The last time we had a family vacation, AJ, who was just 3 at the time, asked if she could take some photos with our digital camera. After exchanging some concerned looks, Claire and I decided to let her take some photos under close supervision.
Our camera is a Sony Cybershot, which is perfect for this kind of experimentation because it’s just got a point-and-shoot operation with automatic focus and a good-sized digital display. There’s also little or no cost associated with it. If your camera is an expensive digital SLR, you might want to consider holding off until your child is older, or you might want to opt for a cheapo digital camera just for them instead. Alternatively, if your kids are a bit older and don’t need the instant gratification of seeing their photos on the preview display, all of these ideas can be applied to traditional film cameras or cheap disposables.
And yes, the thought of letting a 3 or 4 year old commandeer the camera that you paid a lot of money for can be nerve-wracking! We ended up making sure that the camera’s wrist strap was securely looped around her wrist while she was using it; we also made sure that she understood that she should not touch the lens. After a little while we were confident enough with the way she was using the camera to let her wander around and take photos on her own.
One of the amazing things about the photographs that little people will produce is that they are unencumbered by the kind of critical thinking that often inhibits adults. They have a genuine “beginner’s mind” approach to photography. The flip-side of this is that they will take plenty of photos that you won’t want to keep (definitely an advantage of digital cameras over traditional film cameras).
If you have the patience to let them experiment though, you’ll find that their perspective will produce some unique and interesting images. AJ went through stages of taking closeups (including some alarming foreshortening of her sleeping grandfather):
and images of things she really liked:
(this also yielded numerous photos of the cover of the Cinderella dvd). Then she shifted to taking photos of herself:
She even took a great portrait of me, in spite of my refusal to close my eyes and pretend to be asleep.
The key to making this fun and successful is to relax and let them explore photography while at the same time providing adequate supervision to ensure that nothing goes awry. It’s also fun to spend some time with them afterwards, reviewing the photos they’ve taken, and finding out which are their favorites and why.