Building a Love of Photography at Any Age

Photography is one of those art forms that is easy to do at almost any age, but the older you are the more you can practice and hone an advance skillset and understanding of the craft.

Most kids are exposed early to the idea of making pictures with a camera. In fact, many tots are so experienced with being a subject that they say “cheese” without hesitation when they assume a phone pointed in their direction has the camera app opened. Eventually, most kids express an interest in taking their own images. This article will help you teach your child how to use a camera to thoughtfully create images.

big sister meets brother at the hospital and takes a picture

Ages 3-5

Building interest in photography at this age is as easy as putting a camera in your child’s hand and showing them what it can do. You will want to make sure the camera is limited in necessary features to make a picture and that they are easily accessible to small hands. Help on what type of camera is good for this age can be found on our other blog post about choosing a camera for your child. If you are going to use a phone for this age, I suggest getting a waterproof pouch and letting them wear it around their neck as they explore.

Once your child has the camera in-hand, go over its main components:

  1. On/Off
  2. Shutter Button/Release – press it to make a picture
  3. Lens – a piece of glass with curved sides. Many cameras, including phones, have a fixed lens built into the body. More professional cameras have lenses that detach from the body and can be exchanged with other lenses.
  4. Viewfinder – what the photographer looks through (or at, if it is a display screen) in order to compose the image
  5. Body – the place where the image is created.
  6. Zoom  – used to bring distant objects closer
  7. Flash – used to add light in case of a dark scenes
  8. Strap – wear it to avoid dropping the camera
  9. Battery compartment

You may not be able to teach them as many skills at this age, but you can familiarize them with a camera and give them different activities they can do.

Practice Activities

  1. Colors – Have the child walk around the house or outside and look for things of a certain color and photograph them.
  2. ABC’s – Have them photograph something that starts with each letter of the alphabet
  3. Starts with… – Ask them to find objects that start with a certain letter and photograph them.
  4. Their name – They could either find objects that start with the letters in their name or they could look for things that look like letters to make their name.
  5. Matching Game – Walk around and make pictures of things that are either the same or opposites
  6. Shapes – Give the child a shape and have them look for things that are that shape to make a picture
boy is looking at the back of his camera

Ages 6 and Up

boy struggles to take a picture

Before you start teaching, give your child a few minutes to look over the camera. Most kids of this age, whether they have had a camera before or not, can figure out the basic components  and what they do on their own. If they haven’t already done so, make sure they put the camera strap on them and reinforce this behavior.

You can teach this age range even more about photography. I still limit my instructional time at this age to under 20 minutes. Actual discussion of the technique, skill, or theory is usually 5-10 minutes and then the rest is kinesthetic learning by trying out what we went over with the camera. After they have a good grasp of the concept, we move into activity time. I plan this to be about 10 minutes on their own and then another 10 minutes of review.

Topics to Cover

Start with some basics in composition, covered in this blog post. Composition is a good topic to cover when reviewing the images they have made. You can recognize when they have achieved a nice composition by following one of the “rules” or call out when one might be broken and how it affects the overall success of the image.

  1. Rule of thirds
  2. Limb chops
  3. Leading lines
  4. Fill the frame
  5. Negative Space

They are also at an age where they can start “seeing” the light along with its qualities and direction. You can read more about lighting in this blog post. They can use natural light to explore topics like backlighting, window (diffuse) light, and how light source plus direction can change catchlights in the eyes. Ask your child to look for the light in the room or in their surroundings. Where is the light coming from? Is it bright or dim? Is it direct or is it shining through something before it hits the subject? Is your subject well-lit or more in the dark?

