Teaching photography through
haptic communication

What if

You could support photography teaching through haptic communication.


Read Time ~ 8 min
5 months
Interaction Design
Internet of Things
Wearable devices

During fall 2015 I was writing my master thesis about how Internet of Things (IOT) could help photography teaching. Here I'll mostly present the design aspects of the project.

Technical Photography Definitions

This subsection is for readers who need clarification on the three technical parameters, which the project revolves around.

  1. Aperture is the opening within a lens through which light travels into the body of the camera. In the lens, an opaque structure called a diaphragm controls the aperture. The diaphragm function similarly to an iris of the eye. The aperture is represented by f-numbers. A low f-number means a large aperture opening, whereas high f-number means a little aperture opening. The aperture value is also what gives the blur effect in images.
  2. Shutter Speed is the length of time the cameras shutter is open when taking a photo. In other words, when the shutter opens, it fully exposes the cameras image sensor to the light passing through the lens aperture. The shutter speed can also be used to create the effect of movement.
  3. ISO is the level of sensitivity of the digital cameras image sensor is to light. The image sensor in digital cameras responsibility is to gather light and transform it in to an image.
  4. Exposure value is the number that represents the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. In layman terms, it tells you how bright or dark the image is.


The intervention of the camera allows us to capture moments of the past down to the smallest detail in split seconds. The saying “a picture is worth thousand words” emphasize that photography is not simply about objectively capturing the world as we see it.

The expressiveness of these stories is often brought to live through various techniques, which often require a level of intimacy with the equipment. For a photographer, however, the capability to produce expressive photographic stories also depends on various aspects in conjunction with each other.

Although, learning about the parameters (ISO, shutter speed & aperture) is certainly considered a necessity, the novice photographer also have to learn when and how to apply the parameters. 

The Concept

For a novice photographer, getting instructed by a photography teacher can accelerate the development for the novice. Today, this is primarily happening vocally, which leaves the other senses untapped when it comes to learning.

The HaptiCam sleeve is designed to complement the one-to-one vocal communication between the novice and teacher with haptic sensations. This by done by allowing the teacher to feel the student's camera settings and vice versa.

The learning goal of the device is to develop the novice's skills in using the parameters - aperture, shutter speed and ISO. For now, the device is only able to display the aperture value.

In the original vision, both the teacher and the student have their sleeve. This way, they can track of each other's camera setting. However, only one has been implemented for testing.

How it Works

The sleeve consists of two motorized sliders, which moves accordingly to each of the users' own aperture value. The teacher control one slider while the novice control the slider other on the opposite side of the sleeve. It allows the teacher to haptically guide the novice, by allowing the novice to match his slider with the teacher's slider.

The process


The project toke it's starting point in the hypothesis that IOT devices could improve the photography learning or teaching.

The design process was initiated with an ideation session. The ideation was conducted with the aim to develop concepts that could help novices learn photography. 

The concepts of the ideation were then divided into the three following categories: aperture, shutter and ISO. In other words, concepts were developed for each of the three parameters. The concepts was subsequently organized into a contact sheet, which could be shared be shared with future stakeholders.

Establish Early Requirements

I then planned two semi-structured interviews. The first interview was with Robert, who 20 years of experience with teaching photography. The second one was with Lars, who had 7 years of photography experience.

I afterwards decided to share and discuss the contact sheet with concepts with both of them. The intention was to gain an understanding of photography teaching and reveal photography practices. From the interviews and discussions I learned: 

  1. It could be difficult for novice users to know the causality between user action and the camera behavior. In particular, novice users had difficulties understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
  2. Photographers often spend time in developing into niche categories such as nature, portrait, sport etc.
  3. Generally, there was little room for adding new interaction to the camera. New interactions would block for necessary existing interactions.
  4. They seem to be open about the use haptic as means of learning or teaching photography. They also liked the concepts that visualized the functions of the camera.

New direction

The discussion suggested that putting new interactions on camera would be a dead end. It wouldn't make sense to design a specific "learning camera" either. This was on the basis that they would have to relearn every interaction once they were ready to move from the learning camera to a full-fledge camera.

As result, I felt that putting the interaction to the body, instead of on the camera, would be a better direction.

Physical Sketching & Bodystorming

I then began another ideation session. This time with the insights gained from the discussion with the camera experts.

I sketched the ideas in paper and as physical mock-ups. The intention with the physical sketching was explore and evaluate the physical qualities of the ideas, which could not be properly explored through pen and paper sketching.

Besides knowing what the learning qualities of the ideas, I also needed to know right away whether they fitted into conventional photography practices.


The next step was to sketch out scenarios. Interactions often happen over time, meaning that they are inherently temporal. In order to capture this, I sketched scenarios of the ideas I had physically sketched earlier. This allowed me to further understand how the interaction with the concepts could fold out. 

