Teaching Children about Self Expression through Documentary Photography | Fearless and Framed

Teaching Children about Self Expression through Documentary Photography

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. They say you can learn a lot about someone by what they photograph. They also say that everyone has their own unique perspective.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’m a documentary photographer. I’m also a mom of three kids. I love both jobs immensely. I spend the majority of my time with my kids, and a fair amount of that time is spent with a camera in my hand.

The thing I love the most about photography is that it’s art. There’s no right or wrong in art.

My images tell a story from my perspective.

Photography is as much about the photographer as it is about the subject.

I decide what I want to say by choosing my subject, framing, exposure, editing, and so on. It’s my voice and perspective. That makes it unique. I just started my third 365 of my day to day life. I have a few self portraits in there, but my kids are my main subject matter. Having said that, I’d argue that I’m in every single image.

Something in each moment caught my attention and deserved acknowledgement. Some are big milestones, some are mundane daily rituals, some are sad, some are hilarious.

I decided to teach my kids to shoot in manual. This was a win-win for me. It allowed me to bring my two great loves together in a new way. I spend the majority of my time with my kids, and a fair amount of that time was spent with a camera in my hand. I was there, they were there, the camera was there. Seemed logical to explain what I was doing and how I was doing it. Teachable moment including science and art – BIG parenting win.

Pin this to bookmark tips teaching children about photography:

They pick up on the technical side pretty quickly. You just have to break it down into little bites.

Before you even put a camera in their hand, teach them about light and develop their eye for it. Point out different types of light. You need to understand different qualities of light to understand exposing an image. As important as light, they need to learn about shadow. I showed them how different our kitchen looked in morning light vs. evening light. Flat light, directional light, full sun, dappled light, rim light, backlighting – I filled their little brains with as much info as I could about light. It worked, they started reading light. It is safe to say, my kid was the only first grader who noticed the beautiful warm light streaming through the window in the school lunchroom. He would also come home and tell me that the fluorescent light in his classroom was “garbage light.” When you can identify good light, it is easier to take a good photograph. I found it very interesting that when they were looking for light, they would pick up on details out in the world that they wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. They graduated to cameras when they started to say, “Ohh look at that light! Mom, you should take a picture.” No, kiddo. You take the picture, you saw the light first.

When it comes to gear, don’t be afraid to let them use it. I know it is expensive and kids tend to have accidents. But if your kids are anything like mine, they will know how important your gear is to you, and they will treat it with respect. Give them the old superhero credo. “With great power comes great responsibility.” (It doesn’t hurt to have your gear insured.) Also, I didn’t want to create the mentality that my husband has toward my gear. He is intimidated by it and doesn’t even want to be responsible for holding it.


 Jack – age 11

Jack is my oldest and the first one that I taught to shoot. He has range. He is both an emotional and a very matter of fact shooter. He captured a photo of me that literally took my breath away on the day we decided to put our old dog down. He isn’t afraid to pull a camera out in a moment of sadness. He is also a technology junkie. I got a DJI Mavic drone for Christmas – a real deal, expensive drone. “Mom, can I fly it?” Yep. The ideas he comes up with are things that would never cross my mind. I taught Jack to shoot on a Nikon D7100. He picked it up very quickly. He understands the exposure triangle and how each element affects the others. He is my most technical shooter. He is a first born, type A child, that wants to do it right, or not do it at all. He makes sure he is happy with his composition and exposure before he even thinks about pressing the shutter, very controlled. The kid has some serious talent.

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 Kate – age 9

Kate is my middle child. I am her mother, so naturally, she doesn’t listen to me. She is hell bent on doing things her own way. She is her mother’s daughter. I taught Kate to shoot on my Sony a7ii – a mirrorless camera. It has an electronic viewfinder and LCD that shows you in live view what every adjustment you make to your settings does to your image. She is into instant gratification. The only advice she will take from me is to find an aperture you like and stick with it. She is an f/4 girl. It’s her jam. That only leaves two other variables to play with. She understands shutter speed and knows to crank her ISO if she needs more light. I hand over the camera and shut my mouth. This child was made for the digital photography age. She will use every little bit of space she’s got on a memory card. I am mindful to not put the 256 GB card in when she is shooting. She is my most artistic shooter. She is willing to break the traditional photography rules, to “make it prettier” or do it her way. Not surprisingly, she is drawn to deep shadows and moodier looking images.

 Sam – age 7

Ahhh…Sammy. He is the youngest. At first, he seemed to be interested in photography as a way to understand me. He knows I love it, therefore he wanted to understand it. Now, I think he loves the ability to document things that he is interested in. He loves to go on photo walks with me and compare what each of us shot. He also loves to “find beautiful things” and shoot our dog, Gus. I find his perspective very refreshing and interesting, partly because his height puts him on a different plane than I am on. He sees things I completely miss. His perspective is also interesting because of his age. He views the world very differently than I do. His innocence and lack of life experience make everything relatively new and amazing. I taught Sam to shoot on my Nikon D7100 and my Sony a7ii. He is a total chimper – he likes to check the image after he takes it to make sure he is happy with what he shot. Watching Sam edit is hysterical. He is a seven year old boy, so the humor in making people turn green, and the sky turn purple is not lost on him.

Pro tip: if you are going to let your 7 year old edit on your computer unsupervised, create a new Lightroom catalog for them. They can’t do any damage in their own catalog.

Teaching my kids about photography has been quite rewarding for me. I’ve exposed them to something that I am passionate about. I’ve had a lot of fun teaching them the technical aspects of something I love. I’ve taught them to look for the beauty in this world. But most importantly, it has given me some insight as to what makes them tick. It helps me understand their perspective. From how they shoot, I get to see each of their personalities shine through. From what they shoot, I get to see what is interesting and important to them. I get to see their childhood thru their lens. They love it, I love it. Everybody wins.

Photography and writing contributed by Rebecca Waldock.

About Rebecca Waldock: I’m a documentary photographer.  I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, with my husband, John, my 3 kids – Jack, Kate, and Sam, and our goldendoodle, Gus. There is never a dull moment at the Waldock house.  Between school, sports, kid shenanigans, and dog shenanigans, my life is very full.  I religiously follow my family with my camera.  I am currently shooting my third consecutive 365 project.   I take on very few business projects. Instagram // Facebook 



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