Monday, July 22, 2019

Photo Pedagogy for Kids

Inspired/motivated by some things A.D. Coleman wrote on his blog, I decided that I ought to take a whack at teaching my kids some visual literacy stuff. I have a 9 year old, and a 6 year old.

I am starting with the older one.

First thing I showed her was this bad boy:

Which blew her mind, and then we talked about how a photograph is just a piece of the world, stuff gets left out, and sometimes that stuff matters.

Next up (the next day) I took a couple more or less identical photos with the focus point set on different objects. In one this thing is in focus, and that is blurry. In the other, this thing is blurry, and that is sharp. Then we talked about what you're "supposed to look at" in these two pictures. Again, she got it easily, and I think she learned a little something about how the photographer can manipulate your attention.

This led into a discussion that kind of stretched my mind out a bit. It occurred to me that it's probably not obvious to a kid that there's a plane (more or less) at a certain distance from the camera that's in focus. Why not a sphere? Why not a a blob that's all sharp? Well, you and I know the answer is something something optics shut up kid but anyways I laid that out for her. She did not ask, to be clear, but I realized that this was a point worth making explicit.

The next lesson was manually focusing a lens on my camera, using the built-in rangefinder thingy (it's just arrows that say "turn it this way" and "turn it the other way" with a little "nailed it" indicator), and the ability to move the point where it's focusing ON around.

So now, I think, she has a rough grasp of what focus is, and what focus can do.

Next up, a very short sketch of depth of field, and I'll have her take some pictures.

I had a discussion with my sister-in-law who spent many years teaching photography and media literacy to kids, and she feels that hands-on is very important. So, we're going to experiment with that.


  1. I like that selective focus teaching point. Easy to forget that it's not obviously understood or even noticed even though it is probably used in advertising all the time.

    There are so many other ways we could teach ourselves how we're affected by some things. I'd like to have access to a film in a way that I could turn off the music sound track and only hear the dialogue. I know the music manipulates me, but I'd like to experience not being manipulated.

    I did something analogous once. Forty years ago, I was an occasional NFL fan and would catch parts of some games on TV, but the announcers annoyed me almost as much as the constant noise of the stadium crowd. So I turned off the sound and just watched the athletes. Totally different experience, relying on what I was looking at rather than being told what I just saw.

    Btw, it has always been my belief that the stadium crowd din on the telecast is phoney. It seems all too constant and steady to me, too much like a sitcom laugh track. I can't believe that the networks can't put their announcers in sound-proof broadcast booths.

  2. That must be fun to do. It’s funny how having to teach or mentor someone else forces you to evaluate your own understanding of a topic.
    BTW, can you recommend anything to help understand ‘reading’ images/paintings for adults who don’t have a background in fine arts? I found a paper on semiotics online, but it’s a bit theoretical and is more like a review of theories and their progression over time. Not sure if semiotics is the right path.
    Not THAT Ross Cameron

    1. I do not! The system I use is derived from John Berger and consists of looking hard at the picture and thinking for a while! provides a useful counterpoint, maybe? They look and think, but not effectively, because they seem unable to imagine a world view other than their own.

    2. Many thanks,
      One needs to start somewhere, so I’m happy to take suggestions. Appreciate different points of view, given interpretation has a fair dose of subjectivity to it.
      Not THAT Ross Cameron