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How to nurture and develop a child's interest in photography

The post ' Interesting a child and building photography ' first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Simon Ringsmuth.

One of the most important things you can do as a photographer is to help guide, nurture and inspire the next generation of artists. It is a humble experience to know that you are the person who inspires the next Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. It may come from something as simple as sharing a few photos with a young person or helping them figure out how to use their camera. You never know when you will have the chance to impress a child or anyone else.

But if you are not careful, these moments of creative awakening can die quickly before you get a chance to thrive. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can help and build a child's interest in photography instead of accidentally sniffing it.

It's not about you

Before I go into some details, I want to make clear that it is important to realize that it is not about you.

When you help children explore photography (especially this generation of digital natives), there will often be times when you are inclined to sigh, roll your eyes or tell them that the latest filter, effect or trend is not right real photography. Or it is not how you do things.

I have children in primary school and I also help with my church youth group. One of the things I had to deal with is that children today don't learn photography like I did. My first camera was a Kodak that made 110 films. It costs money to buy and develop each role.

Nowadays, whether you like it or not, most young people are introduced to photography via mobile phones. They seem to pop away without any care for the composition.

They prefer to use filters, effects and apps instead of learning about aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

And that's just wrong! It is not real photography!

If you've ever shown a child how to fix things, you know it's not about the end result but about passing something special on to the next generation. The same applies to photography.

Or is it?

Who am I to say that a child who uses filters on Instagram is worth less to create meaningful images than me with my thick DSLR?

Just because cell phones and photo apps are not my favorite tool does this not mean that other people, especially children, cannot find joy and creative outlets when used.

There are two choices when faced with the dilemma of what to do when working with children who are interested in photography.

You can make it yourself and tell the children what you think they should do. Show them the tools that you think they should use and explain how you get images that you think are interesting.

Or you can help young people find what they like. Explore photography in a way that is meaningful to them, and even (sob!) Learn to use apps and filters to create images that they think are beautiful.

My wife and I were with a group of children in the local botanical garden. One of them shot dozens of photos of this outdoor train set.

The former can easily lead to apathy or resentment, while the latter often gives way to a whole new creative outlet for the child. It's about them, not you. If that means you have to leave your comfort zone and explore photography in a way that makes you uncomfortable, do it in the best interest of the child and his or her learning and growth. Who knows … maybe you learn something new along the way!

Give compliments instead of criticism

When a young person invites you to look at a stream of photos from his or her phone, you may have a first tendency to give unsolicited advice or, even worse, outright criticism.

You would think you could think things like:

  • The lighting in that recording is completely wrong.
  • I do not get it. What should this photo be about?
  • Your photo is underexposed!
  • What's with all selfies?

If this sounds familiar, you are not the only one.

Many people respond in the same way, but remember that egos are vulnerable to children. One word from an adult that they admire or respect can make the difference between enthusiasm and causing depression.

Usually, when a child wants to show your photos, what they are looking for is not criticism but validation. They want to know that they are doing well. That their efforts are worthwhile and that they are on the right track.

The boy who took this photo thought it would be really cool to have the rope cut over the frame. I thought about telling him to shoot it differently, but instead I just said, "Well done with those colors!" He was really happy to hear that.

As an adult you might think that you help if you offer what you think is constructive criticism, but there will be a time later. The most useful thing you can do is offer compliments and encouraging words. Even if you don't find their photos really attractive, you will find something nice to say.

Try tactics such as:

  • That is really an interesting lighting choice!
  • I like the colors in this photo.
  • Can you tell me how you took this photo?
  • Look at the fun selfie filters that you use! Can you show me how to do that?

Give children compliments instead of criticism and ask questions to show that you are interested. It sends a strong message that you care about their creativity and appreciate their work. This can help to take them on a lifelong photography journey and maybe you are the person to do it!

Shot by a seven-year-old who thought this dinosaur was really fun to watch. Nice enough to take two dozen photos.

Encourage experiments

As someone who grew up with analog cameras & physical film roles, there is a lot about modern photography that I don't fully understand. This goes double when it comes to mobile phones. Especially with filters, effects, stickers and other image-changing functions that can be found in many photo apps.

