Kevin, WISS MYP student

The first unit focuses on portrait photography. As students progress through the unit, they examine the work of great photographers such as Diane Arbus, Annie Leibowitz, Steve McCurry, and Richard Avedon. By exploring the techniques in these iconic images, students can recreate them for their own portraits. This adds to their “bag of tricks” and encourages students to continuously elevate their creativity when visualizing and taking a portrait.

The skills they learn here form the strong foundations which underpin the cinematography they will practice and work they will produce throughout the Media course and into DP Film. The objective of the work is for students to develop their skills and explore their talents, to grow their self-confidence and identify their capabilities and strategize how they might grow and develop their abilities and knowledge.  

Photographer: Labelle, WISS MYP student
Photographer: Matteo, WISS MYP student
Photographer: Ona, WISS MYP student
Photographer: Sandra, WISS MYP student
Photographer: Sayuri, WISS MYP student
Photographer: Nora, WISS MYP student

From Mr. McDowall: “The whole unit is really a journey for the students. Once they have control over the camera and the lighting and have become better acquainted with different approaches to framing their subject, they really can allow their imagination and artistic voice to come through in their photographs. In fact, the final shoot of the unit is called ‘Your Voice’ – they’ve learned the basics, they’ve copied from the greats, and now it’s time for them to craft their portrait shots. Sometimes the resulting photographs will capture the essence of their subject. Other times, there is more emphasis on aesthetics. We have even had some photos which are not, strictly speaking, even portraits! But by the end of the unit, they are no longer students with cameras – they are photographers.”  

Learn more about the robust creative arts program at WISS. Visit our website.