I have vivid memories of my dad sharing his love of photography with me. The weight of this strange object in my hand the first time he brought out his old SLR is something I’ll never forget. It’s impossible to shake the smell of the chemicals when we set up a darkroom in a guest bathroom. Unfortunately, the bathroom was sorely lacking in ventilation. All great memories, if not flawless plans.

Photography is amazingly complex. You can spend a lifetime mastering it, but the fundamentals are easily accessible to young minds. In fact, kids have a luxury most adults have lost — an unconstrained view of the world.

This post is the first of a series offering ways to explore photography with your kids. You’ll be making memories, sharing skills, and teaching them a way to see the world. You’ll learn about their way of seeing the world too.

I’ll be doing these activities along with my daughter (age 7). I’ll let you know how it goes, and I look forward to hearing about your adventures too. Share images you’re making with your kids on Instagram with the tag #photofocusjr so we can see what you’re up to!

Today’s activity: Composition basics

Equipment

You’ll need some eyes, a curious mind, and any digital camera you can find. Your smartphone will work perfectly. A tablet will work as well. The large tablet screens are very helpful for composing an image. Just don’t use it to take pictures at your kid’s next dance recital. The audience behind you will not be happy.

Time

It just takes a minute or two to try this out. Or you can turn it into a longer activity. Do as little or as much as your kid finds fun.

Choose a subject

Take a walk outside. Find a quiet spot and ask your child to pick out a stationary object she’d like to photograph. A fire hydrant, a piece of playground equipment, a toy, a bike — you get the idea.

Ready for a closeup

Once she’s selected an object, take a photo. Then ask her to get a little closer, take a shot. Get even closer, take another shot. Repeat this a few times until the point where it becomes silly.

Discuss

Have a seat and take a look through the images. Ask some questions to get her talking and thinking about the shots.

  • Which photo does she like best? Why?
  • Which is her least favorite? Why?
  • Which photo best captures the object?
  • Which photo is better at capturing the whole scene?
  • Which photo makes the object look interesting and important?
  • Which makes it look boring and unimportant?
  • Which photo makes it look silly, or even unrecognizable?

You can do this with a few different objects. Or take turns — after she’s taken a few images, take a few yourself and have the same conversation.

Here you’re getting the basic idea of ‘reduce and simplify.’ It’s a key concept in image composition. It sounds really easy, but it’s something plenty of photographers (of any age) struggle with when they’re getting started.

My daughter's results from our first lesson on image composition.

My daughter’s results from our first lesson on image composition.

We both thought her image showing only the kickstand was a winner. It creates a mystery because it’s not immediately clear what exactly you’re looking at.

Recap

That’s it for lesson 1! It’s a simple introduction to what can be an increasingly complicated concept as you keep exploring together. Keep it light and simple and quick — move on to something else when she’s getting bored. No need to make it feel like homework!

Remember, photography doesn’t have to be technically intimidating. The core ideas are accessible to anyone. Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to see your results — tag #photofocusjr if you’re posting on Instagram and I’ll keep an eye out for your experiments!