How to teach photography to kids who are too cool to care

For a few years now, I’ve collected film SLR cameras (you know, your dad’s camera with the removable lens) to give to kids. Each kid who takes my photography course gets a 35mm SLR camera to keep forever as long as they keep showing me pictures they’ve taken. It’s awesome fun. Here’s a picture of kids I’ve given cameras to:

cameras, film, boy scouts, kids, cameras, photography, SLR, photo, picture, film, 35mm
A group of Boy Scouts to whom I taught photography a while back. Ilford had sent us a load of darkroom paper and film, so we processed all of it and had a blast. It was AWESOME.

I went through a leadership course called Woodbadge 2 years ago. I had 18 months to do 5 service projects that were related to Scouting, so for one of them I chose to write a photography merit badge syllabus for my favorite scout camp in the world, Tomahawk Scout Reservation . It’s a course that can be taught in six total hours, and that can be split up however you like. It’s best to teach it in a single day, or in three 2-hour chunks.

Anybody may use this to teach photography to kids. You can use my example photos for non-paid and non-professional use only.

Anyway, here it is, in it’s entirety. I can e-mail you a PDF upon request.

Day One:
Fulfilled Requirements:
1. Explain how the following elements and terms affect the quality of a picture:

a. Light-natural light/ambient, flash

b. Exposure-aperture (f-stops), shutter speed, depth of field

c. Composition-rule of thirds, leading lines, framing, depth

d. Angle of view

e. Stopping action

2. Explain the basic parts and operation of a film camera or digital camera. Explain how an exposure is made when you take a picture.
3. Discuss with your counselor the differences between a film camera and a digital camera. List at least five advantages and five disadvantages of using a digital camera versus using a film camera.

Open with discussion.
Discussion questions:
Why did you sign up for Photography?
What do want do know at the end of the week that they don’t know now?
Do any of you want to be a photographer? Why? Why not?
Each of you tell us about your favorite picture
Each of you tell us about your favorite picture that you’ve ever taken.

Show sample pictures.
Show natural light examples. Discuss what you would change. Discuss what you like. Repeat for stopping motion, blurring motion, leading lines, flash, no flash, long exposure, aperture, and shutter speed. You may want to finish with aperture and shutter speed to segue into camera construction.

Use SLR cameras to show different parts of camera. Then show the same parts on the digital cameras. Perhaps this is the time to discuss ISO and how to make an exposure?

Move on to requirement 3, which involves the differences between a film camera and a digital camera. Here are some examples:

Film Camera Advantages:

  1. 35mm film is MUCH higher resolution (equivalent to ~25 megapixels)
  2. More control over color and appearance (different film = different colors and color bias)
  3. Archival integrity. You can keep a negative for 100+ years
  4. Analog. No electricity needed to look at film, pictures, negatives. Just hold them in the light and look!
  5. Equipment is WAY cheaper than digital.

Film camera disadvantages:

  1. More inconvenient. You need several hundred rolls of film to equal the capacity of a memory card.
  2. It’s way more difficult to share your photos. For someone who isn’t immediately with you to look at the pictures, you need to mail them.
  3. It’s disappearing. Once available on every street corner and drug store, film developing has become a niche and a specialty.
  4. It requires more knowledge. You need to know some basic photography rules to use a film camera.
  5. Generally, you’re stuck with the results. You CAN edit the pictures in a darkroom or on a computer (after scanning) but that takes time and knowledge.
  6. Can’t erase pictures once taken.

Digital Camera Advantages:

  1. Super convenient.
  2. Easy to share pictures
  3. Widely available in ANY price point
  4. Easy to customize.
  5. Only keep and use good pictures

Disadvantages of digital:

  1. You’re stuck with the sensor you get. If it stinks, that’s too bad.
  2. Cheap camera can only take pictures as good as the hardware, and they’re generally not upgradable.
  3. Require expensive, proprietary batteries or cheap batteries with low capacity.
  4. You need a computer and electricity to view the pictures, and then MORE equipment to print copies.
  5. VERY susceptible to damage.

ACTIVITIES!

Activity 1: Remove memory cards from camera. Each scout is allowed to take only as many pictures as the internal memory will hold. Scouts are not allowed to delete pictures.

Alternate: Leave memory cards inside camera, limit scouts to 12 or 24 pictures, identical to rolls of film.

