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Introducing Your Little One to Photography

One of my day jobs involves working with special needs children and children in hospital. I do a lot of work with children on the autistic spectrum and children with learning difficulties, as well as with at-risk youth and kids with chronic illnesses. One of my absolute favourite things to do is introduce these children to photography. Not only do I enjoy sharing my passion but for a lot of the children I work with it is a unique way for them to express some creativity.

Waiting for an arrival: John Wayne airport Terminal B through the eyes of a child
John Wayne airport Terminal B through the eyes of a child by fd

Introducing your children to photography, whether they have extra needs or not, is a great way to encourage creativity and decision-making and can give you a new activity to share with your whole family. But how do you go about introducing children to the camera? Here are a few ideas to get you started (these tips are aimed for children from about 3 to 8 years old):

1. Don’t rush out and buy a new camera for your child’s first attempt. You’ve probably got an old camera somewhere, it doesn’t matter if it’s a film camera or an early digital camera with 2 MP, as long as it works it’ll do. If your child shows interest for more than a week or so then the chances are a new camera just for him will be used and appreciated (check out John’s post for ideas on which camera to buy). If the old camera is lying underneath that never-opened board game and once-used pair of roller blades from last Christmas, then it’s probably best to wait a few months and try again. Even if you just use an old camera and end up abandoning the project don’t forget to teach your child how to care for the camera (keep it switched off in it’s case when not in use, don’t touch the lens, use the wrist/neck strap) but don’t freak him out by telling him it’s really expensive and he better be careful. A better idea is not to equip him with a camera you’ll be angry about if it does get damaged.

2. Get back to basics. You might know about f-stop numbers, aperture, and depth of field but your child probably doesn’t even know how to hold a camera correctly. Start simple. Show her how to hold the camera so a blurry finger won’t appear in every shot. Explain how to open/close the shutter (or use the lens cap if the camera has one) and use the view finder and LCD screen. If your child is under 6 this is probably enough information, any more and they’ll tune out and be bored before they start. For older kids a quick explanation of the flash and zoom features can be included.

3. For their first foray into photography just let them go ahead and shoot. This will allow them to get familiar with the camera and also to take photos of the things they think are important (often toys, pets, and their bedroom will feature prominently) rather than things you tell them would look nice in a photo. A digital camera has the advantage of allowing a child to see the photos right away and removes the cost of processing film. But many children enjoy taking the film to a photo lab and then holding real photos in their hands (it often feels more like they’ve created something if they can hold it), so don’t be afraid to try a film camera. If you go with a digital camera put a small memory card in so that they’re limited to 20 or 30 shots (equivalent to one roll of film).

4. When you have plenty of time to sit down with your child, get the photos and look through them with him. Before you say anything remember that photography (like all art) is subjective. Just because it’s not what you would have done doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Try and find something positive to say, even if he’s taken 25 photos of a matchbox car. If he has taken lots of photos of the same thing, as him if he wished he’d had more film/memory so he could photograph some other things too. If the answer is yes it’s a good time to discuss decision-making and using limited resources (don’t just hand him a larger memory card, try and encourage him to be selective about what he photographs. Then later if he’s taking 25 photos of different things or using different perspectives and still feels he needs more shots you can give him the larger card to work with). And if he says no, at least you know those matchbox cars are really important to him!

5. Get some books or find some child-friendly web sites that showcase photography. Or better yet find a local photography exhibit or gallery and take a trip to see finished, framed photos. Try and look at a variety of different styles with you child and discuss which ones you and she like and dislike. Then discuss some of the different techniques used (tailor the language and detail to your child’s age level and attention span) and point out things like the angle, focus, distance, and framing.

6. Plan a photography outing either as a family, with friends, or just you and your child. You don’t have to go far, the beach, a playground, a hiking trail, or the zoo are all good places to try (although if you choose the beach be wary of cameras and water!). Encourage your child to photograph different things, landscapes, people, animals, and from different perspectives. Set and example yourself by photographing a variety of scenes and getting down on your knees or standing on a bench to try different angles. Most importantly, have fun and don’t forget to let you child share her finished photos with other people (her friends, grandparents, etc).

7. Remember not rush this. If you really want your child to enjoy photography and be able to express himself though it then it needs to be an ongoing process. Trying to cram the whole learning experience into one day isn’t going to work. This is something you can re-visit and build on as he grows older and can learn new skills and techniques. And don’t forget all kids go through phases so if the camera sits unused for a few weeks or months don’t try to force him to use it, instead plan another photography outing for a time when you think he might be ready to try again (try going somewhere you haven’t been for a while so he has new things to photograph). Or encourage him to use his previous photos in an art project, or make an album with them, seeing his work might remind him how much fun he had and prompt him to pick up the camera again.

It’s Easy Being Green

Being green is no longer a phrase associated with Kermit the Frog. We all know we really should do our part to keep the Earth from turning into one giant landfill. The good news is “it’s not easy being green” really isn’t true, a little effort in all aspects of your life can add up to one big difference. So how can you be greener in the photography side of your life? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Green Power: If you use a camera (or accessory such as a flash) that uses AA or AAA batteries make sure you’re using rechargeable batteries, not only will it help the environment it’ll help your bank balance too. NiMH or Lithium batteries are your best bet for hundreds of recharges without “memory effect” and generally cost $25-$30 for 4 batteries and the recharger. Cameras with battery types other than AA/AAA usually come with a rechargeable battery but if yours didn’t look into buying one, most type are available. And once you’ve got those rechargeable batteries make sure you recycle those old non-rechargeable ones! Many local supermarkets and camera stores will now recycle your batteries for free.

