IN THE Mac Studio at Woodmill High in Dunfermline, S5 and S6 photography pupils are doing picture research on their computers. The room is quiet.
Colour images on the walls contrast with the monochrome universe outside, where snow is falling and the roads are full of slush.
The school first offered Higher "photography for the media" in 2004-05; 13 pupils took it up and all got As. This year, 33 are doing the course. In response to demand, the school expanded its offer to two classes and two timetable columns.
The growth in popularity at the Fife school reflects a national trend.
Higher photography for the media was introduced in 2003. Four further education colleges offered it, and there were 50 entries for SQA assessment. That figure rose to eight centres and 115 entries in 2004; 15 centres and 214 entries in 2005; and 20 centres and 245 entries in 2006.
This summer, there are 372 candidates across 21 centres, 19 of them schools.
In the first term, the photographers at Wood-mill are introduced to their subject. Many have little or no experience of cameras so learn how a camera works, what the lens does, lighting and composition. They develop visual understanding and technical skills. They delve into the history of photographers, looking at the work of celebrated names such as Harry Benson.
Pupils complete a research unit, camera mechanisms and digital imaging before Christmas. Workshops explore daylight photography, aspects of school, and studio flash photography. Another looks at photo flood, involving digital camera work with a single light source, to explore photography as illusion and drama, rather than as reference.
Pupils are taught to use traditional and digital single lens reflex cameras. They learn about focusing, film processing, scanning and editing.
"We use Photoshop software for editing, but in a strict way, altering shadows or highlighting, or the composition," says art teacher Colin Adams.
This term, pupils are working on photo-essay projects in which they must demonstrate planning, development and evaluation skills. They will each produce a portfolio, beginning with a 500-word project plan, followed by 12 prints with supporting notes and research photographs. They conclude with a 1,000-word evaluation which is written in class and invigilated.
Each pupil chooses a topic tied to one of three briefs: natural environment, youth culture, and "the camera cannot lie" - a statement they can support or refute.
S6 pupil Kate Wemyss is doing Higher photography to complement her Advanced Higher art. Her project is on addiction. "I knew nothing about photography.
I never knew you had to have aperture, shutter speed; I thought you just pressed a button."
Ashleigh McGregor, S5, chose beauty. "I'm interested in finding beauty in everyone," she says. "Everyone's got a perception of who is beautiful and who is ugly. I want to challenge that, using Photoshop to alter pictures."
She is contesting the statement that cameras cannot lie.
Woodmill bought equipment for the Mac Studio with pound;6,000 from the Carnegie Trust and pound;5,000 from Tesco. They have hosted in-service days, demonstrated animation to primary school children and delivered training to the education department of the National Galleries of Scotland.
Mike Gilmour, rector, is a proponent of creative arts. "It is possible for a pupil to take Higher art, Higher photography, Higher dance, Higher drama, Higher music," he says. "It's tapping into the talents and interests of staff and pupils. It's what a comprehensive should offer.
These are marketable skills. If you've got a skill and an interest, you're halfway there."