But for today's children, these kinds of adjustments are just fun ways to explore photography. Just because I and others my age have not grown up with all this technology does not mean that we have to ruin it for the next generation!

One of my young family members likes to play with color inversion filters. I think the results look terrible, but he loves this photo he took and that others love. And if he likes it, who am I to tell him differently?

Instead of dwelling on what we may not understand, try the opposite approach when dealing with beginning photographers. Don't walk away from filters if you're with kids who are excited about it, and let them try more instead.

Some may seem silly, and you would never choose to willingly give yourself the ears of a cat or take an oversaturated look at your nature photos, but it is not harmful to try things like this when you're with are a child who wants to experiment for fun.

My son took this photo of me by grinding a lawn mower. He used a night mode that, as he discovered, left the shutter open longer and recorded a few spark marks.

You can also encourage children to try out new techniques such as time-lapse photography, accessories such as the OlloClip that allow you to take macro shots with a mobile phone and experiment with basic editing and image processing. Photography today, especially with mobile devices, allows creative possibilities light years beyond what we had when I was a kid.

Imagine what children can do with a few encouraging words from an adult photographer that they admire and respect!

Another of my young family members was really interested in photographing familiar objects from different perspectives. This was the result of one of his recent experiments, and although it will not win any prizes, he was eager to try something new. I gladly encouraged his experiments.

Give advice, but only if they ask for it

This is one of the most difficult but important aspects to help a young person cherish his interest in photography. To illustrate this, I will give an example of a visit to my family outside the city.

My 14-year-old niece is constantly taking photos of everything she thinks is interesting with her phone: insects, flowers, fences, cars and, of course, her friends. During their stay, she bombarded me with requests to look at her photos. She couldn't wait to show me the photos she even took in the back yard.

While this was happening, it was hard for me to hold my tongue and let my niece bask in the glow of her renewed love for photography. I wanted to give her advice on lighting, give tips on composition, show her how to hold her phone at different angles to get better photos, and so on. However, I kept my tongue and just tried to be a voice of encouragement and confirmation and told her that I liked her pictures and asked if I could see more.

My niece loves taking pictures like this with the portrait mode on her phone. I wanted to tell her that she could get better results with a real camera. But such an attitude is poisonous and painful for a child who only wants to experiment with photography.

What my niece (and most young people) are not looking for are instruction and advice. They seek validation, often on a personal level, that their work is good and that they pursue valuable goals. When you, someone they respect and admire, can only tell them why their work is not good or instruct them on how repair what they do sends the wrong message even if you have good intentions. You might accidentally stifle the sense of creativity that you hope to inspire.

What you should do instead is play the long game. Use opportunities such as these to build a sense of trust and goodwill. That way, when young people want you to help them with their photography, they will ask you.

Later that same weekend my niece asked if she could use one of my cameras. So I let her use my old Nikon D7100.

We talked about lenses, aperture ' s and how to operate the camera to blur the background. Then we went outside to take pictures of flowers while the sun went down. She wanted to learn everything about operating the camera settings to take photos that she could never retrieve with her cell phone and some filters.

When she showed an interest in some of my camera equipment, I let her try it out and gave her some advice on composition, exposure, and control of the aperture. But only after she asked me for help.

After I placed her photos in Lightroom, I showed her how to do some basic cuts and adjustments. She repeatedly told me that these were some of her favorite photos she had ever taken. If I had started the weekend by chastising her because she wasn't using a real camera, or telling her what I thought she would do differently with her photography, then she probably wouldn't have wanted to go out to take flower photos.

This is the result of her efforts and she was extremely satisfied with the results. Hopefully this is just the start of a lifelong photographic journey!


Young people are picky and their mood and taste change as fast as the wind. Today they are interested in photography and next week they continued with archery, pottery or guitar. You never know what they will remain in the long term.

If you want to cherish an interest in photography and make sure that it is not just a passing phase, you have to be careful with what you say and do. Make it about them and not about you. Hopefully the photo seeds that help your plant take root in good soil to produce a lifelong appreciation for art.

The post ' Interesting a child and building photography ' first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Simon Ringsmuth.

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