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13 Lessons About Digital Photography

1. Experiment
Looking over many of the shots that I took in those early days shows me that I took a lot of shots of almost exactly the same things. I approached my subjects in much the same way with every shot and as a result ended up with very similar results.

Teach kids how to vary their shots in a number ways:

     A. Shoot from different perspectives           up high, down low etc

     B. Getting in close - stepping back              for a wider angle shot

     C. Moving around your subject to              shoot from different sides

     D. Experimenting with different                   settings (teaching them about                   different exposure modes)

2. Check your Backgrounds
A very simple concept that can enhance an image is to check out the background of a shot to check for clutter or distraction.

Teach kids to scan the background (and the foreground) of an image quickly and to change their framing if there’s too many distractions - otherwise their shots will end up like mine used to with all kinds of objects growing out of the heads of those I was photographing (like telephone poles).

3. Hold the Camera Straight
The other obvious problem with many of my first images is that they rarely lined up straight. In fact after viewing my first album for a few minutes I began to feel quite dizzy!

While shots that are not straight can be quite effective (they can be playful or give a more "candid" feel to them) it is good to teach kids to check the framing of their shot before hitting the shutter.

4. How to Hold a Camera
It is easy to assume that everyone knows how to hold a digital camera - however while many people do not - particularly kids who are unfamiliar with them. In fact I’ve seen a lot of adults who could do with a lesson or two on how to hold a camera and whose images must suffer with camera shake as a result of poor technique.

A quick lesson on securing your camera could help a child get clear, shake free images for years to come.

Here’s the correct way to hold your camera…

      Bring The Camera Close To You

      Use the Viewfinder

      Use the Hold In Both Hands

      Bring Your Elbows To Your Side

      Hold Your Breath

      Look for Extra Stability

Bring your camera close to your face and use the optical viewfinder (if your camera has one) to compose the shot rather than the LCD screen. This way, your camera is steadied by your body.

Hold the camera in both hands, and keep both elbows close to your side to give your camera the most stability. This turns your body into a kind of make-shift tripod.

If your camera doesn’t have an optical viewfinder, use the screen to compose and then bring the camera to your face. Or keep your elbows close to your body and move the camera a foot away from your face. This way your camera is still supported AND you can see the screen.

Just before you take the shot, take a breath. Hold it while taking the shot.

Finally, look for some extra stability by leaning against a post or wall. You’ll be surprised how much this can reduce blurry images.

There are other ways to reduce shake in your images like increasing your shutter speed, or using special image stabilization lenses. But holding the camera close to your body is the cheapest!

5. Get in Close
Almost all of the shots that took in my first rolls of film have my subject somewhere off into the distance of the shot. This is partly because the camera that I was using didn’t have a zoom lens - but it was partly because I didn’t understand how getting in close would help capture the detail of a subject.

Teach kids how to use the zoom on your digital camera - but don’t forget to teach them how using their legs to move closer can achieve the same results!

Fill the frame!!! So how do you fill your frame?You’ve got three options:

Use your Optical Zoom - most point and shoot digital cameras these days come with a zoom lens and all DSLRs are able to be fitted with one. Use them.

Use your Legs - most photographers have a built in zoom in the form of their legs. Don’t just rely upon your cameras zoom but actually position yourself effectively for close in shots.

Crop your Shots - the other option is to zoom in manually at home after you’ve taken your shots. This is a handy option to have but I personally prefer to use one of the first two options where I can because cropping shots later means if you want a large image that you’ll find that it becomes more pixelated. This is a good option if you’re just trimming shots but any major cropping will result in a loss of quality of your image.

Digital Zooms - Another option that many digital camera owners use is to utilize their ‘digital zoom’. Most digital cameras these days have boast about having digital zooms but don’t tell you that to use them will decrease the quality of your shots in a similar way that cropping your shots can. In essence a digital zoom fills your frame by increasing the size of pixels in your shots when can leave you with a grainy impact. I would highly recommend switching off your digital zoom feature and relying upon option 1 and 2 above. If you still need to get in closer you can always crop your shots and achieve the same results as using your digital zoom.

6. Take Lots of Photos
While my Dad’s advice did save our family a lot of money at the time - with the advent of digital photography, taking lots of pictures is no longer something that is too costly (although there are costs in terms of storing them all). Taking lots of images is a great way to learn different techniques of photography.

While you probably will want to encourage your kids not to take 100 shots of exactly the same thing - encourage them to experiment with lots of different shots over time and as they do you’ll see their photography improve.

7. Getting the Balance Right Between Photographing People, “Things” and Places
I still remember coming back from my first trip as a teenager (a school trip) and showing my family members my photos. Their first comment was that I had hardly taken any shots of people. All my shots had been of buildings. While some of them were interesting - I missed one of the most important aspects of the trip - those I was traveling with.

8. Find a Point of Interest
Interesting photographs have interesting things in them - they need a visual point of interest (a focal point). Teach your kids to identify what this point of interest is before hitting the shutter.

Once they’ve identified the point of interest they can then think about how to highlight it (by positioning themselves, using their zoom etc).