Another important skill for them to work on is learning how to hold the camera steady to avoid blurry pictures. Here are some tips on how to limit camera shake:

    1. Hold the camera steady with both hands. The right hand will also have the task of pressing the shutter button. Some cameras have grips to help guide and encourage proper hand placement.
    2. Keep the camera close to your body with elbows tucked into your chest or against your legs if squatting. When possible, lean your body against a wall to further limit your movement. Take a breath and press the shutter as you’re letting air out.
    3. Find and use flat surfaces whenever possible to alleviate some of the weight of the camera. Place your elbows on the flat surface or even rest the camera on it, still gripping it from either side, to take the picture.
    4. A tripod is also a great tool to avoid blurriness. That said, it can make a child feel confined to a particular camera position or location which makes it hard to work through the learning activities.

Advanced Topics for Advanced Cameras

If you are opting to use a camera with more features than the shutter release as an option, resist the temptation to teach them everything at once. You will want to teach them the exposure triangle and the camera features that let them adjust their exposure for the picture they want to make. Show them examples of images that utilize different camera features combined with lighting and composition.

Do you want to separate your subject from your background? Open your aperture, use compositional elements to frame or draw the eye to your subject, or use light to make them stand out from their surroundings.

Do you have a subject that is moving and you want to show that or freeze them in the image? Make the change to your shutter speed for the effect you want, follow your subject through the motion (panning), or use flash combined with the slow shutter.

Practice Activities

  1. Skill building – Select a skill and have them create 3-5 images that put that skill into practice.
      • Lines
      • Texture
      • Depth of Field
      • Focus
      • Shutter Drag
      • Frame within a Frame
      • Pairs
      • Triangles
      • Highlights and Shadow
      • Camera Feature (mode adjustment, shutter speed, ISO, f/stop, zoom, flash, macro, focal lock/back button focus)
  1. Story time – Have them take a photograph of anything and write a story about it. It could be of children at the park. Name the children and create a story behind them. This will help their language arts skills as well as their creativity
  2. Personal Project – Have them use this time to create images that may fit a larger narrative that they feel passionate about
  3. Pick one person or thing and take 10 different pictures of it without changing its position (you can move all around it, above it, below it, but cannot move the subject)
  4. Find and capture one item for every color in the rainbow and take a close-up, mid-length, and full-length image of each
  5. Pair up with someone and play “Simon Says” – capture them on the move as they complete the action
  6. Move around the room/area you’re in and take a picture after every 10 steps until you have captured 20 images. You cannot take a picture of the same thing more than once.
  7. Pick one person and take them outdoors to take three portraits of them using a different direction and/or quality of light in each one
  8. Pair up with someone and try to capture them as they run, walk, scoot, bike, skip, or hop past you
  9. Pick a letter of the alphabet and capture as many things as you can that start with that letter
  10. Scavenger Hunt – Create a list of 20 items they need to find in the house or in the yard. Hand over the camera and have them photograph the items as they find them. Let them experiment with the following as they find the items:
      • Move around the object to see the dimensional qualities the light makes
      • Shoot from above and below
      • Get closer and or step back for a wider angle photo
boy composes his picture of yellow flowers

Review & Critique

kids check out their photos on the back of the camera

The most important part about teaching your child photography is taking the time to review and discuss what they have created and why. Try to find good things to make better. Here are some good questions to ask when looking at an image your child is proud to show off:

      • What do you like about the photo?
      • Who or what is the subject of this photo and why did you choose to make a picture?
      • What made you choose to take it from this angle or perspective?
      • Why did you choose to compose it the way you did?
      • Would you make the same image again or how would you change it up?

If you would like to offer feedback, but they haven’t asked you for it, make sure you get their permission to comment before you do. Make sure your critiques are encouraging by focusing on what they did well and recognizing improvements they have made. If there is something you don’t connect with in the image, ask them about their choices instead of telling them what they could have done better. By doing so, they may reveal or realize a technique or skill that you can assist them with better understanding or executing.

Start a personal portfolio. If your child is allowed time on the internet, you can create a private Instagram account for them to share what they have made or allow them to start a blog. For younger kids, they will probably appreciate having their own photo album or box to house their prints. When there is an image they feel really proud of, print it up for them so they can add it to their collection.