When my daughter was a messy, candy-hording eight-year-old, I took an expensive gamble and gave her a Nikon D40 DSLR camera. My husband was strongly opposed to this reckless act. Her room at the time looked as if she shared it with monkeys. Often hosing her down seemed the best solution to the aftermath of a day at the park. She lived — and still does — at full throttle and got (everything) dirty in the process. But every time I used my own DSLR, she grabbed it and ran away with it. When I showed her how to use it, she was overtaken with an intense, calm focus and grabbed at every morsel of information I tossed her way. Rather than focus on my own annoyance that she couldn’t summon this sort of attention for anything at school, I decided it was important to recognize passion when it happens — even if thinking about her sticky fingers and that camera together made me cringe.
Since then, she has turned into an amazing photographer. Now (12) she talks about composition, focus, and lighting like a pretentious art-school ingénue. She recently burst into tears because she was frustrated by a challenging lighting situation. Even my husband admits that risking that sweet piece of technology by placing it in those often sticky fingers, paid off. Instead of buying art for his office, he had a few of her stunning macro photos framed. And all the visions she entertains about her future as a grown up involve a camera.
I thought she might enjoy going to a photography camp this summer but it didn’t work out. There is one at ID Tech Camp that looked pretty cool (and I love those amazing if pricey camps) but she didn’t want to go away from home for a week. I couldn’t find anything local. So we decided it would be fun to take a few days off to go location shooting at the beach, mountains, and cities we can drive to from home instead.
But, since she will soon overtake me as a photographer and I’m supposed to be teaching her, I asked the photography experts at TakeGreatPictures.com for some advice on teaching photography to kids. That site’s Gabby Salazar, it turns out, wrote an instructional piece on this very topic that made me realize that letting my daughter teach me might be the best approach. As Salazar points out, “One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.”
Teaching my daughter for the past few years has certainly improved my own skills. But rather than worry about staying ahead of her, maybe I should just ask her advice. “Kids are blank slates,” says Salazar. “They … compose with fresh eyes. Even if their results are not always award winning, you can learn a lot from this approach. Talk with your kids about their compositions and learn from their perspective.”
Salazar also suggests “photo scavenger hunts,” where we look for photos of particular colors or objects. So far my daughter’s passion for taking pictures has not required me to set up anything that elaborate. My job seems to be to pack a lunch, drive her to new locations, be very patient, and (occasionally) interpret the camera settings for the affects she wants to achieve.
She still has that camera I gave her when she was eight. She has never spilled on it, dropped it, touched the lens with dirty fingers, or lost it. Even though otherwise she has not turned into anything like a neat-nick. In fact, her room now looks as if those monkeys reproduced and have too much access to caffeine.