Keep the kids – and yourself – entertained this summer with our round-up of creative projects that the whole family can enjoy
Are the kids getting bored with the long summer holidays? Ben Pitt has some great creative ideas for budding photographers
THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS: six long weeks of fun and relaxation. That’s the theory, at least. In practice, the kids are bored by 1st August and climbing the walls a week later.
There’s no need to buy them off with expensive trips or to park them in front of the TV or games console. The creative photography projects described on these pages are mostly free, will provide many hours of fun and may just spark their interest in a new hobby. Older children may prefer to do them with friends, while those with younger kids, grandchildren, nieces or nephews can enjoy them together as a family.
You could complete these activities with any camera or smartphone, but giving children a proper camera to use will encourage them to take care over their shots – and hopefully take care of the camera, too. Virtually all cameras come with a wrist or neck strap, so if you haven’t attached one to your camera, see if you can find it in the camera packaging or buy one from a camera shop for a few pounds. Make sure that children understand not to touch the lens, and the need to hold the camera really still when taking a photo. For younger children, a rugged camera might be a shrewd investment.
Consider setting the camera to shutter priority mode and picking a fast shutter speed (such as 1/250s) to minimise blur due to camera shake. This probably won’t be practical in low light, as images will end up being dark or grainy. Otherwise, don’t get bogged down in camera settings. Every camera has an automatic mode, so keep things simple and let the children concentrate on having fun. Let them take as many pictures as they want, congratulate them on their best shots and explain why you like them. As with photographers of any age, the best education is to get stuck in.
PHOTO SCAVENGER HUNT
Virtually all children enjoy being creative, and for those who aren’t tempted, the competitive nature of this project might pique their interest.
A scavenger hunt involves collecting various miscellaneous objects from a list.
Every camera has an automatic mode, so keep things simple and let the children concentrate on having fun
A photo scavenger hunt simply means they need to collect pictures rather than the objects themselves. That makes it easy to include a much wider range of objects of all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Examples might include the tallest tree you can find, a reflection, the moon, a tasty treat, a flag, something beginning with the letter Z or a symmetrical leaf. You could also include people and activities: a baby laughing, someone fast asleep, the longest conga line. You might like to include things that are specific to your local area, such as a photo of the oldest person you can find in your neighbourhood, or the smallest book in your local library. It’s a chance to encourage children to visit places, meet people and do things that they might otherwise miss out on.
If you want to make your photo scavenger hunt a bit more sophisticated, you could rank challenges by difficulty and award more points for the harder ones. You could even hook up with your local community group, youth club or local Facebook page to share the challenge with all the young people in your neighbourhood. Photo entries could be shared as an album on Instagram, Flickr or any other photo-sharing platform and submitted as a link. If you (or your local community organisation) is feeling generous, there could even be a prize for the highestscoring submission.
If prizes are involved, you may need to ensure the submissions have been captured with a camera rather than a Google image search. It’s usually pretty obvious, but to be sure you could insist that entries are via Flickr only, and check the camera metadata to see that all photos were shot with the same camera on a date since the competition was launched. Flickr accounts are available to children aged 13 and over, so younger children will need an adult to submit images for them.
PHOTO CLUE GAME
Here’s another game you can play with a camera, but this time the kids get to set challenges for the grown-ups – or each other.
Photos are taken around the local neighbourhood, with just enough information for people to figure out where they were taken. That might mean a close-up detail of an easily recognisable landmark, the exterior of a distinctive house, inside a public building, part of a shop sign, or perhaps a shot of the countryside or park that people should recognise but may struggle to pinpoint.
A similar game involves selecting some familiar household objects and taking photos of them either as extreme close-ups, at unusual angles or partially concealed, and asking people to identify them. You don’t necessarily need a specialist macro lens.
Compact cameras usually have a macro function that delivers great results. If you’re using an SLR or mirrorless camera, zoom right in and move the camera to find the closest position that the lens will successfully focus. It’s usually about 30cm for a kit lens. It’s much easier to get sharp macro photos with the help of a tripod, so show children how to use one and how to select which part of the scene to focus on.
Once again, these challenges can be shared with friends, family and the local community via social media.
A photo A to Z is a popular challenge for photography enthusiasts of all ages, and it’s one that children can really get absorbed in. Our alphabet is a collection of simple shapes, and these shapes appear dotted throughout the natural and man-made world. Some letters, such as O, I and L are relatively easy. Others, such as Q, Z and R might be a little trickier, but it’s part of the fun to be inventive – perhaps lining up two or more objects to complete the shape.
