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Photography For Kids: What Kids Learn When They’re Behind The Camera

Oct 22, 2015

Thanks to smartphone and tablet apps, many kids are getting behind a camera earlier than ever before.

Selfies and snapshots are fun, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Many parents find that photography—from backyard panoramas to family portraits to still-life compositions—gives kids a whole new way to see the world.

“Photography, in some ways, has become a modern-day extension of how we interact and communicate with others,” says Diana Nazareth, a Toronto photographer and educator who designs camera-based community outreach programs.

For some kids, taking digital pictures on a camera, tablet or phone can be a way to share cool things that have happened or places they have been with friends and family. For others, photography can be a way to express their creativity.

“Photography can help develop a child’s voice, vision and identity as it pertains to their family, friends and community,” says Nazareth. It can also strengthen connections between visual and other forms of expression.

In Nazareth’s photo workshops, kids take lots of pictures and do lots of journaling. “Students ultimately make connections between core concepts of photography and writing such as framing, timing, focus and perspective,” she says.

Taking photos can help kids visualize the same thing in different ways.

Taking photos can help kids visualize the same thing in different ways. Ask kids to take a photo of the family dog, a big sister or their favourite toy and eventually they’ll be making lots of decisions—what should be the focus? At what angle? Get in close or take a wide shot? Is there enough light?

Sounds a bit daunting— but it doesn’t have to be. Try one of these simple photo activities to introduce kids to photography:

Go For A Family Photo Walk

There are numerous ways to teach children about photography, from local classes and workshops to e-books and online courses, but Nazareth points out that it can also be as simple as going for a photo walk.

“You could encourage [kids] to look for and photograph certain colours found in nature or shapes that look like a letter in the alphabet,” she explains. After your walk, ask kids to talk about their photographs. Why did you choose to take that photo? What is your photograph trying to say?

Create Photo Challenges

Use your imagination to create photo challenges—kids can participate too, by creating their own challenges or different challenges for friends or family.

Some ideas to get you started—ask kids to photograph:

  • Things that remind them of their grandparents
  • Close-up portraits of their favourite toys
  • A series of pictures that tell a story
  • A scavenger-hunt list for a day at the park—maybe an odd-shaped cloud, or a big tree or vaguer targets like “something funny”

You may also want to remind kids about the importance of their safety and other people’s privacy—they should never snap pics of someone without permission.


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What Kind Of Camera? It Doesn’t Matter

For these activities, it doesn’t really matter if kids use a “real” camera. Many kids these days take their first photos with their parents’ phones or tablets. There are even special apps, like Kid Cam, that simplify photo-taking, control how many pictures your children can take and keep their galleries separate from yours.

Phones and tablets are convenient and easy to use, but so are many point-and-shoot cameras.

“I have an affinity for cameras with eye-level viewfinders, where you have to put your face up to the camera to compose a photograph,” says Nazareth. She believes this step helps kids slow down and increases their ability to create a photograph with intention.

“I think this is harder with tablets and phones, where the tendency is to snap too many pictures without paying attention to what’s in the frame. However, like everything else, things evolve and now we have photographers who shoot beautiful images solely with iPhones!” she says.

There are point-and-shoot camera specifically for kids on the market, but aside from their durability, many tend to favour fun effects and games over easy, simple photography.

Most children would be better served by a simple “grown-up” model with a big viewfinder. In other words—when parents or grandparents upgrade, kids can benefit from the hand-me-downs. This is also a great opportunity for parents or grandparents to share what they like about photography. 

Allison Anderson is an Edmonton-based photographer with three kids—who inherited hand-me-down cameras from their grandparents and a joy of photography from their mom.

“My eldest likes to take her camera on vacation and take pictures of whatever she sees. It’s most often flowers and trees, but she also spends a lot of time taking pictures of natural patterns and textures she liked," says Anderson.

“I think photography can bolster creativity in younger children and improve fine motor skills; it’s hard to hold a camera still and push the buttons,” she says.  

When kids are older and start experimenting with more of the technical side, like composition, focus and lighting, they can improve problem-solving skills. 

Plus, no matter which skills kids are working on when they're taking pictures, they'll still have fun taking and sharing photos with friends and family. 

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are the proud parents of a six-year-old girl who is already pretty adept with a tablet, and a two-year-old boy who probably will be sooner than appropriate. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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