Bringing the World to the Classroom Through Photography

Go Behind the Cube with Holly Hildreth, Senior Photographer, McGraw-Hill

Each member of our team brings valuable skills and insights to our collective effort toward student and teacher empowerment. Every piece of instructional content is assembled with care and purpose, designed to be relevant, meaningful, and effective for student learning. To take you behind the scenes of our program development, we’re going Behind the Cube, in reference to our logo, to meet some of the names and faces behind the programs in your classroom. Today we’re taking a closer look at the photographs you might find in a McGraw-Hill textbook or online program.

Today’s highlight:

Holly Hildreth, Senior Photographer

Can you describe your role here at McGraw-Hill?

I am a Senior Photographer in the Media Production & Acquisition department. My job is to shoot clear, attention-grabbing photos and videos for our products. Whether it’s studio set-ups or on-location shots, I do it all. I hear all the time that I have the coolest job — which, yeah, I really do! I’m always kept on my toes, because every day is something totally new. I could be in the studio photographing objects, or I could be out hiking seven miles in the rain to get that perfect shot — it is certainly never boring!

This was for a middle school California Science Phenom feature
This is the south rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise

What’s your favorite memory from your time at McGraw-Hill so far?

Ooh, that’s a tough one — there have been so many amazing experiences I’ve had in my nearly seven years here, it’s hard to pick just one! So, I am going with my top three most memorable:

  • Perhaps the most memorable shoot was photographing and driving(!!) NASA’s new lunar rover vehicle they were developing to send to the moon in the 2020’s. Honestly, I am pretty sure my mouth was hanging open the entire time I was photographing at NASA. I was in awe while chatting with astronauts about their time on the International Space Station, and was fascinated to be able to see and photograph all the amazing things they are working on and learn more about the future of America’s space exploration.
  • This fall I was on assignment in Alaska. There are just some trips that stick with me, and I think about my time there a lot. Each time I come back from a shoot, I can’t wait to share the new things I learned with the folks here. I saw so many awe-inspiring scenes in Alaska, but one of the things I don’t think I will ever forget was driving north toward the Arctic Circle and seeing swaths of dead trees as far as the eye could see. I asked a park ranger if they had a forest fire, but he told me all about how due to climate change, the permafrost is melting and literally drowning the trees, creating huge areas that can no longer sustain the plants that once grew there. I was grateful that I was able to capture that, as being there and seeing it firsthand was so eye-opening, and I hope that those photos will be just as impactful to the students who use our products.
Male elk in Girdwood, Alaska
Dead trees near Fairbanks due to Climate Change
Gray Wolves in Alaska
  • I am a huge animal lover, and I always thought I wanted to be a vet when I was growing up. I had a shoot a couple years ago at a Zoo of an ultrasound on a snow leopard and abscess surgery on a kangaroo. I very quickly learned it’s a good thing I went into photography and not veterinary medicine, as it took all the willpower I had (and several trips back to my camera bag to “change lenses” and take a breather) to not faint from seeing all the blood.
Kangaroo surgery at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Veterinary Center

How do you see your work impacting student learning?

Growing up, I always thought that the photos in textbooks in school were stodgy and corny. I mean, nobody actually laughs while staring off into the distance and eating a salad. I hope to bring much more modern, inclusive, and realistic imagery to our students (no more laughing salad eaters!). Learning doesn’t have to be stuffy and sterile, so you’ll often see bright colors and dynamic lighting in the work I do. My hope is that the student can find at least one photo that grabs their attention and makes them want to learn more — or at least not draw mustaches on that photo.

from Holly’s portfolio

What role can images play in culturally responsive content and representation?

We’ve all heard the old adage — a picture’s worth a thousand words — and it’s so true. I firmly believe that being exposed to new places and ideas has an incredible way of broadening your horizons and understanding of the world and its people. I also think it’s vastly more impactful for a learner if they are able to picture themselves in the content. I am proud of the work McGraw-Hill is doing in working to be as representative as possible. Whenever I am out shooting, I want to make sure that we’re showing everything in the most accurate and respectful way, and in a modern light. Instead of settling for a generic stock photo of a cultural event, we are striving to go to that place and shoot our own content so that we can capture all the details. By being able to connect directly to the people we are photographing, it adds another layer of authenticity and gives people who are more familiar with the subject matter a voice.

California middle school Science Phenom Feature about the water cycle (the water the girl is drinking could be the same water the dinosaurs behind her drank).