Craig Dobie gave his daughter Jaila her first camera when she was a toddler.
“We started with a Fisher-Price camera,” the Mansfield-area dad recalls. “She also got one–use cameras in her Christmas stocking each year. Jaila loved that she could take pictures and see them.”
It runs in the family. Jaila’s grandfather enjoyed photography and did tax work for a camera retailer; as a kid, Dobie accompanied his dad to the store and became interested. Years later, he would share photography with Jaila. “I gave my son cameras as well, but my daughter is the one who really picked up on it,” notes Dobie. “She’s now 15 and really creating her own style.”
Jaila’s work has even placed in competitions. “With photography, you get to express the cool things around you,” she says. “It’s so beautiful seeing how your pictures turn out. And in other people’s pictures, you can see things you wouldn’t get to see yourself.”
You don’t have to be a professional photographer to raise a shutterbug like Jaila. Dobie is in IT, though he admits that taking pictures is a “very severe hobby” for him.
But it isn’t necessary to understand shutter speed and focal length to introduce the concept. And you aren’t required to make a big investment, especially not at first.
Kid-Friendly Cameras and Printers
“A smartphone or a tablet is a great way to get your child hooked on photography,” says MacKenzie Hughes, general manager of Fort Worth Camera. “All those devices have cameras, and virtually everybody has one.”
Of course, you probably want a heavy-duty case and a protection plan before placing an expensive device in little hands—but it’s an accessible tool. Jaila used her iPad as a camera for years. You can also dig up your old digital camera.
Either way, it’s possible to gauge your child’s receptiveness to photography without making an additional purchase.
Fascination with the final product can be another indication of interest. “To me, the biggest clue that my daughter Sutton was into photography was that she loved looking at my albums,” shares Liz LaBianca, a professional photographer who is based in Frisco and specializes in photographing children. “Even when she was really small, she would grab photo albums instead of books. I was a lot like that as a kid.”
With her daughter poring over photos and asking to use Mom’s cameras, LaBianca knew it would be worth buying Sutton a camera of her own. Two Christmases ago, Sutton—now 6—got an HP Sprocket instant camera and printer.
The device takes and prints 2– by 3-inch snapshots or stickers. “Sutton would put the stickers all around the house,” says LaBianca. “This year I got her the Fujifilm Instax. But the film is expensive. If a child wants to take only a few pictures and then they’re done—or they just want to take a bunch—you might go a different route. But Sutton loves to touch the pictures she takes.”
Printing pictures snapped by your kid is powerful. “It’s taking something a child envisioned and turning it into something tangible,” says Hughes.
Stores like Fort Worth Camera will print your photos (from regular prints to canvases and more); you could also consider buying a small photo printer that connects to smartphones and tablets. Then it’s showtime. “Kids love to see photographs they took up on display,” observes Hughes. “It’s such a boost to their confidence.”
If a child sticks with photography, you can consider more substantial equipment. “When Jaila was around 11 or 12, she got her first ‘real’ camera—a hand-me-down DSLR,” says Dobie. “And as she progressed in her interest and creativity, she started asking for lenses for her birthday.”
But don’t feel like you have to max out your credit card. LaBianca points out that Craigslist is a potential source for deals. “There’s a million options,” she says. “It’s just a question of which you’re ready to take.”
Helping Your Child Build Photography Technique
Once your child has tools, it’s time to get clicking. “You can tell your child to go on a scavenger hunt and take pictures of what they find,” shares Hughes. “There’s plenty to shoot around your house, yard and neighborhood.”
Younger kids may enjoy taking pictures of things in different colors and shapes or finding subjects grouped by number (two pets, three bikes, four trees, etc.)
Moms and dads can help kids develop the building blocks for good photography. “Teach kids to look at things from different angles,” suggests Hughes. “Have them take four pictures of the same flower from various perspectives—above it, below it, to the right of it and to the left of it. That’s a basic compositional exercise that pays off in the long run.”
Understanding the impact of light is important too. “They can take a picture of the flower at different times of day. See how the colors look warmer or cooler or the ways shadows change,” says Hughes.
Kids can also develop talent by talking about other people’s pictures. Show your children photos and ask how the images make them feel, as they learn to evoke feelings in their own photography. “I ask my daughter, ‘What story are you trying to tell?’” says LaBianca. “I like to inspire her to shoot with awareness.”
CONNECTING THROUGH PHOTOS
In addition to developing her creativity, photography has given Jaila a special way to connect with her dad. “We go on photography walks together and have a father-daughter day,” Jaila says. Dobie adds, “We try to outdo each other taking the best photos. It’s great to have a common interest.”
Photography can also help a child connect to the world around them—a must in an era saturated with screens. “It slows me down,” says LaBianca. “With photography, I started looking outside. It helped me pay attention to the details.”
Tips from a Pro
Liz LaBianca, a Frisco-based photographer with clients all over DFW, offers these words of wisdom for nurturing your child’s skill behind the lens:
When the child looks through the viewfinder or at the on-screen camera view, help them with these skills:
- Keep the horizon line straight.
- Try not to cut off heads, feet or arms.
- Try different perspectives (get high and low).
- Imagine they are looking at a picture frame before they press the shutter.
LaBianca believes kids in this age group can handle hand-me-down cameras or used gear. “They’re still learning responsibility,” she says. If you’re not familiar with photography, you might ask someone who is to help your child understand how the camera works. As your child takes photos at this age, help them…
- Think about the story they can tell with their image.
- Ask what the “picture goal” is. To capture emotion? To take a portrait?
- Pay attention to the environment and how light affects an image. Place a doll or stuffed animal in different light and see how it changes the settings on the camera.
For kids who have some experience, LaBianca considers this a good age for an entry-level DSLR (digital single–lens reflex) camera. Encourage your child to…
- Start learning how to read the environment before they take a picture. Predict the settings they’ll need to get the shot they want.
- See how different focal lengths can change the story their image tells. (“If they’re responsible enough, this is the age when I would introduce different lens choices,” says LaBianca.)
This may be the time to invest in better gear for your child. “Depending on commitment to the art or how passionate they are, there are a number of different lenses and cameras that could suit this age group,” says LaBianca. She advises young photogs to…
- Start learning how to control the camera’s different focusing systems if they learned to shoot in manual mode.
- Pay more attention to how light can change the mood of the photo along with their camera settings.
- Start learning editing software. “Lightroom is a fabulous choice for beginners,” notes LaBianca.
- Try an online class, or find a trusted mentor to answer specific questions.
If you’re going to invest in equipment and accessories, here are some recommendations from LaBianca. You can find these products at various stores and online retailers, including the sites listed below.
- HP Sprocket 2-in-1 Portable Photo Printer & Instant Camera Bundle with 8GB MicoSD Card and Zink Photo Paper // amazon.com
- Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant Camera // walmart.com
- Sunmns Camera Neck Shoulder Strap for Fujifilm Instax Mini //amazon.com
- Polaroid ZIP Wireless Mobile Photo Mini Printer // target.com
- Vmotal Mini Digital Camera // amazon.com
- Sony RX100 Compact Digital Camera // sony.com
- Nikon D3500 DSLR // nikonusa.com
- Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm Lens // nikonusa.com
Photo courtesy of Craig Dobie.