Teaching Digital Photography: Showing Kids How to See With the Camera's Eye

Photography is not just about pointing and pressing a button; it's a decision-making process. One of the best reasons for working photography into your activities and projects is that it helps kids better understand the media images they're bombarded with every day.

Photography is also just plain fun, and it's a wonderful foundation for community-based projects. If you introduce photography properly, it helps kids look much more carefully at the world around them.

Introducing digital photography can be done in two basic stages, first by introducing the digital camera and then by introducing photography techniques. 

After you've introduced photography, you'll want to go on to introduce computer image-editing techniques, especially if you intend to use the pictures in multimedia presentations and Web pages. What you've taught about photography is also the basis for moving on to video.

Handling the Digital Camera

Don't worry about kids and cameras. The worst thing you can do is to get so wrapped up in how much the camera costs that you make the children feel your anxiety.

If you trust kids with the equipment, teach them respect for it and consistently model proper use, they'll feel confident and none of the cameras will be hurt. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, good modeling is essential because you're introducing something new and exciting, so the kids will be especially intent on reproducing what you do. The key concepts are being consistent, being purposeful and demonstrating respect.


Even before you begin talking about photography, have the camera in your hand and occasionally take a few pictures while introducing the project or talking about other things. You're trying to acclimate the kids to the device, so be purposeful but casual in your actions. Don't make a big deal about the camera, but don't wave it around wildly, either. Keep the strap around your neck at all times. For reasons you'll see later, don't peer through the viewfinder.

Treat the camera with respect, but not reverence, just as you should be treating all equipment from pencils to disks to computers. If you stress that "the camera is expensive so be very, very careful," you'll make the kids nervous and insecure, even if you just do it through nonverbal cues. Trust them, but model proper behavior completely. Observe them as they copy your models to make sure they really understand. You must be consistent in your modeling at all times. If, on the day you introduce the camera, you're careful to wear the strap around your neck, but you wave it around with no strap on most other days, you will just undermine your own message.


Now get kids used to handling the camera confidently. Bring a pair-share partner to the front and model how to hand the camera from one person to another. Again, do it carefully and confidently. Hold the camera with two hands, and ask your partner to take the strap from around your neck and place it around his or her own. Now ask your partner to take the camera in both hands from you.

Point out that you are still holding the camera until your partner has taken it. Keep talking throughout, being very positive and encouraging. Remember, what you are trying to model is not just how to pass the camera; you also are modeling how much you trust the class. Now have your pair-share partner pass the camera back to you in the same way.


Call two students to the front, and use the same method to hand the camera to one of them. Ask that child to hand it to the other, and then back again to the first. Use precise words to get precise actions. Telling someone to "hand" the camera to you can have more defined meaning than "give" or "pass," especially if you consistently use the word "hand" when demonstrating the proper procedure.


Gather the kids around a table, or have them all sit in a circle on the floor. Now have the person who is still holding the camera hand it to another, and so on, until it gets back to you. Watch to be sure that everyone understands the proper way to do it.

This may be enough for one day, or you may go on to show them the camera's basic features.