Green Storage: If you’re ready to invest in a new camera bag check out Lowe Pro’s Primus AW bag which is made of 51% recycled materials. To make it even better Lowe Pro say “funds raised from the sale of the Primus AW backpack will support Polar Bears International PBI, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of the polar bear.” And it’s as well designed and constructed as Lowe Pro’s other bags.

Green Recharge: Now that you’re using rechargeable batteries you need power to recharge them. If you really want to go green and eliminate the need to find an electrical socket you need a solar camera charger. A bit more of an investment, they cost between $130 and $250 depending how much power they provide.

Green Print: If you print photos on your own printer give GreenPix matte photo paper a try. 100% recycled, it’s available in sizes from 4 x 6 up to 13 x 38.

Green Display: Once you’ve printed your photos you’ll want to display them. If an album is your way to do that check out the albums available at One World Projects which use a combination of renewable bark cloth and recycled paper and have the added bonus of supporting the women in Uganda who make them. For something else unique Acorn Studios have recycled circuit board albums, or Pristine Planet have a variety of albums handmade from recycled/reclaimed materials. If you prefer to frame your photos Green House Framing have a selection of reclaimed wood frames. Uncommon Goods have reclaimed tin frames and for something truly one-of-a-kind reclaimed bicycle chain frames. Ten Thousand Villages have recycled paper frames, and for recycled mat board check out Green House Framing’s selection.

Green Awareness: Raise awareness of environmental issues through your photography by entering the Environmental Photographer of the Year 2008 competition. Closing date is 31st July 2008.

Green Giving: If you’re ready to upgrade to a new camera but your old one is still working consider donating it to a charity such as Global Classroom Connections or your local children’s hospital or at-risk youth center and give a new generation a chance to try photography. Or use your local chapter of Freecycle and find a deserving person to give your camera too yourself.

Pro Photo Rental lens rentals (with discount for Photodoto readers)

Jared at Pro Photo Rental (prophotorental.com) just sent me some information about their rental business located in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve used a couple of these services personally (read reviews of Rentglass and Ziplens) and we also have a handy roundup of online rental services.

Pro Photo Rental—offering Canon, Nikon, and Olympus gear—distinguishes itself from the competition with the following features:

  • They are one of the few services that takes reservations and the only one that I know of that has an online reservation system.
  • You can rent gear for exactly as long as you need it with a 4-day minimum. Everyone else seems to rent in 1-week increments.
  • Offer a selection of Olympus lenses and gear (including an E-3 body).
  • They offer a good variety of lenses but also rent bodies and speedlights.
  • Local pickup in the Denver metro area.

Pro Photo Rental has offered Photodoto readers a 15% discount off of any order over $40 (good through July 2008). Just enter code S-Photodoto08 during checkout. If you take them up on their offer, let us know what you thought of the service in the comments.

Five Cool Little Gadgets

I have five friends who have birthdays in late May/early June and are photography enthusiasts so I have been keeping an eye open for gift ideas. So far, through random stumbling about on the internet I have come across these rather cool looking photo-related gadgets:

Keyboard shortcut skins for Photoshop, Aperture, Final Cut Pro, Pro Tools, After Effects, & Logic Pro. They’re $30 for laptops, $40 for desktops at Photojojo although they’re only available for Macs.

Giottos Rocket Blaster looks like an easy, safe way to clean dust off the important inside parts of your camera. Plus it looks like a rocket, which is cool. Cost about $11 from Amazon.

Eye Fi Wireless Memory Card so you can upload photos without digging through a mass of USB cables to find which one you need. Especially cool for traveling. Photojojo and Amazon both sell them for $100 for the SD card and Photojojo has the SD card with a CF adapter for $130.

Lowe Pro Photo Gloves if you’ve lived in Alaska (like me) or anywhere else cold you’ll appreciate the dilemma of choosing between frostbite or an inability to manipulate your cameras dials, buttons, and other delicate parts. These are designed to keep your hands warm and cable of operating a camera and tripod. Lowe Pro have them for about $30.

Magnetic Photo Rope because what’s the point in taking all those photos if you don’t display some of them? And this is a pretty cool way to display them. Photojojo has rope with 8 plain magnets for $12, Wrapables has rope with six scotty dog shaped magnets also for $12.

What’s your favourite  photo gadget? If you’ve got one of these or any other cool photo gadgets let us know in the comments which one you feel coolest playing with.

A punch in the face and the Casio EX-F1 high-speed camera

Saw this amazing new-to-me video of people being punched in the face this morning (via Waxy). (More footage here.)

High-speed photography, to me, is amazing. Typically we photographers deal in stills but the line between photography and video is blurring. Manufacturers have been adding video capability to still cameras and vice versa for a long time. Photographers have been known to spend ungodly amounts of time putting together video from still frames. And very slow video like the above has a very photographic feel.

If you fancy trying your hand at high-speed photography, Casio may have just the (affordable) ticket. Their recently released (March 2008) Casio EX-F1 is a 6.1 megapixel camera capable of shooting at up to 1200 frames per second. Play that back at normal video speeds (24 fps) and you’ve got home-made slow-mo movies for around $1,000.

The EX-F1 is also able to capture full-resolution stills in 60 frame-per-second bursts. And they provide an innovative mode that allows the camera to capture shots you missed. In this mode, holding down the shutter half-way continuously captures 60 frames and then discards them each second until you press the shutter fully. This is perfect for capturing unpredictable action. Now you can go back in time 60 seconds and pick the right moment as the keeper.

It’s not widely available yet (you can get it from B&H but you have to make a phone order). If anyone out there has got one of these babies, let us know what you think. I’m especially interested in thoughts about the 60fps capability for capturing action.

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