We lovers of photography who also have children usually don’t have a problem pointing a camera at our kids time and time again. Many of us have entire hard drives dedicated to such pictures! As kids get older and they see their parents handling cameras, many get curious and want to emulate them.
If you know you want to introduce your child(ren) to the joy of photography from a young age, there a number of means, and a number of age ranges, to consider!
Newborn – 2 Years Old
You might not believe it, but some parents do in fact purchase a camera for their child’s first birthday. As inexpensive as cameras can be, a number of toy manufacturers have slapped them into brightly colored, cartoon character plastered pieces of plastic.
And they work! Amazingly well in some cases. Just remember they are toys and a kid, at this age, really isn’t into comparing megapixels or exploring the nuances of selective ISO.
Make it fun and expect they will grow out of it eventually. Maybe even consider purchasing one second hand (you’re going to see that bit of advice come up often.)
As with any child this age, just let them play with the camera as a toy and don’t worry too much about teaching anything specific. I know it’s hard, I’ve been through it. And like any toy, there will likely come a day when it gets ignored and shoved to the back of the closet.
3-5 Years Old
At this age, kids are understanding the concept of possession but don’t quite have cause and effect understood yet. Depending on their parents, they probably don’t have the idea of monetary value internalized either. All these things add up to a simple idea if you want to get a camera into their hands at this stage: second hand and cheap.
In the 3-5 year old range there still isn’t much talk about color-cast and dynamic range around the tire swing at the playground. Kids just love pointing a camera at something and seeing it on the display.
Transfer to a computer is often not needed and photos aren’t being shot for later retrieval, typically, as time concepts are still fuzzy.
6-9 Years Old
Now things start to get exciting if you have had patience and persevered. Or maybe you waited until now to present your child with a camera. Either way, this age range is getting ready for some responsibility – meaning a nicer camera.
Depending on how coordinated they currently are and how responsible they’ve become, the choice can be either a nicer point and shoot camera or a entry level DSLR.
For me, it was this age range when I started handing my full size DSLR to my daughter on occasion and she learned how to hold it, how not to drop it and how to start using it. It is bulky and heavy and I considered getting her a DSLR for a trip to Africa last year.
Keep in mind though that a child is more likely to use a camera if it is always with them. In the end, for me, a nicer P&S (with a lanyard) was in order, something with good zoom and video. Kids love video, by the way, so it is handy to get a large memory card.
At this age they are better able to take advantage of shutter speed priority and aperture priority modes. They will also start to be more self critical of how pictures look. Lots of creative gears start meshing in this age range!
Be available to answer their questions on composition and plan some outings with your little ones specifically to shoot pictures. These trips might only last 10 minutes or maybe they will take all day. Either way, you child will love having your undivided attention about how they see the world.
10-13 Years Old
Self improvement is now a bigger aspect of photos for your child in this age range. So is computer use. If you haven’t already, set up a profile on your PC, Mac or Linux box so they have room to play while not confusing your photo storage and sorting. Programs like Picasa and iPhoto are easy for kids to understand and have some tools to adjust and play with a photo.
A DSLR is probably in your child’s future at this point if it is not already in their hands. I’ve espoused it before and I’ll keep pointing to the secondhand market as a great alternative to purchasing new. New does have the advantage of a warranty, though.
I push the use of used cameras because these are learning years and the interest in photography can also wane. No kid wants to hear, “I paid $1000 for that camera and now you’re not interested???” so don’t put yourself that position. Cheap, good, last year’s model cameras abound.
Other concepts can be taught at this age, such as depth of field and purposeful use of blur. A tripod might be handy as well at this age to help improve the sharpness of pictures and some kids even have enough patience to use one.
A hand-me-down from a friend or relative is usually a great way to find a starter model if you don’t want to shell out big bucks!
Also check into Scouting or community kids groups to see if there offer a photography course. At this age (well, any age actually) kids can tend to learn better from someone other than their parents and a group of photo kids is a great way to create friendships.
14+ Years Old
If you own a DSLR and your child has grown to love photography by this age range, you may have to buy yourself a new camera if they have commandeered your camera. From here on out, the sky is the limit with regards to the gear you pick for your child. Chances are they will be very opinionated about which camera they want and why. They are savvy on the computer and have probably researched options.
Cameras they are looking at might cost more than the car they will be driving. My general advice to anyone considering making photography a lifelong pursuit (and by this age, the earnestness in interest is easier to judge, though by no means set in concrete) is to get the best lens you can for your, or your child’s, money.
Camera body technology updates faster than lenses do and a solid lens today will be a solid lens in 10 years. In that 10 years, a photographer can often go through 2-5 different camera bodies (and I know there are some of you out there that will go through 10!). Double that with the impulses and peer pressure most teenagers live under.
Manufacturers have solid entries for most ‘starter’ cameras, be are they a true DSLR or a more advanced point and shoot? If your child is just now starting out with photography, one of these cameras can be a good hedge on the bet that they will stick with it, making a more worthwhile investment in higher quality gear sensible.
If your child has been shooting for a while and shows aptitude and responsibility with lesser quality cameras, it may be a good time to spring for a medium or even high end camera, depending on your financial threshold. It is also a time to teach goal setting and money saving, helping them acquire their own camera if they have some income.
Cameras for this age range can contain more manual controls as teenagers learn to experiment with shaping light and playing with different concepts. Don’t worry about having the latest, greatest special features (although teens will often lust after them).
The gadgets and gimmicks will come and go, but a solid foundation in proper photography, learned through experimentation with f-stop, shutter speed and ISO selection, will be the underpinnings of quality images for the rest of their lives.