By Barbara Leatham
I've been a professional photographer for about 20 years and I think it has helped me to see the world as a constant sense of wonder, of moments to capture and hold on to. So I suppose it's not very surprising with my passion for the subject that my children have grown up to have a keen interest in photography too.
As a parent I've found it's been an amazing way to visualise how my children see their world, I started to understand what was important or interesting to them and I believe it has helped them be more creative and expressive; their images start to show their personalities in little ways I wouldn't have expected.
So what makes it good for our children?
It's a wonderful way for them to express themselves. Creativity is a part of life, it helps us widen our imagination and prepares us for a world that is full of endless possibilities.
You can't really go wrong with taking a photo as an art form.
If children use it to record day-to-day things it helps with memory building.
Documenting the images in a journal also builds organisational skills. It encourages descriptive writing and if they like to make scrap books, it gives a new medium to their art.
Here are my top tips for allowing children to get creative with their cameras:
1. Don't spend too much
Buy an inexpensive compact camera that offers a decent megapixel. (You can get an 8-10MP for about £30 from supermarkets.) These are better than the cameras that are aimed at little ones, and when they aren't too expensive you won't have a heart attack if they get accidently dropped. They will also have lots of features that your kids can learn to use as they grow older, but using it first on auto will be fine while they learn just to see with a camera. And if you are buying for Christmas, remember you'll need batteries and an SD card. I suggest a 4GB card is more than enough.
When you do the settings on the camera, make sure they are set to large/fine jpg - it means that when you go to print the images they will be nice quality
Take your child/ren out once a month if you can, to somewhere you love, or somewhere new; and take your camera too so you can be creative as well as capturing them as they explore their world. Remember to get them to take their camera when you go visiting family and friends too. You'll be surprised how reluctant family members are suddenly happy to stand and pose for a child.
4. Get creative
While you are out, get them to create/make something and then help them to take a photographic record of it for themselves. It can be anything, something decorative with leaves twigs or flowers. Balancing pebbles on a beach, even making a den in the woods.
5. Be the model
Allow your child/ren to take photos of you! It's good for everyone. Before you start thinking, oh I hate my photo being taken... remember that they see you first thing in the morning when you're not looking your very best, and they don't care; children do not judge you, they just love you. We parents won't be around forever and it's important for your children to have memories of you and with you; it's even better for them if they have created those memories themselves. When you are the one always taking the photo a year can pass by and there will be no record of you being there. Remember, the photos are for the child/ren - this is about them.
You've had an amazing day and there are lots of pictures. Download all images to your computer and back them up. Don't lose any; my two get very upset if I lose any.
7. Embed the memory
Look at and talk about the photos they have taken and make up stories about them. Recollect and embed the memory of the day and how much fun it was. You might not get their images when you see them, but this is their world and it's wonderful to look back on them after the year has passed and revisit all their adventures.
Print out some of their images for them to make art with. Montages, scrapbooks, photographic stories. Search online for lots of crafting ideas - You can always make (or purchase) a memory board and they can add their favourite pictures.
Upload the images to an online photography shop such as SnapFish or PhotoBox - at this time of the year they are always sending out amazing offers. This is also an excellent way to have additional back up of the images.
10. Make a monthly journal
If you go out every month you'll have enough images to make a photographic year journal. If you do this every year you'll see how their view on the world changes and how their photography skills improve. It's a wonderful journey.
11. Make a calendar
A year's worth of images allows for beautiful calendars that would make excellent gifts for family members, or Godparents - my family know they are going to get them every Christmas now, and they look forward to seeing the pictures.
12. Don't stop taking photos.
Finally, this is something that you can do too. Practicing photography is about learning how to see the world in new ways. It's a way to tell a story and capture an adventure, a memory, and a moment!