Activity 2: Go on a photo walk. Point out different things of interest, be they tent platforms, parking lot lines, blades of grass, etc… Lead students through areas and give them time to photograph. This should take 30 minutes to an hour.

Activity 3: Assign an area for students to document. Every picture should have an explanation. Each student should come back with a LOT of pictures. Have students come back and connect to a computer and show, have them upload to a website and share, or have them print the pictures and bring them to the next session.

Day Two:
Fulfilled Requirements:
5. Discuss with your counselor the career opportunities in photography. Pick one that interests you and explain how to prepare for such a career. Discuss with your counselor the education and training such a career would require.

4a: Produce a picture story using the photojournalistic technique of documenting an event. Share your plan with your counselor and get your counselor’s input and approval before you proceed. Then, using either a film camera or a digital camera, produce your approved picture story. Process your images and select eight to 12 images that best tell your story. Arrange your images in order, then mount the prints on a poster board. If you are using digital images, you may create a slide show on your computer or produce printouts for your poster board. Share your picture story with your counselor.

Journalist:
A journalism major is the best way to start. A photography portfolio is a MUST, as well as the ability to use modern technology, photoshop, ALL MS Office programs, and access to your own gear. Additionally, you need to find your own stories.

Wedding and event photography: Considered a freelance position. Very few wedding photography corporations exist. Must supply your own gear, including camera hardware, computers, software, and insurance. Additionally, you must have people skills. Tension runs HIGH at weddings and the photographer must take great care to not get caught up in tension. The work pays 1-3000 dollars per event and requires 30-50hours of work AFTER the wedding, often more.

Corporate Photography:
Must have a marketing degree. Generally not an entry-level position.

Activity: Have scouts assume the role of press photographers. Scouts must report back every 30 minutes with a new story, complete with photos that follow composition rules learned on day one. Repeat two-three times, depending on available time.

Requirement 4a can be tricky at camp, but there are a few ways to make this happen. One way to make this happen is to have a printer that can read a memory card handy and allow each participant to print 12 photos. They can be printed on photo paper or on regular paper. Then a posterboard can be used to fulfill the requirement. There is a cost to this, but it’s the best way to make it happen. Otherwise, I always accept a powerpoint presentation.

Day Three:
Fulfilled requirements:

4b. Choose a topic that interests you to photograph for an exhibit or display. Get your counselor’s approval, then photograph (digital or film) your topic. Process your images. Choose 20 of your favorite images and mount them on poster board. Share your display with your counselor. If you are using digital images, you may create a slide show on your computer or produce printouts for your poster board.

As I said above, this can be tricky when outdoors. I’ll copy and paste my advice for requirement 4A here.

One way to make this happen is to have a printer that can read a memory card handy and allow each participant to print 12 photos. They can be printed on photo paper or on regular paper. Then a posterboard can be used to fulfill the requirement. There is a cost to this, but it’s the best way to make it happen. Otherwise, I always accept a powerpoint presentation.

Today is the day we piece everything together. Review requirements 1 and 3. Finish requirement 4a if necessary.

Activity: Take a photo hike. Every scout should have his camera along. The counselor should stop at various points and give each scout a prompt and a photo subject. Each scout may take pictures of it as he wishes. Pictures will be reviewed afterward.

That’s it. You can do this in six hours or over 3 days. It’s a wonderful way to teach ANYBODY the rules of photography. Enjoy.

Fine print: this syllabus, lesson plan, and idea are all copyright 2012 Christopher Ferguson. It is legal and free for use in any not-for-profit setting, for kids or adults, provided the instructor is not collecting, receiving, or requesting compensation. If compensation is requested or received, author reserves the right to collect royalties.

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Author: El Chris

I'm full of snark that doesn't always come out. I have a soft spot for kids and people with special needs. I'm a disability advocate by day, and a coffee roasting photographer by night. You'll love me, but your parents will love me more.

6 thoughts on “How to teach photography to kids who are too cool to care”

  1. This is a great post. I’m currently working up a power point to teach the merit badge at our Winter camp. I’m working along the same time frame (2- 3 hour classes). I’m stealing the photo walk idea. I’m an Owl working my tickets.

  2. These are great ideas. I’m also a Photography Merit Badge Counselor in Miami Valley Council out of Dayton, Ohio. Would you please email the pdf to me? Thanks! 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us Christopher. I am a new Photography Merit Badge counselor and this has given me so good ideas. Could you please email the .pdf to me as well? Thank you!

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