Dance Arts Studio Photo Shoot

I can’t believe how fast the weeks have flown by. We are already in our fifth week of classes. Last night, I remarked that I really wasn’t ready for the class to end in three weeks. I’m finally starting to remember everybody’s names without prompting. It seems we still have so much more to talk about!

Last night, we went on our first group photo shoot together. Grace Nanavati, owner of Dance Arts Studio in Springfield, graciously allowed the Girls in Focus students to spend our usual class time photographing some of her dance classes. Before going in, we revisited last week’s lecture highlights — and talked about aiming for five images for a complete photo essay: wide, medium, detail, portrait, and action. While I knew it would be challenging for everyone to get every single shot, I wanted them to get some practice thinking in those terms.

We also faced the challenges of capturing motion in a room lit by fluorescent bulbs. It gave us an opportunity to experiment with higher ISO settings, shutter speeds, white balancing issues, and black and white toning.


At first, the girls hovered near the door nervously, in small packs. Eventually, however, they moved around the borders of the room freely. They began to experiment with different angles and viewpoints.


The dancers were wonderful subjects. For the most part, they went about their own work and acted as if they didn’t even realize we were there.

Next week, we will share our favorite images in class. Students will be providing peer reviews and constructive criticism of their work. Learning to give and receive constructive criticism is an essential part of growth as a photographer. I will also be putting some of my images on the chopping block, so that students have an opportunity to practice articulating their critiques on someone with pretty thick skin.

If you enjoyed this update, please share it with your friends so that they may learn more about what we are doing at Girls in Focus! And if you have any questions about Girls in Focus or ideas for future photo shoots like this one, please share them in the comments!

Hello (and Thank You), World!

What started out as a simple conversation in my head quickly became a string of feverish, lengthy text messages to some of my best girlfriends — and then eventually, the tiniest glimmer of a dream.

What if I could teach young women how to tell stories with their cameras?

After some manic brainstorming, Girls in Focus had a name. Almost simultaneously, the logo presented itself as clear as day: a girl in braids, hiding behind a camera. The graphic designer took the idea and ran with it. She came up with the upturned, Pippi Longstocking-esque braids, the wink, and the handwritten font. It was exactly right — and somehow that made it seem so real. We had a name! And a logo!

Before I really even understood what Girls in Focus was, it was already being shaped and fed and encouraged by other girls and women of many ages, races, nationalities, and backgrounds.

I have many harebrained ideas, but this didn’t feel like one of those. It didn’t seem even remotely absurd. It seemed essential and urgently needed. For one thing, I was tired of talking about feminism. I wanted to DO feminism. Furthermore, I was tired of listening to the constant and conflicting chatter on the airwaves about what it means to be female.

(As if there is any one “thing.” And if there was any one thing, it certainly wouldn’t be limited to “skinny” or “hot” or “pretty.”)

Indeed, Girls in Focus started out as an attempt to teach young women to think beyond their physical beauty, but most importantly, Girls in Focus was born out of a love for stories — stories of all kinds. And I wanted to enable and empower young women (and perhaps myself) to add more color and more dimension to the stories we tell about ourselves. If we are to ever understand the importance of women in the world, women need to tell their stories — and we need the encouragement and the tools to do so.

I had BIG dreams. Big goals. Daunting, even.

Dreams, as it turns out, are a TON of work. Before I could even think about designing a curriculum or waxing philosophical with young minds about the importance of documentary photography, I had to get this thing off the ground. I spent many, many late hours wrestling with WordPress and learning to customize the website. I gave a Pecha Kucha talk in Springfield and tried not to cry or throw up on stage. (Success!) I talked to reporters and sent out press releases. I made a video with a group of middle school girls. In November, we created a crowdfunding campaign via Start Some Good. I begged for money and used camera equipment on every kind of social media I have access to. I started a Twitter! I tweeted!

At first, the donations slowly trickled in. It was both thrilling and nauseating. If I didn’t reach my goal, how on earth was I going to afford 10 cameras, memory cards, textbooks, prints, coffee table books, promotional materials, ink cartridges, snacks, field trip funds, and gallery shows? Girls in Focus was still just a pipe dream, but it was becoming more and more real all the time. We simply had to succeed.

The hard work and relentless nagging paid off. Much to my relief, delight, and surprise — and through the generosity of many, many people — we somehow raised $10,051 in 28 days.

(Please note: the 28 day fundraising cycle wasn’t intentional, but it is kind of funny now that I think of it.)

And with that, we were off and running. Immediately, I purchased 10 Sony A3000 cameras, memory cards, a few educational DVDs, and simple textbooks for each student. I also established an extensive library of photography books featuring a wide array of photographers so that we could refer to them in student discussions. Student applications started to pour in. We had more applications than we had cameras, but some of the applicants were able to provide their own cameras. In all, our inaugural class includes 13 students who range in ages from 13 to 18.

I can honestly say that I look forward to Wednesday nights with my GIF students. Words are inadequate to describe what a tremendous privilege it is to be able to share my love of photography with these bright and curious young women.

I intend to blog and share classroom updates as I am able. I hope you will follow along as we learn more about photography, ourselves, and one another.

Thank you so much for being part of this journey.

314 E. Monroe • Springfield, IL
(217) 836-5623

Drop us a line

Yay! Message sent. Error! Please validate your fields.
© 2014 Girls in Focus. All Rights Reserved.