CSE 131: The Science and Art of Digital Photography

MWF    1:30-2:20pm    Mary Gates Hall MGH 241    March 26 to June 4

Course Overview and Curriculum Content

Digital Photography is a unique technological activity that is totally dependent on its roots in digital sensing and computational imaging. It has many functions—scientific, artistic, documentary and social—and its historical development is a fascinating study in scientific innovation.  This course will give students the tools and technological understanding to make better pictures. We will concentrate on four areas: the history and development of photography; the science of optics and digital imaging; the elements of photographic composition and design; and the future of internet-enabled photography.

We will begin by examining the invention of photography in the 19th century, and consider the social implications of this revolutionary process. We’ll examine lens design and optics, the understanding of perspective, the rapid development of materials used in chemical photography, and the development and construction of the modern CCD and CMOS sensors.
We will explore methods for combining optics and digital sensors with digital image processing techniques in the modern digital camera. Our tour will dive into the key aspects of the design of a photograph by the photographer—the use of design elements such as line, color, pattern, texture, and light to compose outstanding images. Our discussions will focus on the foundations of digital photography while still relating those foundations to the latest trends in the field. 

Goals and Objectives

This course is designed to provide you with the foundations necessary for designing and making better digital photographs.

At the conclusion of the course, you will be able to:



Bruce Hemingway --photos here and here, with Rich MacDonald, Associate. TA: Juliet Fiss.

Bruce's Office hours:  CSE 464 MTW 2:30-3:30; other times by appointment, or informally any time I'm in my office, usually afternoons.


Recommended Reading

Evaluation and grading

40%                  weekly photography assignments (8), graded on meeting assignment goals
10%                  Participation
25%                  Midterm (on readings and lectures)
25%                  Final (comprehensive, on readings and lectures)

Grading of Photo Assignments

It's hard to judge artistic quality, so rather than grading the individual photos, we will assign grades based on whether you met the technical requirements of the assignment. For each requirement, you'll be given a check for meeting the requirement, check-minus for not quite meeting the requirement, or check-plus if you do something spectacular that makes your grader's jaw drop.

Lateness Policy for Assignments

Since the assignments come in rapid succession, it is important that each be completed on time. Replacing photos after the deadline is not allowed, and will be treated as adedemic misconduct. To allow for unforeseeable circumstances, you will be allowed up to two weekdays of grace for up to two of your assignments. Beyond this, late assignments will be penalized by 10% of the grade for that assignment per weekday that they are late. Exceptions to this late policy will be made only in the case of a necessary (non-pleasure) trip approved in advance by the instructor, or severe illness. If you do not submit one of the assignments at all, you will fail the course, even if you are taking it pass/fail. In this case, or if you believe you are in danger of failing, it is your responsibility to come talk to us before the end of the course. Incompletes are given only in exceptional circumstances.


In addition to the policy on late assignments (see above), during the quarter you can add up to five photos to already completed assignments and request that they be re-graded. Photography includes a fair element of luck. This provision means that if you take a shot later on in the course that would have been perfect for an earlier assignment, you can still turn it in! It also means that if you didn't quite understand a requirement and did the wrong thing, you can submit a new photograph later.

Originality, collaboration, and borrowing: Many of you have taken extraordinary photographs in your careers. Some of these photographs may perfectly and beautifully satisfy the requirements of a CSE 131 assignment. Nevertheless, in the interests of fairness and continued learning, we expect your submissions for each assignment to be photographs taken by you specifically for this course. You are encouraged to discuss assignments with friends, but you are expected to take your own photographs.

Academic Misconduct

Final Exam:  Monday, June 04, 2012, 230-420 pm, MGH 241

Special thanks to Marc Levoy, Stanford University.

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