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Children see the world through a special lens. There is a purity to their imagination that at some point most adults lose. If you have ever put a camera in the hands of a child you will soon discover that what they see in life is very different than the adults perspective.
How can you harness the creativity of a child through photography? I recently embarked on an experiment to this very goal. As I taught this group of children, I found myself learning lessons also, and am very happy to share some tools that will help you do the same.
Adults like complicated things. We like to complicate everything too. To teach photography to children you must get out of this mindset. The most important element in your teaching children is that they understand a single concept first – and understand that well. From this foundation you can build upon other elements slowly.
The most important concepts in photography are universally known to be “Fill the Frame” and “Rule of Thirds“. In theory, you could combine these two ideas into a single session, but once again keeping with the “Simplify” concept, it works very well to do each as a single session. Begin with “Fill the Frame”, and emphasize that above all your subject must fill the frame to remove distractions. It’s ok to show examples of subjects quite literally “filling the frame” with very few other elements. Once they practice and master the idea of removing distractions, you can go on to explain that other elements can be in the picture to support your main subject.
Kids will only sit still for so long before their focus diverts. For this reason spend the majority of your time allowing the kids to practice. You don’t have to send them out on a photoshoot; you could bring a bag of random objects and allow them to play right inside your classroom. Assign them a number of photos, and encourage them to come back to you for feedback. Invaluable practice comes from re-shooting the same subject to get the concept down.
Don’t be afraid of saying the same phrases multiple times to be confident the concepts have stuck. Have the kids repeat the phrases back to you. Explain the same phrase in different ways, and do so multiple times.
Kids will be kids, and they won’t always get things the way you hope they would. The most important thing you can do as you teach is to encourage their creativity. Don’t point out all the things that are wrong. Point out one thing that they can improve upon, and encourage all the things you see them doing well with their photos.
Everyone likes to compete. Set a contest for “most colorful” or “most interesting”. Give an appropriate amount of time for their goal. When the kids come back from shooting, walk them through the creative elements of their photos. Foster team spirit by having the kids vote on which photo most fulfills the contest.
Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. But everyone can invest in the lives of children and inspire the next generation of creative artists. You never know who will grow up to become a well known and appreciated photographer because you gave them the first opportunity.
August 9, 2013 09:53 am
My daughter has been taking pictures since she could hold a camera. Thank goodness for digital as I would have spent an arm and leg on developing by now! Now that she is a young teen I'm trying to open her up to shooting in Manual (or semi manual, aperature or shutter priority) and most admit I've been getting a little frustrated doing so. Thank you for the reminder to just let her practice, practice, practice. One tip I have learned is to "keep my mouth shut" about what she chooses as her subject. Children have such unique perspectives and open minds they see things we adults don't sometimes. We go on photo journeys together and come home from the exact same places with pictures so different my husband has asked me "where did you drop her off?" Keep clicking kids!
Any advise regarding purchasing lens that will grow with her? She enjoys photographing landscape portraits and macro photography. Currently she has a Nikon D60.
January 9, 2013 12:30 am
I came across your article while researching as I am looking to open a after school photography club at childrens school. I am no quailfied teacher or photographer, but a keen art minded person and love photography. I found your article very insightful and helpful and gives me some encouragement to teach though I have never taught a big group of kids before, only my two children so it is a big leap.
The only problem I have is, I have decided we will be using disposable cameras with the children as digital cameras can be costful and I havent quite got the funding for them. But if all goes well with this club then I hope to pursue that road of digital cameras.
Thanks for a great article and Im sure to be taking notes. I super nervous considering I am a stay at home mother of two that has never worked. I hope this will be my step forward.
January 8, 2013 08:25 am
I stumbled across your website while researching the same subject. Im no quailfied teacher or photographer, but wish to accomplish an after school photography club at my sons school with only using dispoable cameras to begin with. I found this very insightful and hoping I have encouragement
July 30, 2012 04:57 am
Thank you! I've been a professional shooter since '77 and teaching college-level basic photo since '95. I'm teaching a project-based kids' tech camp this week - and I've never been so nervous about teaching!
Going to keep it simple as you suggest! Focus on the visual and compositional aspects as you suggest!
Colorado Mountain Collge
Summit Technical Institute
May 22, 2012 02:24 pm
Very informative. What kind of camera do you suggest giving to children?
May 15, 2012 06:01 am
My son loves to take pictures, I give him one of my old cameras and it is amazing to see what catches his eye at 7.
May 14, 2012 06:47 am
What a lovely article, we should all be inspired to encourage the next generation of photographers :)
May 12, 2012 03:52 am
I have a nephew and a niece, 10 and 8, who I got Lego Cameras last Christmas in a shameless effort to convert them to the faith. My best success with teaching them? Shutting the hell up!
