Kids Behind the Camera and Flat Stanley Too

BlogHer Original Post

"Dear God, I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was COOL."

--Eugene, from "Children's Letters to God"

A friend, Amy, recently told me about a new tradition in their family: Whenever they go on a trip or an outing, each kid (she has three – ages 5, 7 and 9) is given a disposable camera and encouraged to take whatever photos they like. “It’s great to see the world through the eyes of a child once again,” said Amy. “And, they often end up taking the best photos!”

Other than being short, kids do have a unique view on the world. During a trip to the zoo, Amy explained, one kid took only photos of animal’s feet and/or hooves. While another kid had a different target: “Animal butts.” Ha! Who doesn’t love a good 'Tushies of The Animal Kingdom' photo series?

Photography is the ideal activity to keep children occupied during trips as it keeps them engaged with their surroundings. Not to mention, the resulting photos help kids remember the places they’ve been and the people they’ve met. They’ll likely experience the trip on a whole different level (whoa - just like adults!) because they are focused on documenting.

When choosing camera equipment for kids, go cheap! No offense but who wants to put a $1,000 dollar camera in the hands of a 7-year-old? Plus, all those fancy bells and whistles will be lost on them anyway. The point is to teach them the basics and let them work on subjects, composition and lighting through trial and error.

Consider giving them waterproof disposable cameras, like the Kodak Max Waterproof Camera or the Fujicolor Quicksnap Waterproof 800. These babies can deflect everything from spilled sodas to water park splashes and even an overturned canoe. Like anything you give your kid, you want it to be indestructible.

If they get really excited about photography, you might consider letting them peer through your fancy camera. (With supervision, of course.) Once they grasp the idea of the telephoto lens, they may just get hooked for life. However, they’ll also get addicted to the idea of seeing the photos right away – the only drawback with the disposables... Kids these days and admittedly, many adults, have become accustomed to immediate gratification.

Of course, photography is an art form that is not just about pointing and clicking; it's a decision-making process based on instinct. Another benefit for working photography into your activities and projects is that it helps kids better understand the media images they're bombarded with every day. Once they get a sense of how these images are created, they may develop new insight on this tool of storytelling.

Here are some other useful tips for sharing photography with your offspring:

• The wee ones should just focus on the basics: Keeping their little fingers out of the lens and not cutting people’s heads off … unless they are making some grand artistic statement with that.

• About age eight or so, you might want to introduce them to the basics of light. At this age, they may even have become aware of light direction on their own. Keep instructions simple: “Keep the sun at your back – he’s working with you, behind you, like an assistant.”

“Shoot tight."” Point out that it’s okay to move closer to the subject.

• Remind them to note the background – it helps keep them aware of their surroundings.

• Occasionally, point out interesting angles and then let them find their own perspective. This helps them see the world as a collection of angles and shapes, rather than a ‘flat screen.’

• If kiddo is just getting started with snapping photos and getting acquainted with the process, take a few good shots on their camera so that when the family gets the final prints, it isn’t a disappointing experience for the child.

• Review the resulting photographs together, point out techniques that worked well and discuss alternative approaches. Junior just might start to see the world a bit differently from there on out.

If they really get interested, you might want to point them to Adobe’s Intro to Digital Photography for kids.

Speaking of kids and photo stuff – remember Flat Stanley? It’s a children’s book by Jeff Brown that came out in 1964, just in time for me to love him and his special talent for sliding under doors. I’d forgotten all about him until one of my favorite bloggers, Minnesota Mom, went and created “Flat Stanley Fridays” where she encourages her readers to take Flat Stanley out into the world and photograph him. (Gnomes not invited.)

Here is the gist of Minnesota Mom’s new weekly holiday:

"1. My Flat Stanley likes you. He wants to hang out with other people, not just me.

2. FS likes his picture taken. And he likes stories written about himself (he’s a bit vain) and those he visits.

3. You can host my FS. Let him meet your family. Bring him on a trip. I don’t really care what you do with him as long as it’s appropriate. Leave a comment saying you’d like to participate and I will email you a copy of my FS. Or…if you want you can make your own. Anyway, either A) post photos and a story of FS on your blog and email me a link to that post or B) email me a few photos and the story of FS hanging out with you and I will, respectively, A) link to that post on FSFriday or B) post the emailed story and images on my blog on FSFriday. Make sense?”

Since late January when MM launched FSF, it looks like Flat Stanley has been to Japan, Maryland, DC and even went prom dress shopping at the Mall of America, where I'm sure he got under those dressing room doors, no problem. What a rascal.

Also, if you didn’t squeeze in enough St. Patty’s Day celebratin’ – or even if you are still recovering - do enjoy the lucky green Flickr photo arrangement by that Champion of Heathers, Heather Champ.

Finally, I recently came across the photo blog of Mandy, an admitted “photo-holic” and “blog-aholic.” Welcome home, Mandy! Pull up a chair, you’re with family now. I love the name of her blog, Click. See. Feel. – which sums it up nicely, dontcha think?

Mandy is the humble sort who doesn’t “pretend to have any talent” but I don’t see any need to pretend here – I love her shots and Mandy’s got an eye for junkyards. Sistah! Also, each shot is accompanied by a fitting fragment of verse. Nice touch.

Mandy is just getting started - looks like her blog started last Saturday - so I’d like to officially welcome Mandy and her camera to the blogosphere, where it’s always helpful to have one more sharp eye on the job.

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