Teaching Kids Film Photography

A Camera Walk with Charlie

Two months ago at church camp I talked about photography with some kids at our annual church camp.  Last week a friend from church asked if I could show her 10 year old daughter how to take photos.  Definitely.

Student Camera:  Ricoh KR-5

For practice I loaded some Fuji ASA 200 speed film into a Ricoh KR-5 that I had never tested.  It’s a manually controlled SLR from about 1980 that has an electronic shutter.  I’ve always liked the few Ricoh cameras I have owned and wanted my young photographer friend to test it.  Image below courtesy of Classic Cameras.

My student was testing the Ricoh KR-5 while I was testing an Olympus LT-1 (a pretty camera related to the Olympus Stylus Epic).  That’s my only regret on this walk.  I should have taken two tested cameras that would give us solid results.  Here’s hoping the untested Ricoh KR-5 worked fine.  (I am awaiting my student’s developed photos.  When I have them, I’ll insert a few into this blog post.)

Shooting Film at Portage Park in Chicago, IL

I chose Portage Park at 6 PM on a summer evening for our photography walk.  I estimated 60 minutes or so with the sun setting lower in the horizon would give us some better colors.  As I have learned, mid-day photos are more difficult and yield harsher lighting.

Teaching a 10 Year Old Film Photography

I wonder if I taught my young student or if she taught me.

Charlie had taken a film course with disposable cameras at some school but I thought I would give her my discussion on cameras.  Driving to Portage Park I talked to her in the car about types of film, aperture, and shutter speed.  I taught how we squint when it’s bright outside (small aperture) and we open our eyes wide in the dark (wide aperture, slow shutter speed).  My student listened politely.  Finally I said, we’ll just practice at the park.

My Camera Stroll with a 10 Year Old

We began from the SE corner of Portage Park (Chicago, IL).  By Chicago standards, the park is one square mile of nicely maintained amenities (baseball fields, huge swimming pool, gardens, and field house).  We discussed what direction to take for our walk.  We chose to walk NW onto the path directly into the park.  Good choice (more photo opportunities, no car traffic).

The First Photo – A Park Bench

I started my student with photographing a park bench.  We sat in the grass (to be steady and out of the way of pedestrians).  I taught her how to hold this camera, how to focus, how to use the aperture/shutter speed so that the light meter worked correctly.

She took her first photo with the Ricoh camera.

My Student Wanted to Photograph the Gardens

Charlie did exactly as my wife and I had done on a previous camera stroll.  There are gardens along Irving Avenue in Portage Park.  She took her 2nd photo near the entrance of the garden.

Ricoh KR-5, Portage Park Garden Entrance

I’m sure I mentioned focus, aperture, and shutter speed again to my student.

Third Photo – A Young Couple Sitting on a Park Bench

I saw two young people sitting on a bench on the edge of the garden.  I purposely thought this would be a great time to show Charlie how to engage people and ask them for a photo (I learned this from my Dad 5 decades ago, Nevada Wier the world-class photographer taught it to me for cameras last year.  Thanks Dad, thanks Nevada.)

Lukas and Anna were sitting on a bench.  Lukas had a Minolta SRT-102 camera with him.  Both Lukas and Anna were very kind in letting my student take their photograph.  I chatted for a minute or so while my student became comfortable standing in front of the young couple and took a photo or two.

Ricoh KR-5, Charlie - August 2013 - Portage Park - 3rd Photo, Lukas and Anna

My 10-year-old student took the photo, we said thank you to Lukas and Anna, and we continued our photographic stroll.

As we walked away from the couple, I reminded my student that since she’s a youngster, she should only ask for a stranger’s photo when accompanied by her parents (or perhaps me).  I don’t advise we encourage children to take photos of strangers without a parent or trusted adult.

A Child’s Photographic Advice:  ”I Do 1-2-3″

Charlie simplified my focusing, aperture, and shutter speed advice into something incredibly simple.  After listening to my talk about aperture, shutter, and focus for perhaps the 3rd time she said.

I just do 1-2-3.  Focus, aperture, shutter speed.

Working from the outside to the inside, she chose to focus the camera first, set the aperture second, and then set the shutter speed if needed.  She didn’t mention the light meter, that was already part of her thinking.  Here’s a dazzling close-up photo of a wild flower in the Portage Park garden.  Give Charlie credit for seeing the beauty of this flower, perfect focus, and a great close-up macro lens on this Ricoh KR-5.  You wish your nature photos were this good.

Ricoh KR-5, Charlie - August 2013 - Portage Park, Wildflower

As I said, the student did some teaching on this photography walk.

Camera Shake and Taking a Better Stance

The Ricoh KR-5 is solid and perhaps a bit too heavy for a 10-year-old.  I saw my young friend swaying as she took a photo and I encouraged her to take a better stance when taking photographs.  Notice how she has a balanced stance while her left hand supports the camera and her right hand works the aperture settings.  She’s a natural photographer.

Olympus LT-1, August 2013, Charlie 4

The Student Preferred Nature, I Prefer People

Charlie likes photographing nature scenes.  But we kept walking through the park and I encouraged her to take photos of some boys in football uniforms.  I just wanted her to seek out photographic variety.

Ricoh KR-5 Charlie - August 2013 - Portage Park Tiny Football Players - Pixlr

Teach Kids to Engage and Ask for a Photograph

By the dog park, my student beat me to it.  She walked up to a lady with a big bulldog and asked to take her photo.  The lady smiled and said, “Yes.”

(Again, special thanks to my Dad for teaching me how to talk to strangers 50 years ago watching soccer players in Chicago’s Winnemac Park.  And thanks to Nevada Wier the photographer for teaching me how to photograph people in a straightforward manner with a few kind words and a smile.)

The student sat down on the sidewalk and took a close-up of a bulldog from 3 feet.  When’s the last time you sat 3 feet in front of a strange bulldog and took a photo?  I found myself wondering how good this young lady might become at photography.

Ricoh KR-5, Charlie - August 2013 - Portage Park, Bulldog

Summary – Teaching a Child Film Photography

Keep it simple as 1-2-3 (focus, aperture, and shutter).  Teach how to photograph nature, sports, and above all, people.

And if you’re very lucky, the student photographer will teach the teacher something about photography and photographic courage.  Teach a child photography today.  Thanks to Charlie and her parents for permission to publish her photos in this blog and on Flickr.


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