Techniques to Enhance the Focal Point in an Image

A focal point can be virtually anything ranging from a person, to a building, to a mountain, to a flower etc. Obviously the more interesting the focal point the better - but there are other things you can do to enhance it’s power including:

Position - Place your focal point in a prominent position - you might want to start with the rule of thirds for some ideas.

Focus - Learn to use Depth of Field to blur out other aspects in front or behind your focal point.

Blur - If you really want to get tricky you might want to play with slower shutter speeds if your focal point is still and things around it are moving.

Size - making your focal point large is not the only way to make it prominent - but it definitely can help. Color - using contrasting colors can also be a way of setting your point of interest apart from it’s surroundings.

Shape - similarly contrasting shapes and textures can make a focal point stand out - especially patterns that are repeated around a subject.

Keep in mind that a combination of above elements can work well together.

Lastly - don’t confuse the viewer with too many competing focal points, which might overwhelm the main focal point. Secondary points of interest can be helpful to lead the eye but too many strong ones will just clutter and confuse.

9. Rule of Thirds
A simple principle of photography that I’ve taught a number of kids is the Rule of Thirds. While I’ve talked numerous times about how breaking this rule can also be a powerful effect - it is something that I’ve found really can lift a child’s images - particularly when they are photographing other people.

Even if the child doesn’t completely understand to position their subject right on the intersecting third points - to teach them how to place their subject off centre can be enough.

It’s one of the first things that Digital photographers learn about in classes on photography and rightly so as it is the basis for well balanced and interesting shots.

I will say right up front however that rules are meant to be broken and ignoring this one doesn’t mean your images are necessarily unbalanced or uninteresting. However a wise person once told me that if you intend to break a rule you should always learn it first to make sure your breaking of it is all the more effective!

What is the Rule of Thirds?
The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. As follows.

As you’re taking an image you would have done this in your mind through your viewfinder or in the LCD display that you use to frame your shot.

With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.

Not only this - but it also gives you four ‘lines’ that are also useful positions for elements in your photo.

The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally. Studies have shown that when viewing images that people’s eyes usually go to one of the intersection points most naturally rather than the center of the shot - using the rule of thirds works with this natural way of viewing an image rather than working against it.

10. Review Your Children’s Images with Them
One thing that you can do to help your children drastically improve their photography is to sit down at the computer with them after they’ve been out with their camera to go through their shots.

As you scroll through them pause to affirm them with what they’ve done well and to point out things that they could do better next time to improve their results. Pay particular attention to the shots that they do well with as this will give them positive reinforcement and inspiration to keep going with their hobby.

11. Focal Lock
One important technique that children will do well to learn is how to use focal lock. While most cameras do well in auto focusing upon subjects there are times when you’ll end up with shots that are out of focus because the camera doesn’t know what the main subject is (particularly if they are placing subjects off centre with the rule of thirds).

Teach your child how to press the shutter halfway down to focus and then to frame the shot while still holding it down and they’ll have a skill that they’ll use forever!

It’s a very simple technique and something that virtually every digital camera have the ability to do.

Here’s what you do:
Pose your subject.

When framing your subject put the central point of your frame on the point that you want to focus upon (the face of a person is generally the best point).

With the subject’s face in the centre of your image half press down on the shutter button (not fully). This will tell the camera to focus on that point.

Without letting go of the shutter (it should still be half depressed) move your camera to frame your shot as you want it (the person’s face doesn’t need to be centered now).

Once you’ve got the framing right press the shutter the rest of the way and the shot will be taken with the right focusing even though the centre of your image might not be the person’s face.

This technique is not just useful for taking photos of people when they’re not central in your shots but can also be used in many other types of photography. For example in Macro shots when you want to place the insect or flower that you’re photographing off centre (using the rule of thirds) you might want to use focal lock. Similarly if you were taking a landscape shot but wanted to focus upon a house in the foreground that was off centre rather than the horizon you’d use this technique.

This technique is one that most people know but it’s something that beginners should master in the early days of their photography, as it’s something you’ll use constantly. It might take a little practice but after a while it will become second nature to you.


12. Different Modes for Different Situations
The day that i discovered my family's film camera had a little dial for different “shooting modes” on it was a day my photography improved a little. Most digital cameras these days have the ability to switch a camera into modes like “portrait”, ’sports’, ‘macro’ etc. Teach your child what these modes mean and when to switch to them and you’ll be taking them a step closer to learning about how their camera works and how to learn about manual exposure modes.

Just knowing that different situations will mean you need to use different settings is an important lesson for kids to learn as it helps them to become more aware of not only their subject but things like how light, focal distance and subject movement can impact a shot.

Automatic Modes

Automatic Mode
I suspect no one will need any introduction to this mode (as it seems most digital camera owners use it). Auto mode tells your camera to use its best judgment to select shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus and flash to take the best shot that it can. With some cameras auto mode lets you override flash or change it to red eye reduction. This mode will give you nice results in many shooting conditions, however you need to keep in mind that you’re not telling your camera any extra information about the type of shot you’re taking so it will be "guessing" as to what you want. As a result some of the following modes might be more appropriate to select as they give your camera a few more hints (without you needing to do anything more).

