If you have Children, you have photographed them. A lot.
You also know that kids are interested in their parents’ toys, at least until it (the vacuum cleaner for example) turns into work. A Camera is the best toy ever – and kids have not yet learned to not admit that they find themselves fascinating. They also haven’t developed the belief, held by most adults, that their faces are a hodge-podge of hideous deformities. The reward of seeing themselves, the prestige of being on a screen (whether the security camera at the mall or the latest Hollywood blockbuster, it’s all the same), the control, and the sheer magic of capturing an image are irresistible.
So, how do we turn these tiny image-makers loose? It can be difficult to strike a balance between encouraging your children to explore photography and the terror that fills your heart every time those children touch your camera. Here are some tips for calming your nerves while nurturing their art.
1. Keep away
You have a new Canon 6D with a lens that weighs as much as your child’s head and the mere thought of handing that over to someone who regularly misses their mouth when drinking means that nobody is going to have any fun. Your kids need to know what is truly off limits and then you need to know your kid. Can you leave the camera bag hanging on a reachable hook or does curiosity get the better of your kitten? If you aren’t sure that they aren’t going to get into trouble, don’t tempt it: there are many things they can’t reach, make this one of them.
2. Get a substitute
Digital cameras are nearly cheap enough to be given away free with the purchase of a tank of gas. Kids this age aren’t gear heads and generally don’t care about shooting in RAW, they want a picture they can make and see instantly. I let my son have my old cell phone and he happily used that to record important milestones such as the stairs, the inside of his nose, and our cat (sometimes all in the same photo!)
3. Teach them Camera Care
Get them a strap for their camera so they can wear it carefully around their neck like you do yours. Have a special place that they put their camera when not in use like you do with yours. Proper camera care education is the key to preventing unintentional injuries and this is good in case you ever lose control over tip #1.
4. Gradually Trust
I ask my children to bring me my camera sometimes. They enjoy the trust this demonstrates and I am tickled to see them carefully put the strap around their necks each time they carry it to me. This also helps soften some of the fascination brought on by tip #1.
5. Prevent Boredom
There are things that you would like to photograph and photo trips you would like to take that just aren’t going to be possible with small children in tow. Instead, you have to plan for what photography you can enjoyably do together. Don’t take them on a 3-day nature hike to find and photograph the rare and extremely easily startled Guatemalan Cow of Paradise. Everybody is going to unhappy. Take the kids to the zoo and let them take pictures of the animals there instead – the lions aren’t going to run away and you won’t be devastated if the kids make noise or you miss a shot.
6. Let Go
Finally, realize that though you may have a miniature Ansel Adams, very few of the photos that Ansel took as an 8-year-old are counted as masterpieces. Relax and enjoy their enthusiasm, don’t tell them what they should be shooting. If they are enjoying themselves, that is the most solid foundation in photography that you can provide.
About Hannah Rose Mendoza
Hannah Rose Mendoza is a freelance writer, photographer, and fibers artist. She spent the last year in Mexico traveling with her family and creating images. She currently lives and works in North Carolina with her husband and two young children, a pair of rats, some chinchillas, a solitary cat, and a turtle.