Art, as has been proven time and time again, is good for the soul. It’s a remedy for sadness, frustration and boredom, and it teaches children how to express themselves and be creative away from the restrictions of the school curriculum. It’s also, of course, something that supplies eager parents with lots of material to stick in a picture frame and hang, pride of place, on the living room wall.
In the tech-savvy age we live in, there are a huge number of options available when it comes to creating art – sure, you can still pull out the poster paints and sugar paper and let your little ones get messy, but you can also download software that lets them draw directly onto the family tablet.
The ubiquity of smartphones has also meant that children and young teenagers spend their days walking around with excellent cameras in their pocket. While it may get used mostly for Snapchat selfies, a smartphone can be a great way of developing your child’s interest in photography – it’s just a case of teaching them the essential basics and letting them build up their skills from there.
Step One: Let them use photo apps
You might not want them using social media, and you might fear that an app like Instagram will stunt the development of their photography skills – but if there’s one thing guaranteed to capture a child’s attention, it’s something they’ve been banned from using. So, if they have their own phone, set up a private Instagram account and let your child experiment with taking photos, applying filters and uploading them.
Taking and editing photos is easy and fun, and will build their confidence. Of course, if they really begin to enjoy it, it’s likely that they’ll soon realise its limitations – at which point, you can introduce them to the photography world that exists outside of Instagram…
Step Two: Get them a mirrorless camera
If you want to get your child into photography it’s likely that you’re interested in photography yourself – which means you probably own your own expensive camera. The problem is that a lot of good quality cameras (read: DSLRs) are heavy and bulky, which makes them difficult for children to handle.
Instead, consider investing in a good mirrorless camera if you’re looking to seriously develop your child’s photography skills. Mirrorless cameras can produce photos on a par with DSLRs, but they’re a lot lighter and easier to handle. Just remember that a good quality camera is always going to be expensive – the cheaper mirrorless cameras come in at around £450 – so it’s worthwhile getting some insurance.
Step Three: Teach them how to handle it
The most competent of adults can struggle with handling a new camera, so don’t assume that your child will instantly understand their new gadget. Before handing it over, make sure the camera is set to auto and not manual. Then, using a professional guide like this one, spend some time coaching your kid on how to hold their camera when they’re taking photos.
It’s also worth (gently) reminding them that it’s an expensive piece of equipment, and talking them through how to properly take care of it. At this point, you’ll want to make sure that the camera has a sturdy waterproof case that won’t embarrass its new owner in front of their school friends…
Step Four: Encourage them to experiment
In an ideal world, every camera owner would sit down with their user manual and read it cover to cover before properly trying it out. But it’s a task most adults struggle with – so you can imagine what it’s like trying to get a child to read their new camera guide.
Instead, encourage them to play around with their new camera, trying out all the features and taking lots of different photos. One particularly useful task is to take multiple shots of one object, using different settings and perspectives. Mum or dad can stay on hand with the user guide to offer information when it’s needed.
Step Five: Teach them about composition
Nailing composition in a photo can often be instinctive, but it helps to get some tips when you’re starting out. For kids, keep these tips simple. Tell them to fill the frame, so that the focus of the photograph isn’t drowned out by other details.
Introduce them to the rule of thirds and teach them about using framing within their photos to emphasise the subject matter. You’ll also want to give them some guidance on keeping the camera straight – which is often easier said than done – and aiming for straight lines in their finished shots.
Step Six: Let them try out manual mode
At some point, you’ll want to let your child have a go with the manual mode on their camera. With this functionality, they’ll be able to control everything, selecting ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Obviously these are advanced photography skills, so it may take your child some time to get to grips with them, and when using the manual mode you may have to be more didactic than usual, referring back to the user guide and using technical terms.
For these "lessons" to be effective, you’ll want to encourage lots of playing around, lots of photo-taking, and the use of handy cheats like the aperture priority mode (normally an A or Av button), which lets you choose your aperture but automates shutter speed. You’ll also want to switch back to automatic mode in between these sessions so that they can continue snapping away without your assistance.
Step Seven: Develop their best photos
Kids are smart, which means they know when they’ve produced something worthy of praise. Resist the urge to print out every photo they take, and instead, choose some of your favourite (and their favourite) snaps and get them developed. You can get them framed in a multi-aperture picture frame, or a single picture frame with a mount, and hang them around your home. It’s a great way of reminding your child what they’re capable of – and what a good investment that camera was!