DMA Instructor Spotlight: Photographer Kenneth Chan

By Michael Rosa

Shooting great pictures requires a photographer’s eye. But to make it as a professional photographer, you need even more than that.

Fortunately, DMA photography instructor Kenneth Chan has all the talent and training he needs to please clients and inspire students. Plus, he’s always up to the challenge of creating interesting new types of imagery.

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Chan has photographed professionally on an international level, and taught photography at Stanford University and Eastern Arizona College. (Image: Patrick T. Power Photography)

After training his creative eye and teaching photography classes for years at Stanford University (his alma mater), he started his own photography company. Kenneth Chan Photography specializes in dramatic portraits, breathtaking landscapes and action photography.

Kenneth is also the Lead Instructor and Curriculum Developer for Digital Media Academy’s introductory and advanced photography courses. We asked him about his experience and his approach to teaching:

What’s your background?
My two passions are photography and teaching. I’ve been an instructor at various levels of higher education, including as a Stanford University photography instructor. I also work as a professional photographer and have my own photography business: Kenneth Chan Photography.

I always loved playing with new cameras and figuring them out. Doing that forces me to think about my teaching material and teaching techniques – but it also helps me to be more creative in my art, as well. This gives me a lot of experience I can use to inspire my students.

In this way it works on all levels. And by the end of the week, I’ve learned as much as an instructor as I expect my students have. At Digital Media Academy, I have the unique opportunity to do what I love…on an even more meaningful level.

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In DMA’s digital photography courses, Chan teaches his students about the importance of nuance and the application of technical skill – like he used in the above image, showing the San Francisco Bay Bridge from along the Embarcadero. (Image: Kenneth Chan Photography)

What’s your approach to teaching photography?
Once students have been introduced to their cameras, the most important part of the week is getting out there and shooting. Since it’s a photography course, we can look at beautiful images, we can talk about theory all day long, but at the end of the day it’s really about getting out there, exploring the campus and creating amazing images.

My students have been exploring the idea of a “photographic series,” which is basically a theme that they’re going to follow for a day or even the whole week. I’m always impressed what the students come up with when they really put their minds to it.

Some of them involve high action; they go out and create dramatic portraits of all the friends that they’re making here. Others create intricate detailed shots of small items that might have been overlooked. But when they create a whole series and bring that in, you really have to respect and admire their attention to detail.

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“We can talk about theory all day long, but…it’s really about getting out there, exploring campus and creating amazing images,” says DMA photography instructor Kenneth Chan.

How does DMA prepare students for high school, college and the working world?
I believe in the intensive 40-hour course that we have over the summer. It allows students to dig down deep and learn quite a lot about the subject matter at hand. They get to walk out at the end of the week with lots of great work that they can show their friends and family and use to build their own professional portfolios.

DMA’s 40-hour intensive curriculum provides students with the experience they need if they ever want to pursue photography as a career.
– Kenneth Chan, Lead Instructor and Curriculum Developer for DMA’s Introduction and Advanced photography courses

DMA’s 40-hour intensive curriculum provides students with the experience they need if they ever want to pursue photography as a career, job or even just a passion. I can state that throughout my career as an instructor – from high-school through to college – sometimes what we’re able to cover in 40 hours of focused time is actually more than what your typical semester-long course can cover.

It’s so much fun when you can focus on students who are here to learn and who are devoted to the task of trying new ideas and new projects. It’s also super-refreshing to see how many people are so excited to be here, are ready to learn something new, are eager to innovate, and create something in their field.

I fully believe in the DMA mission of providing a creative space for students to learn in such a hands-on, intensive environment. Every year I come back to DMA I’m so grateful that I’ve done it and so happy in what I see the students accomplishing.

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Nearly 50 layers were used in Photoshop to create this winning composite group photo! (Image: Kenneth Chan Photography)

What’s your favorite memory of camp this summer?
My favorite memory of this summer is trying to come up with a group project with my students for one of DMA’s beginning photography courses. We really wanted to create a unique photo. So our idea was to come up with a scene where we were all going to be in the photo together at different times and composite it in Photoshop, so we could create some special effects as well.

We actually won the Photography Contest that week at DMA!