Kids + Cameras (Part 1)

You never know what will spark your kids' interest in photography and cameras. It could be photographs in a coffee table book, the mechanics of a camera, watching a photographer, learning about light and shadow. In your explorations you might consider buying your kid a camera. 


This is the first of a multi-part series on child photographers. We start with some thoughts to help decide whether to buy a camera for your child. In Part 2 and Part 3, we focus on travel photography. 

Thoughts on getting kids started in photography...

1. Curiosity. Get a few coffee table photographic books at the library. Keep them on a table or in a basket where the kids can explore them. Check out Curriculum of Curiosity from Project-Based Homeschooling {not just for homeschoolers, wonderful blog}. Proceed if the kids are engaged and interested.

2. Teach the basics. Perhaps the littlest camera toter-arounders will not be ready for f-stops and composition but they will need to know how to turn the camera on/off, how to focus, how to look at their photos on the camera screen, how to use the auto setting, how to hold the camera. The bare minimum just to get rolling. As they explore, they might ask how to do different things. We ask the kids to keep the little strap around their wrist to reduce chance of the camera hitting the concrete. Show them the lens and explain that it is delicate and should not be touched. 

3. Have a camera trial run. Let your child take photographs with a small digital camera for a few hours around the house & garden with you nearby...

4. Watch. Do they handle the camera carefully or carelessly? Do they have the dexterity to hold the camera somewhat steady and push the button at the same time? Do they focus on something or just click and run? Can they look through the viewfinder, focusing with one eye?

5. Process not product. Think about when your child first started to paint or draw... a bunch of fuzzy lines and blobs. It's doing stuff that matters, not the outcome. A child's readiness is determined by respect for the camera and physical ability to take a photo. Do not worry about the quality of the photos that your kids take. Repeat after me. Not relevant. Now repeat again. 

My older daughter is only now taking clear photos at age 9; my younger daughter has taken clear photos since she first used a camera at 6 1/2. The truth is that they love their photos, no matter how blurry, because the photographs help them remember something that interested them.

6. Get a real camera. If your budget allows, consider a point-and-shoot of good quality from a known camera manufacturer. Skip the kiddie camera. The camera does not need to have cartoon characters or be pink. 

7. Camera features. I wanted my kids to learn to shoot using a viewfinder rather than the bigger LCD screen. More point-and-shoots are skipping the viewfinder to save space, which is frustrating. The viewfinder is the tiny window you look through with one eye to compose the photo. You'll want auto features, easy controls (buttons or spin dials rather than menu screens for basic stuff like flash on/off, macro), small enough for a jacket pocket, ability to upload to computer via usb or SD card. You'll want a decent sized memory card so that kids can take videos without using up the entire card. A camera that will shoot decent photos is your child holds the camera steady in decent light, composes decently and focuses. 

8. Practice. Take the camera along on your next outdoor outing - an arboretum, a farm, a nature trail, the park, the zoo. Let them take photos if they wish. No guilt please! The camera will not go to waste. It will be used in time. Be a role model. Take photographs with a real camera, not just your phone. And let your kids decide what they will photograph. At 9, my daughter took about 50 photographs of the ceiling of an art museum in Munich. That was what most intrigued her. She tried different angles and focused on different aspects of the ceilings. I didn't push her to photograph the art. Because that's not what interested her on that particular day. 

9. Enjoy. Upload your kids' photos to your computer in a timely manner so that they can SEE what they've accomplished with the camera. Older kids can upload their own photos and make folders for them etc. This is not the time to critique or delete. Treat their photography as lovingly as you treat their artwork.

10. Print. Optional, of course. Get a selection of their photos printed. They will likely take a lot, so you could suggest they pick a limited number to print and treasure, make collages, build a scrapbook, hang in their room, send to grandparents. They can curate their digital photographs and see how they translate to prints. 

11. Photography projects to consider...

"It's My Day" Board. Kids take a camera along all day, photographing the highlights of their day from their perspective. Anything goes, from peeking in the fridge to clouds. Print their top 10 photos and then they can create a collage or timeline of their day.

Alphabet Book. Kids photograph each letter of the alphabet as they find them in a trek through the city or supermarket. Older kids can photograph things starting with each letter; an APPLE, a BANANA, a CLOCK. Print the photos and make an alphabet book.

Doll Stories. Kids can pose stuffed animals, Barbie dolls and toys and photograph the scenes. Then write a story to go along with the photographs. They'll learn about composition and framing as well as angle and perspective.

Memory Game. Take photos of family members, friends, toys, flowers, and print two of each photograph. Mount to cardboard to make cards for a memory matching game.

12. Reality check. If the idea of the kid breaking the camera stresses you out, maybe YOU aren't ready! There is statistically >67% chance that it will be bumped, get sticky, lost or dropped. If you get your child a camera and constantly nag them, it will not be FUN. 

13. When the camera is dropped. Notice that I said WHEN and not IF! Take a deep breath. Remind the child how to hold the camera, stress that the camera is delicate, like a china plate, and we need to treat it carefully. If it happens more than once in a day, we hold on to the camera for a few hours! Not as punishment, but because that means the child is not in a careful sort of mood.

14. When photos are blurry. They will be blurry. Just remember early drawing efforts and watercolor blobs. My kids don't seem to care if they are blurry. They are just trying to capture a moment.

15. The art of photography. If your kids continue to show an interest, you can find books about photography and explore. Play with the camera settings, different light, composition, angle. Set up still life scenes. Take photos with a polaroid or film camera. Learn about color. Edit photos on your computer to saturate or desaturate the color. Crop. Do a photo treasure hunt (looking for specific things to photograph).

Kids look at the world differently. Not only are they lower to the ground, and so have a different angle on things, but they are interested and curious about different things than we are.