How to Teach Photography to Your Children

by Matthew A. Bamberg

© Matthew A. Bamberg
All Rights Reserved

Animal Photography: Subject Characteristics

Who knows your child better than you? You know what your child likes and dislikes. You can use this information to help them find things they want to photograph, not only just for the sake of a picture, but to help them learn a little more about the object/subject they are taking apicture of. If your child likes animals, give them some information about them beforehand (say before a trip to the zoo). Or read them a story about an animal (Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book is a good one). Then ask them the following:
  1. What animal do you really like?

  2. What part of the animal do you wonder about?

  3. What does the animal eat?
After they give you an answer have them photograph it. For example, if they like the spots of a leopard, have them zoom in so that they can get a close-up of just that - a leopard's spots. FYI: Kipling wrote a story about how a leopard got its spots.

Portraits: How Do You Discover Character Traits?

Consider how students reveal their feelings and attitudes differently. Some of us may show our individual character with immediate transparency, while others may be more difficult to 'read' at first. The portrait photographer must become proficient at studying people around them.

Talking about character traits can begin with the family. When you read your child a book to your child, ask them from time to time to create pictures in their mind of how a character in a story looks and acts. Then, for an artful photograph of your child or other family member, take a picture of your child while having them imagine and act like a character from a story (or television show).

Now give the camera to your child (any age, really, from four and up). Since children know many characters from books and television , they can take photographs of each other, portraying these characters in new and different ways. Children also can produce quality images of family members and friends by finding a common ground among them - a shared sport or hobby - and using that subject for photos they take of each other. For example, if the family plays football, give the camera to one of the players on the sidelines and have them photograph the game.

Don't forget, also, object photography. Nothing beats the repitition of a photograph of different bats lined up against a fence, or a close up of a puppet in a home-made puppet show.

Master the Craft with Math

Photography, like any art form, is based on some basic math-based rules of composition, such as the Rule of Thirds (making a landscape photo, for example, with one-third sky and two-thirds land) and using a vanishing point (drawing out in perspective of a scene and finding something similar to photograph).

After children master those composition techniques that you teach them (don’t do this if they’re not interested in photography!), they can put their own artistic interpretation of a scene to make an art photo. They can experiment with various camera settings (f-stop and shutter speed) by writing down the values of what's shown in the camera each time they shoot at each value. Without even knowing the term f-stop and/or shutter speed, they will see a pattern (lightness/darkness of photo for example) after they record the numbers.

The Trek from Camera to Computer

Snapping a photograph is only the beginning. Digital art photography requires following certain paths before you can print and frame your output (final image), including
  1. Getting the image into your computer.

  2. Digitally tweaking the image: With your image open in Photoshop (or your image editor of choice), there's practically no end to the tweaking that you can do.

  3. Saving your image in the appropriate file type: Whether you're shooting with a high-end digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera or a mid-level point-and-shoot, your digital image will travel across a number of devices and platforms before it is finally printed. As it travels, you'll learn how to save it so its resolution stays intact throughout its travels.

Foregrounds and Backgrounds

Keeping shots clean and uncluttered is paramount to presenting a great art photograph. That's not to say that you or your child can't shoot something detailed and ornamental, but make sure your audience sees what you wanted to show, not clutter and unnecessary background distractions. In order to do this, take various photographs yourself with foregrounds, middle grounds and backgrounds to show students how they can visualize a three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional photograph.

Who Came Up with These Ideas?

As a post-career teacher who taught for 14 years -7 in Oakland and 7 in Daly City, CA - I researched and wrote examples of the Rule of Thirds and other art composition techniques (including all the math technicalities) for my book Digital Art Photography for Dummies (Wiley, 2005). When I wrote the book, I imagined all of the readers to all of the students who I have instructed throughout the years, not only as a public school teacher, but also as a university professor. I've taught various courses from technology to linguistics at National and Chapman universities.

NOTE: Check out BetterPhoto's online photography school, which offers interactive courses with top professionals and published authors.

Article by Matthew A. Bamberg. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at