Technical Experiments

I also did technical experiments to evaluate the feasibility of my ideas. Here I managed to make actuators respond to the aperture setting of the camera. 

Narrowing Down

On the basis of the exploration with physical sketching, the scenarios and technical experiments, I decided to go with the Hapticam sleeve concept.

The abandoned concepts mainly focused on how the system could provide learning on its own by representing the parameters through haptic or visual means. However, this would lead to the users having to interpret the meaning of the representations. It would therefore defeat it's own purpose.

The Hapticam concept, on the other hand, provided value on how existing teaching practices could be supported. It didn't aim to replace the photography teachers, but help them with their teaching.

The Physical Design

Having narrowed down to a single concept, I began to explore the physical design of Hapticam.

The aspect of the physical design was to make sure that the slider was placed far enough apart so the user could feel the two sliders as two different tactile sensations. I therefore ensure that the shortest distance between the two sliders was more than 40mm, which is the threshold that you are able to haptically perceive two points as separate.

I also experimented with different slider extension in order to explore different haptic sensations. The slider extensions are mounted on the motorized sliders. A challenge with designing the slider extension was the varying distance to surface of the skin. As a result, the slider was either unable to to reach the skin or it became stuck.

I therefore designed a more flexible wiper extension with a folded piece of silicon attached to it.

User Testing Procedure

My hypothesis was that the device would allow the photography teacher to be implicit in his or her vocal communication. This hypothesis was tested with two pairs of a novice photographer and an expert photographer, who toke the role as teacher.

Before study, I began with a short interview to assess the skills and knowledge level of the novice photographer to ensure that the participant was actually on the novice level. During the study, the test participants were asked to take pictures of specific objects.

After the study, I conducted a focus group interview with the test participants. This was on the basis that I wanted the novice and the teacher to reflect on each other's answers. Furthermore, the test participants were also asked to reflect on their experience with the learning tool as communication tool. For the user study, only a single bracelet device has been developed.

User Testing Insights

From the two user testing sessions I made the following insights: 

  1. The communication seemed to be more implicit. The teacher could guide the novice without explicitly telling the aperture value to the novice.
  2. It was difficult for the novice to feel the slider when it stood still. As a result, the teacher moved his slider back and forth so the novice could locate the slider.
  3. The novice seemed to be oversensitive to the importance of aperture value accuracy. This was also was visible during the study by which the novice asked if they were on the exact same aperture value. However, the teacher mentioned that it didn't matter.
  4. The teacher was missing feedback on the novice slider position since he didn't have his own device to feel it.

Expert Review

Two photography teachers, Robert and Jens, afterwards reviewed the prototype. Robert was the one who I also interviewed earlier in the process. The intention was to examine whether I had translated insights from the initial interview into a concept that could fit into Robert’s photography teaching practice.

From the expert review, I made the follow insights:

  1. They believed the device would be helpful for novice photographers who have difficulties visualizing the functionalities of parameters.
  2. However they also mentioned that device should display all three parameter (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) and the exposure simultaneously. In other words, the device should help novices balance the three parameter values, and display how they have impact on the exposure value.
  3. One-to-one teaching is not economically feasible for most of his student. They advocated that the technology should be able to be used in one-to-many teaching
  4. It makes more sense to place the sleeve on the underside of the forearm. This was mainly do to the fact that his forearm was hairy, but it also seemed like the underside of the forearm was more sensitive.

Future works

The results from the user suggest that it would be interesting to explore how the three parameters and the exposure value can be displayed simultaneously. Thus taking a more holistic approach to three parameters and the exposure value.

For example, instead of having two motorized sliders, the device could have three motorized sliders in parallel with the forearm and an addition motorized slider that is attached across the forearm.

Lessons Learned

Technology as Partner

In the beginning, I was eager to explore how technology by itself could provide learning value through non-conventional means. However, learning is a complex area, which means it is difficult to replace the teacher with technology.

I realized that technology could provide more value and more coherent experience as partners. Technology should augment people, not replacing them.

Counter-Intuitive Findings

We often do user studies or research with a hypothesis in mind. However, it is also important to keep an eye on findings that you weren't looking for in the first place. In particular, surprising or counter-intuitive findings, since they challenge your preconception about the users.

In this project, it seemed counter-intuitive that the novice seemed to be oversensitive to the importance of aperture value accuracy. Here you would expect a novice to be less sensitive than the teacher. 

Set Learning Goals

When designing for learning, it's important consider what you want the users to learn. Difference kinds of learning require different means. In particular, I found it helpful to distinguish between learning new knowledge and learning a new skill. Developing skills require practice and feedback, which should be taken into account when designing a learning device

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