Early Photography Lessons and My Choice for Your Kid’s First Camera

I mentioned yesterday that Eva has been taking photos with her new Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 instant camera. If you’re not familiar, these cameras are candy cute and they look a lot like toys so you might think that we just picked it out for her because we knew it would be a darling accessory (which it is) and that she’d be adorable carrying it around (which she is). However, I actually did a lot of research about which camera to start with to get Eva into photography and I gave myself a pretty high budget ($500) only to come back to this moderately priced film camera. So why not a digital camera, a traditional point-and-shoot, a camera marketed to kids, or a low tier SLR (single-lens reflex) camera so she could play with all the bells and whistles?

I feel like it makes sense to start with an Instax for these reasons:

1 /// You can’t zoom in/out or adjust the crop after the fact, which forces you to compose your photo in the viewfinder before you take the picture.

2 /// You are responsible for adjusting the camera settings to fit the light, but there’s only one adjustment you can make so it isn’t overwhelming. There’s a set of pictures and a light pops up to suggest which picture you should choose to set the camera to that amount of light – easy for kids to understand but still technically a more advanced step than just tapping the screen of an iPhone to adjust the light/focus before you hit the button.

3 /// The camera is light but large and it’s easy to feel the different parts of the camera without looking – important when you’re working on how to hold a camera and not obstructing the lens with your finger.

4 /// You can see the photo you took in minutes and reshoot on the spot to try to correct photos that don’t turn out.

5 /// Using film is a natural restriction that forces you to work for a good photo instead of taking a hundred quick shots and choosing the best one.

Now, you can definitely disagree with me here because Instax cameras have an ongoing film cost which may add up quickly if your shutterbug likes to document all the things and even the best photographers can’t overcome the natural lack of definition and “true color” that comes with instant photos. That being said, I think learning the process is important and jumping straight to digital images, filters, and photo correction apps will do for photography skills what the autocorrect function has done for spelling, punctation, and grammar. Start with the basics: light, composition, and process.


No matter what kind of camera your child starts with (but especially if he/she will be using film), light is the first thing you want to talk about. Explain that a photo is really just a picture of how much light hit the film or sensor at that time, so when you take a photo that has too much or too little light, you might not get much of a picture. We used this part of the photography lesson to talk about eyeballs and I showed Eva how our pupils get smaller or larger depending on how bright it is so that we can see and explained that a camera works the same way.

When she took a photo that was overexposed, I explained that it was like walking out into a sunny day after being in a dark room and that was why the photo didn’t match what she was seeing with her eyes.

She used that idea later when she was trying to shoot the sunset and waited until the sun was down so that it didn’t hurt “the eye” in her camera. A very basic understanding of how a camera works but I’m glad she’s thinking about it!

Eventually she got used to adjusting her camera settings even for the brightest of days and she was able to start capturing images that came out the way she wanted.


You might notice that her last image above is also much straighter than the original image. Composition is a tricky thing to learn because you need to make sure that what you’re seeing in the viewfinder is actually what you want to create, whereas our brains kind of fix the image for us and we don’t always see when things are crooked, cut off, or awkwardly placed. Eva’s first images all had a pretty big slant because of how she wanted to naturally hold the camera but she’s learned to recognize it and she’s working on it image by image.

We’re also working on the idea that you want to only capture what you really want to show people BUT that pictures can be a little more interesting if things are off center or if you have “good” negative space. For example, in the first image she wanted to take a picture of the image but she ended up with a fat uninteresting chunk of the stairwell that she was disappointed with, so she probably needed to walk down and get closer to cut that part of the picture out. In the second picture, she deliberately went with the rule of thirds to make the flower off center and she stood so that nothing was in the background beyond the bush. Sadly, the lack of detail and focusing problems that the Instax naturally has made the photo less than stellar but I was proud of her composition.


The process of taking a picture might seem so natural that you don’t even go over it the first time you’re letting your kid use a camera but just a run through of the basics is pretty important. Talk about taking your time to find the picture in the viewfinder, checking the settings, standing with your feet firmly placed so you don’t wiggle, and holding your breath for a second when you actually take the picture. You should also talk about basic camera care like not banging the camera against anything, keeping the strap tight enough that the camera doesn’t swing around, and not using grubby fingers to clean the lens. Those might seem like obvious things but if you’ve never held a camera before that’s all pretty important info!

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