Photography, filmmaking camps a family affair

by Dee Grano

You could call Donna Bise a triple threat: photographer, teacher and mom. She has served in all three capacities for The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film summer camp program.

The Light Factory, located at 345 N. College St., inside Spirit Square, is one of only four museums in the country that celebrates the mediums of photography and film. During the summer, students and youth in grades three through 12, can take week-long, half-day camps in all aspects of photography and filmmaking.

Bise has a degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina and worked as a photojournalist with daily newspapers before beginning a freelance photography business in Charlotte. Bise is the official photographer for the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, and her photos have appeared in national and international publications.

As a longtime friend and supporter of The Light Factory, Bise made a logical choice to be a summer camp teacher, taking on a dozen teenagers for a black-and-white darkroom camp. “In one short week, I taught my campers how to shoot, how to process their images in The Light Factory’s darkroom and create an exhibit,” Bise said. “It made for a busy week.”

Bise stayed late on several occasions to work with her campers, some of whom drove a significant distance to take part in this specialized summer camp.

For students interested in the visual art of photography, The Light Factory has one of the only community darkrooms in the area, and its staff offers the most in-depth, hands-on experiences in digital point-and-shoot photography and digital SLR photography. SLR stands for single-lens-reflex, and those cameras have removable lenses. Other fun photo-based camps include fashion photo and Photoshop and toy camera photography.

The Light Factory summer camps don’t stop at still photography. “As a mother, I asked Charles Thomas (The Light Factory’s education director) how many kids he would need to run a summer camp in filmmaking, so my son, Cory, could take it,” she said.  “I didn’t stop until we filled the camp,” which was the first one-minute-movie digital filmmaking camp, now a permanent fixture in The Light Factory’s summer camp roster.  Bise’s son, Cory Ring, is older now and studying cinematography at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.

“Cory is one of the reasons we had to create ‘advanced-level’ camps,” joked Thomas, who generates the concept for each camp with Associate Director of Education Jen Crickenberger. “He’s just one of the kids who keeps coming back year after year, hungry for more education in photography and filmmaking.”

“We constantly have to add more camps to meet demand,” Crickenberger said.

The Light Factory’s specialized summer camps draw students from great distances.

In addition to the digital filmmaking camps, The Light Factory offers stop-motion animation, 2-D animation and independent documentary filmmaking.

When asked what makes The Light Factory summer camp program special, Bise said: “Access, opportunity and support.”

“Not every school has a darkroom or a fully-outfitted Mac lab like The Light Factory does,” she explained. “The only chance these students may have to work in a darkroom or with the latest version of Photoshop is in one of these camps during the summer.”

The Light Factory constantly updates computers in its classrooms with the up-to-date software for Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects, Lightroom and more.

The Light Factory also offers two camps for students with special needs, one in photography and another in filmmaking. “Just because a child has a mental or physical disability doesn’t mean they lack artistic vision or talent,” Crickenberger said.  “They need means to express it, just like everyone else.”

At the end of every camp, all family members are invited to attend a celebration of students’ work. Photography camps feature mini-exhibits, while animation and digital filmmaking camps have “premieres,” complete with popcorn and soda.

“It’s so heartwarming to see the family support, where everyone comes together at the end of the week,” Bise said. “The kids take such pride in their work and are so excited to share it.”

Registration for all camps is required. Call 704-333-9755 or book online at

Dee Grano is director of marketing for The Light Factory. Contact her at 704-333-9755 or

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