12/12/2006

Can you cut it with the kids? - Teach your child to use the camera

Birthdays, Christmas and holidays can bring on emotions of great excitement and enthusiasm in the minds and hearts of most young kids, and the older ones too for that matter.
So, what better times than these and especially at Christmas, to get out the camera and take a veritable feast of fabulous, fascinating, fun-loving photos of the little...."darlings".
Yes, photographing children can be quite challenging, as no doubt, you have probably already discovered. But on the other hand, it can also be very rewarding, if you prepare yourself mentally and physically for the task ahead. Sounds daunting, doesn't it?
You've probably been down this track so many times in the past and I know what you're thinking; "They're so preoccupied with what they're doing, they can't be bothered to stop and have their pictures taken, then they won't sit still and half the time they're running around like mad things!"
Sure, kids are all those things and more, but you can prepare yourself for them and pretty soon they'll be getting themselves photographed and at times, without even realizing it either. Without all the hassle.
Firstly, you don't need any fancy, or expensive camera to photograph children. In fact, a simple point and shoot camera with fully automatic operation and a reasonable zoom lens are ideal for this sort of work, but if you do have a DSLR type camera, all well and good. You do get more bang for your buck!
Whether you already have a couple of little horrors running about, or just anticipating it, to prepare yourself mentally, you really need to have your camera with you, by your side, at all times. This is where the digital camera shows its true colours because you can just shoot away at everything and delete what you don't want. On the other hand, if you only have a film camera, to save using up film, just look through the viewfinder and use the camera empty. Perhaps you could talk your partner into buying you a digital camera for Christmas. Sounds silly, I know, but the whole concept of this is to get used to having your camera with you at all times and to be prepared for when the right moments come along.
How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh, I wish I had my camera with me right now"?
If you really want to do this, then this little lesson can and will help you achieve your goal.
As I said earlier, you need to take candid shots of anything and everything, at all times of the day, and night, for that matter. At home, inside, or out in the garden and if you feel too silly, do it when you're home alone. But try to look at your camera as an extension of yourself. It's all part of confidence building. When you get dressed in the morning, put your camera on too.
Take different shots of different things in your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, laundry. Even take photos of the various foods as you prepare them for dinner. The cabbage, the carrots, the pasta strands.
Get used to different lighting conditions. Use flash and zoom and try various angles. Try shots with the camera held vertically, (portrait mode) as well as horizontally (landscape mode). With the SLR, try a range of aperture settings and shutter speeds. If you are unsure about these things, look up the chapter on this site relating to that, and any other problem you may encounter. This photo tutor is designed to help you.
Use different lenses, if you have a choice. Get to know every intimate detail of your camera, to the point where you can virtually operate it blindfolded. Then you will know instinctively what to do in any situation as it arises.
Above all, do all this with a completely relaxed and carefree attitude. Sure, there will be moments when nothing seems to go right and you'll feel like throwing your camera out the window, but try to stay calm, keep focused and you will get it right.
Then, when you finally feel you have all the confidence you need, you can start taking candid shots of the kids. Or just getting the feel of having them in your viewfinder. Do this as often as you can. Keep yourself at a distance. use your zoom, in and out.
If you're the type that always chops heads off in your photographs, try this little tip. Place your subjects in the viewfinder as you might see them on a television screen. By using your zoom, try to fill the scene with your subject, or show them playing a game, so your picture tells a story. Try not to distract them too much from what they are doing, but get them used to seeing you using your camera, often. Day in, day out. And try to think of them as just another subject, only now, the subjects are moving, so it's just a tiny bit more of a challenge.
If your subject/s become aware of what you are doing, it won't be such a big thing to them now, if you are at a reasonable distance away and if they do inquire as to what you are up to, just tell them to not take any notice and to get on with what they are doing.
If you continue this way, you will gain much more confidence and experience and your kids will soon become more and more used to seeing you with your camera, that it won't be long before it doesn't even bother them anymore and they will become much more receptive and cooperative and less timid, which in turn, will make the task a lot less difficult for you.
Imagine having a record of your child's face the first time he/she has solid food, their first few, short steps, the first day at kindy, then school. The first bicycle ride, the first grazed knee, or first past the post at school events. The sixteenth birthday, the day they come home with their driver's license; all those special times, with many more yet to come. And you will have a record of them all, won't you?
Then, in later years, you can look back through the archives and be proud, knowing you have created their life story and they will appreciate it too. And when they are finally off your hands, you may even decide to broaden the knowledge you have already gained about this great pastime.
It's like everything else, what you get out of something, is only dependent on what you put in and photography is no exception to the rule.
If you can't approach each challenge with a calm and relaxed attitude, and an eagerness to succeed, then you are just wasting your time and all that hard effort you've put in.
For the novice, it is not easy to photograph children, or pets for that matter, but treat it purely as a challenge. Think laterally, not negatively, but most of all, enjoy it.


Teach your child to use the camera

Handling the Camera
Teach your child how to hold the camera: have them use both hands and keep the strap around their neck or wrist all the time.
Don’t be too precious when you’re handling the camera (remember, it’s supposed to be fun!) but don’t wave it around like crazy either, because the kid will do what you do.
Get into good camera habits: use the straps and handle the camera the way you want your child to handle it. They’ll watch you for cues about what to do, so be a good role model.
Show the kid each part of the camera (lens, eyepiece, shutter button, etc.) and tell them what it does. They’ll learn quicker if they know which part does what.


What To Teach

Now that you have the camera, and the kid, what do you teach them? Start off simple, with the most important rules:
Hold the camera still. If your kid is too young to hold the camera without wobbling, have them steady it on a chair or table before shooting.
Hold the camera level. This is one of those rules that you have to learn before intentionally breaking it later on.
Choose a point of interest. This is the basic-est of basics. Have them practice getting their subject in the viewfinder at first, then work up to showing them how to make that subject more interesting by moving closer, or trying a different angle.
Get in close. This is the easiest way for a kid to emphasize their subject. Show them how moving forward a few steps or backing up a few steps changes the way the subject looks.

Experiment! This is where the fun comes in. Give the kid the camera and let ‘em go nuts. What does it look like when you take pictures from under the table? What happens when you take pictures up your brother’s nose? No wrong answers here. 


How To Teach

Tailor your information to the age and intelligence level of the child you’re teaching. For example, a five-year-old will understand framing but probably won’t get the concept of juxtaposing light and dark for dramatic impact.
Don’t try to lump too many ideas into one teaching session. Introduce the kid to one or two concepts at a time, then let them take the camera & try out those ideas. Make sure the kid gets to play!
When the happy, tired rug rat comes back with their photos, go over their results together. Show them which pictures are really good, and tell them why (you can skip quietly over the ones that are not so hot).
As the kid learns, you can introduce more advanced topics like shadows and perspective. If there’s something you love to photograph, teach them how to do that! Stick with what you know, and you can’t go wrong!