When we go out on photo trips, I'll point out cool subjects and encourage them to snap like crazy, but I don't get too much into the theory of composition. Let them enjoy shooting before imposing the Rule Of Golden Leading Thirds or whatever. The technique will come with time - just let them have fun in the meantime.
May 11, 2012 03:43 pm
A great set of ideas. Not just for children but for grown-ups too.
May 11, 2012 09:10 am
Love this article. Great encouragement and advice for teaching a group of home school kids at our co-op!
May 11, 2012 03:10 am
Having taught Kindergarten years ago, i completely agree with the mix of theory and practice you suggest. Taking the concept to a different level, I have broached "photography" with my own kids as "telling a story with a picture"...it's my goal to have their camera be transparent to their creativity and desire to show someone something. It's ALWAYS a treat to see the world through their eyes (ages 4 and 7).
May 11, 2012 01:45 am
Great advice. I"ve been toying with the idea of doing some classes for children. This helped a lot.
May 11, 2012 01:14 am
Sometimes my wife and I will take a hike with or eleven year old left-handed daughter. Each of us are let loose upon the world with our cameras. When we get back to the computer to see what we photographed, my wife and I usually say the same thing everytime, "How did that kid get that photo? I didn't even know it was there!"
May 10, 2012 05:42 pm
I've been shooting with cameras since my parents showed me photos when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, about 40 years ago! They simply gave me a film camera and told me to have fun with it while we were all out and about on day trips. My Nan was also a big fan of photography and she even gave me one of her old Kodak box cameras when I as about 7 years old.
I've been shooting serious digital photos about 3-4 years and last year I finally gave my 8 year old a pocket digital camera. I gave her two simple rules, make sure you keep it straight and hold it still so it doesn't go all blurry, other than that I just let her get on with it! So while I agonize about light, tone, colur, shape, form, composition and all that stuff she just has fun shooting everything in sight. I don't say a word for once! I start boring her with all that crap I have to know make the shots I want, she'll never enjoy it and that would be a terrible shame.
The one thing she really enjoyed was using the movie features to make small video plays of her toys, which she even did in the back of the car while were travelling places! So even if stills are not her thing maybe movies will give her a creative outlet.
Don't bore kids with rules. Some simple basic guidelines to get them going. Kids are masters of finding new and unusual ways to take common things and turn them on their heads, let 'em be kids!
May 10, 2012 05:35 pm
30 years ago, I taught a group of Brownies a basic photography badge class. Long before digital times, in the land of film cameras and actually having to WAIT (oh no!) for the photos to come back from the lab, it had to be a 2 part project. Come to the first class with your camera, learn the basics and then shoot a roll of film. They had to come back to the class in 2 weeks with the pictures for review. To my utter amazement, I turned out to be the student. There work was great, and super creative!
This turned out to be one of the highlights of my younger life. This article really stirred up some pleasant memories for me.
Thank you Christina.
May 10, 2012 02:16 pm
Yes very inspiring.
I'm personally a "kid" myself (I'm 16).
Tell me what you think of mine! :)
May 10, 2012 12:23 pm
Loved your article.
May 10, 2012 07:56 am
I've signed up as a counselor for the Boy Scouts' Photography merit badge, and these tips will come in handy!
May 10, 2012 07:09 am
I love shooting with my kids, it can be a lot of fun to watch what catches their eye. It's difficult, but I really try to just let them shoot what and how they want. We have spent plenty of time talking about how to handle the gear properly and some basics on settings. The other piece of advice that I would add to this is to encourage them to enter local art contests and fairs. My kids have been entering the county and state fairs for several years and have started having pretty good success.
May 10, 2012 04:16 am
Some good ideas here.
I found that as an introduction choose something exciting for them to go for.
I had a teenager who asked for advice on photographing moving objects so I took him to a local air show. He loved it and learnt a lot as well:
May 10, 2012 03:52 am
I took my family on a photo club shoot this past weekend. My 3.5 year old stole the camera from my wife and actually had some great pictures. I'll ave to share some on the forums later.
May 10, 2012 03:47 am
Awesome article, hopefully a lot of people will follow your advice!
May 10, 2012 03:02 am
Such an inspiring article. Thank you for posting! I'm going to go home and start teaching my kids about the wonders of photography.
May 10, 2012 01:35 am
Great article! I have 2 children that are both 9 years old. They love taking pictures so this last Christmas I bought them both a Olympus PEN EPL-1. Now they take tons of pictures and they even started a blog of their own using creative pictures and a love of Littlest Pet Shops. It is called the LPSFunBlog. Thanks so much!
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