Portrait Mode
When you switch to portrait mode your camera will automatically select a large aperture (small number) which helps to keep your background out of focus (it sets a narrow depth of field - ensuring your subject is the only thing in focus and is therefore the centre of attention in the shot). Portrait mode works best when you’re photographing a single subject so get in close enough to your subject (either by zooming in or walking closer) so that your photographing the head and shoulders of them). Also if you’re shooting into the sun you might want to trigger your flash to add a little light onto their face.

Macro Mode
Macro mode lets you move your closer into your subject to take a close up picture. It’s great for shooting flowers, insects or other small objects. Different digital cameras will have macro modes with different capabilities including different focussing distances (usually between 2-10cm for point and shoot cameras). When you use macro mode you’ll notice that focussing is more difficult as at short distances the depth of field is very narrow (just millimeters at times). Keep your camera and the object you’re photographing parallel if possible or you’ll find a lot of it will be out of focus. You’ll probably also find that you won’t want to use your camera’s built in flash when photographing close up objects or they’ll be burnt out. Lastly - a tripod is invaluable in macro shots as the depth of field is so small that even moving towards or away from your subject slightly can make your subject out of focus. (I’ll write a full tutorial on Macro Photography in the coming weeks).

Landscape Mode
This mode is almost the exact opposite of portrait mode in that it sets the camera up with a small aperture (large number) to make sure as much of the scene you’re photographing will be in focus as possible (ie it give you a large depth of field). It’s therefore ideal for capturing shots of wide scenes, particularly those witch points of interest at different distances from the camera. At times your camera might also select a slower shutter speed in this mode (to compensate for the small aperture) so you might want to consider a tripod or other method of ensuring your camera is still.

Sports Mode
Photographing moving objects is what sports mode (also called "action mode" in some cameras) is designed for. It is ideal for photographing any moving objects including people playing sports, pets, cars, wildlife etc. Sports mode attempts to freeze the action by increasing the shutter speed. When photographing fast moving subjects you can also increase your chances of capturing them with panning of your camera along with the subject and/or by attempting to pre focus your camera on a spot where the subject will be when you want to photograph it (this takes practice).

Night Mode
This is a really fun mode to play around with and can create some wonderfully colorful and interesting shots. Night mode (a technique also called "slow shutter sync") is for shooting in low light situations and sets your camera to use a longer shutter speed to help capture details of the background but it also fires off a flash to illuminate the foreground (and subject). If you use this mode for a "serious" or well balanced shot you should use a tripod or your background will be blurred - however it’s also fun to take shots with this handheld to purposely blur your backgrounds - especially when there is a situation with lights behind your subject as it can give a fun and experimental look (great for parties and dance floors with colored lights).

Movie Mode
This mode extends your digital camera from just capturing still images to capturing moving ones. Most new digital cameras these days come with a movie mode that records both video but also sound. The quality is generally not up to video camera standards but it’s a handy mode to have when you come across that perfect subject that just can’t be captured with a still image. Keep in mind that moving images take up significantly more space on your memory storage than still images.
Other less common modes that I’ve seen on digital cameras over the past year include:

Panoramic/Stitch Mode - for taking shots of a panoramic scene to be joined together later as one image.

Snow Mode - to help with tricky bright lighting at the snow

Fireworks Mode - for shooting firework displays

Kids and Pets Mode - fast moving objects can be tricky - this mode seems to speed up shutter speed and help reduce shutter lag with some pre focussing.

Underwater Mode - underwater photography has it’s own unique set of exposure requirements

Beach Mode - another bright scene mode

Indoor Mode - helps with setting shutter speed and white balance

Foliage Mode - boosts saturation to give nice bold colors13.

New modes are being created on the line of Digital cameras coming soon. Use the modes, but practice, practice, practice with them, before you take your camera on a family trip or shoot a special event, like a birthday.

13. Exposure Settings
Once your child has a good grasp on the above techniques it might be time to teach them some basics of exposure (this might be one for slightly older kids). Learning about the three elements of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed are a useful place to start your lessons and giving them an introduction to how changing these settings can impact a photo.

The best way for them to learn this is by introducing them to Aperture and Shutter priority modes.

Aperture Priority AV or A

Shutter Priority AV or A


What do You Teach Your Children?
Of course deciding which of the above lessons for kids on photography to teach your child will depend upon their age and experience. Some are obviously more appropriate for some children than others. I’d be interested to hear what readers do when it comes to this topic? What have you taught your kids?

With my nephew (who is now 11 years old), I started him out young teaching him to become familiar with cameras - showing him images once they’ve been taken on the LCD, letting him look through the viewfinder and even pressing the shutter. This familiarization is really nothing more than that - but in doing so he’s becoming more comfortable with cameras - and I’ve noticed when I’m photographing him (which does happen a lot) he’s much more happy to pose for me.