Children turn to photography as creative outlet during pandemic

Ella and Jack Campbell have been doing photography to get through the pandemic, have some fun and express how they're feeling when words won't do the trick.

Child psychiatrist says it's important to make space for creativity

Jack and Ella Campbell have been photographing their way through the pandemic. (Submitted by Carol Campbell)

Two young siblings carefully walked around a park near their home in a quiet part of Moose Jaw, phones in hand.

The two are aspiring photographers, the phones their cameras.

Nine-year-old Ella Campbell stopped herself partway down a slide while seven-year-old Jack Campbell climbed under a play structure to photograph from a low angle.

"I like seeing the world in a different perspective," Ella said.

Ella and Jack photograph themselves, friends and nature when out snapping pictures. (Submitted by Carol Campbell)

The children's father Eric Campbell said he's glad they have a way to express how they're feeling during a tough time. 

The beginning of the pandemic was hard, Ella said. She could no longer see her friends at school and had to do everything over Zoom. Ella had previously snapped photos every now and then, but dived wholeheartedly into photography during the pandemic. 

"You can see things that you don't normally see all the time," Ella said about photography.

"I can let some things go."

Jack Campbell captured how he was feeling about not seeing his friends by showing his neighbour at a distance on top of a fence. (Submitted by Carol Campbell)

Jack agreed that the beginning of the pandemic — and not being able to see his friends — was tough. He started taking pictures on his mom's phone, then was given an older phone to use. 

"I feel like I got to have some freedom to do what I want to do," Jack said. "Sports aren't happening, I just do photography."

Jack mostly photographs people, landscapes and nature. 

"It's very, very fun," he said. "I hope to be really good at it and I want to go to a bunch of other places to see what I can."

Ella Campbell photographs her brother as he tries to climb the wrong way up near a slide. Ella said she hopes to be a photographer when she is older. (Submitted by Carol Campbell)

Ella and Jack's father Eric said photography is also a way to help the two learn new things during the pandemic. 

"They're still growing and they're still evolving and they're still getting stronger in the things they do and that's all we really want for our kids," Eric said.

Eric said the family decided early in the pandemic that they needed to control their happiness and work to make sure they were doing what they enjoyed. 

"Screen time isn't an option all the time, but the technology that they were using helped support their own happiness," he said. "It's just a way for them to create something that they wouldn't really be able to do without the [pandemic] happening."

Carol, Jack, Ella and Eric Campbell go on photo walks frequently as a family. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Each night the family discusses the pictures Ella and Jack took that day. Some images are funny, others serious. Some are black and white, others have filters.

Eric said kids cannot always express themselves verbally. Photography lets them convey their emotions. 

"When they show it to you, 'This is what I'm seeing,' it's a nice lens to look through and for us," Eric said. "It was an eye opener about how they're feeling and it made us connect to them even more."

Allow space for creativity during the pandemic: Psychiatrist

Tamara Hinz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in Saskatoon, said photography is a great outlet. She said other parents could consider allowing space for creativity during the pandemic.

Hinz said children and youth will be experiencing many of the same types of emotional responses adults will be during the pandemic. 

"That tends to kind of come in waves," Hinz said. "There's that grieving process and the frustration at the activities we can't do and things that have been cancelled and there doesn't seem to be a lot of rhyme or reason all the time to what emotional state we're in."

Ella and Jack Campbell sometimes use black and white, sometimes use filters, and sometimes draw on their photographs for fun. (Submitted by Carol Campbell)

Hinz said parents should be patient with children and validate their feelings. Creativity can be an important outlet for those feelings, she said. 

"Sometimes we don't necessarily have the vocabulary or the language for our feelings," Hinz said. "Art or other creative processes is another really nice way to express some of those thoughts and feelings that kids might be having."

Hinz said there are also online options that don't need to cost a lot. Scheduling camps and creative time can add a bit of structure and give children the open time to be creative. 

"It's otherwise something that might get kind of swept aside or we end up doing other things," Hinz said. "I think as parents we can create some really nice time together doing a creative pursuit."

Jack Campbell is a seven-year-old photographer in Moose Jaw, Sask. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Eric said photography has definitely helped Ella and Jack get through the pandemic a bit easier.

"The kids will get through the pandemic. They're resilient. They're tough. They know their own feelings and they handle it and that's what's great about kids," Eric said. "They're stronger than you give them credit for sometimes."

Ella said she hopes to be a professional photographer in the future. She said other kids interested in the craft should just get started. 

"You can take pictures of anything. You'll get better every day," Ella said.

Ella Campbell is a nine-year-old photographer in Moose Jaw, Sask. (Heidi Atter/CBC)


Heidi Atter

Mobile Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. She has worked as a reporter, videojournalist, mobile journalist, web writer, associate producer, show director, Current Affairs host and radio technician. Heidi has worked in Regina, Edmonton, Wainwright, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email