Too young to take a good photograph?

When is someone old enough to pick up a camera and start taking photographs? I remember taking a photograph when I was about 8 years old and my grouped family frowning at the camera as they all thought I was holding it wrong and would crop their heads out. That was in the days of film when every unfocused, over exposed or poorly executed image seemed like a waste of resources in the 24-36 frames available in each roll.

With digital photography, the availability of lower cost compact cameras  and the development of better quality mobile phone cameras most children probably start taking photographs a lot younger today. Hopefully they are more free to make mistakes. The number of photographs that can be taken are limited only to the size of available memory. A poor quality digital photograph will cost nothing, it doesn’t have to be printed and can be deleted if it is no good…

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But wait! DON’T delete those “bad” photographs that look like nothing discernible at all…

We don’t throw away our young children’s first efforts at painting do we? (Well, not all of them anyway). Do those first painted pictures look like something distinctive? No. Are they well composed with everything tidily contained within the frame? No. Are they precious, inventive and amazing? Yes, of course they are. There is so much attention to our children’s first steps, first teeth, first smile, first everything. And their every move is photographed by us, to be shared on social media and hopefully printed out and put on the wall, so why not treasure the first photograph they take?

You have pinned their painted creations to your fridges, their shell and pasta collages to the walls, and maybe even put their first tooth to come out in a shoe box. Now hand them a camera, get them to take a photograph and no matter how blurry and rubbish it is – get a print of it and stick it on the wall. Their first photography. You don’t have to get a high quality print and frame it, an inkjet print stuck up with blu-tac will do just as well.

Before we walk we crawl and before we speak we gurgle. Before we can write or paint with beautiful clarity (if ever) we scribble and make a mess and get paint all over our clothes. I believe it should be the same with taking photographs. Why wait for children to have advanced hand and eye co-ordination to allow them to pick up a camera?* Kids will enjoy photographing their favorite toys, their friends, family and pets and they could surprise you with the beautiful results they get.

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The photographs posted here show progression and the development of skills and abilities. First a two year old was handed a disposable camera, later he progressed to a compact digital camera and now at six he is using a Digital SLR with zoom lens and is able to capture a plane flying by. His early photographs show a lack of technical skill. Instead they possess qualities that can only be achieved by a complete and unconscious disregard for rules. Using unusual angles and composition, cropping off heads, free use of motion blur or concentration on obscure details can create fantastic abstract images. To me they possess a surreal beauty. But that’s probably just the proud Mummy talking…

*One note of caution! A good reason to worry about putting a camera in a child’s hands is that they may drop and break it, so be careful with expensive cameras, tablets and phones. Instead start them off with cheap robust cameras, you can pick up decent second hand compacts for very little on Ebay. Then you can relax and let them have fun with it. Alternatively look out for workshops and kids photography classes in your area where cameras should be available for the class.

© Angela Stapleford – Community, education & photography, April 2014

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