Teaching kids how to use a camera is only a fraction of what it takes to bring photography into the classroom. On a recent trip to a conservatory, I witnessed a little girl taking pictures of animal pictures on display. Meanwhile, while she was desperately trying to capture someone else’s photo, the animal in question, a live, adorable little baby quail was less than three feet from her in full view. I have a theory that children these days don’t see cameras as a tool for art so much as a tool for capturing information or recording that a moment even happened. This leads to a lot more photos, but of very low quality.
Students can give each other feedback on their photos.
I used to take my students outside and let them photograph whatever, hoping that quantity would lead to quality. Anyone who knows anything about the YouTube generation knows that this is a bad idea. Generally the photos would be of the class clown doing something funny and a bunch of students standing around him in a circle attempting to capture it paparazzi-style. This led to me making “rules” that all photos need to follow.
- EYE LEVEL: look your subject in the eye.
- GOOD BACKGROUND: backgrounds must be simple and non-distracting. The most distracting thing you can have in a photograph is other people, especially other photographers.
- RULE OF THIRDS: never have your subject dead center- have them a little to the right or left, otherwise it ends up looking like an ID photo. The only exception is when you are taking a photo of an experiment (like the science fair)- then have it in the middle.
- BE A BOSS!: order people around, tell them where you want them in the picture, tell them to get into better light etc… the only exception is when you are taking pictures of things like bears.
- GET UP CLOSE: make sure your subject fills the picture, again unless it’s something like a bear or a skunk.
Any rules you like your kids to follow when using cameras?
There must be something in the air right now. Perhaps it’s the warm-up that is finally hitting the Badger State after such a long and brutally cold winter. On my way to work, I have to avoid hitting robins, ducks, cranes, and red-winged blackbirds—seasonal arrivals and long missed. The snow is slowly receding and the playground has become a giant mud-puddle. Unlike many schools, we only have a small strip of sidewalk to keep kids from the thawing turf, much of which ends up being tracked into the school on tall rubber farm-boots.
It’s in the spring that I like to start teaching digital photography. It ties really well with the ongoing science fair projects and allows students to record their experiments and use the photos for their demonstration booths.
I don’t like to give the kids cameras right away. First, I train them up on the basic parts of a camera, and some of the more basic functions. My favorite cameras to use in the classroom right now are the $70 Kodak cameras. Why? The fewer the features, the less likely that the students will goof up any of the settings. And really, what kinds of photos do the kids need to take? They need a simple point and shoot where the flash is easy to turn on and off and a decent “auto” function. Too many features and you end up with a disk full of blurry photos from accidentally leaving it on “landscape,” or shot after shot of flashbulbs reflected on aquarium glass (the flash can’t be good for the fish can it?).
I give the kids a good once-over of the parts of a camera, how and when to turn the flash on, and how to operate the shutter. Then, the most important part of the lesson: How to get the photos off the thing! I don’t know how many times I have seen students plug in camera after camera looking for their lost photo. A great way to get kids to understand how files and folders work is to show them how to copy photos from their camera to their network drives. Basic copying and pasting is vital to get down, or else you end up with a lot of headaches when you start to edit the photos.