Children will get a sense of achievement from completing the entire alphabet, and it will look great when printed out as a collage of images. If the kids have gone to all the effort of making it, you could reward them with a big print for their bedroom. Online printing services such as Photobox or Instantprint offer poster printing for around £10 plus delivery.
If all 26 letters seem too much, they could just go for the letters in their name to create a sign for their bedroom door.
PICK A COLOUR
This is another project that’s by no means limited to children, and it’s more artistic than the others we’ve covered so far.
Choose a single colour and spend a week looking out for photo opportunities where that colour dominates the frame. It’s a simple way to create a coherent theme across a collection of photos. It should also encourage young photographers to be always on the lookout for photo opportunities, and to think creatively about how they frame their shots. What’s the best way to ensure that one
colour dominates and isn’t distracted by other colours in the background? Does a photo need to show a subject in the same way that people normally see it, or are there other angles that are more interesting?
For older children, this project provides a superb introduction to Raw image processing. Switch the camera to Raw mode, import the shots into editing software such as Lightroom, and they will be able to adjust White Balance, Vibrance and Saturation controls to bring out the colours. Meanwhile, Lightroom’s Hue/ Saturation/Luminance (HSL) controls allow specific hues to be adjusted independently; for example, to make the greens look lush and vibrant while suppressing other colours.
CREATE A PICTURE BOOK
From Lego to action figures to dolls’ houses, lots of toys are designed to let children create make-believe worlds and act out stories. Add a camera to the mix and you can help them record and savour these stories, and let you in on their imagination.
At its simplest, creating a tableau scene with a collection of toys can be a fun project in itself. This will allow younger children to engage in the process of creating a photographic composition, and understand how the camera can adopt a different perspective to what they see with their own eyes. For example, getting down to the same level as the toys will make them seem more real than an aerial shot. They may need a mini tripod to position the camera precisely, but failing that, a small pile of books should do the trick.
This project could be developed into a picture book, with a series of photos that tell a story. You could even use a photo-book printing service to turn it into a real hardback book. It’s a great reward for their work, and something you can all treasure for years to come.
To take it even further, why not have a go at stop-motion animation using a phone or tablet and dedicated stop-motion app? We covered this topic back in Multimedia Expert, Shopper 304, and we hope to revisit it again soon.
A great example of photo story-telling is the viral sensation that is Dinovember. It began as a bit of fun for a family in Kansas, where Refe and Susan Tuma would create funny scenes using their children’s toy dinosaurs to suggest they had come alive each night throughout November. This caught the public’s imagination, and Dinovember has spawned books, T-shirts and countless websites with other people getting in on the act.
BRING VEGETABLES TO LIFE
Here’s an idea that could get children away from their screens, doing something creative and perhaps even eating more healthily, too.
Fruit and vegetables come in all sorts of interesting shapes, colours and textures. These can form a rich palette of material for
creating collages. Faces are the obvious subject matter. You might start with tomato slices and a carrot for eyes and a nose, runner beans for lips and pak choi for hair. How about picking fruit and veg to create a portrait of a particular person? Perhaps Mum needs grapes for eyes and chilli lips, Dad has a nose like a strawberry, and Grandma’s hair resembles florets of cauliflower.
Creating flat images on a table or plate is easiest, but you could alternatively use cocktail sticks to make fruit and vegetable people that can stand up. Throw in some googly eyes, sunglasses or jewellery to complete the look.
It’s more of a sculptural than a photographic project, but don’t forget to take a picture of your creations at the end to share with others. And don’t forget to eat it all up once you’re finished.
This one is similar to the A to Z challenge, but rather than look for letters of the alphabet in everyday objects, the task is to spot things that resemble faces. This is a great pastime in its own right; taking a photo just means you have a chance to share your discoveries.
The best thing about these faces is that they’re often full of character. Their wonkiness, spaced-out eyes or enormous mouth tells a little story in each shot. I fondly remember the one-eyed gormless robots on the handrails of the 341 bus that ran past my old house, but since I’ve moved and didn’t get a picture, you’ll have to take my word for it. Coat hooks on doors that resemble an inebriated octopus have become an internet meme. Search for “drunk octopus” and you’ll not only find lots of examples, but a range of T-shirts and even
tattoos inspired by the image. While you’re there, search for “faces in things” for a wealth of hilarious inspiration.
This is more of a technical challenge, but it’s a good opportunity for children to work on their photographic technique. Sometimes known as forced perspective, this is an optical illusion whereby two parts of the scene are carefully positioned so they appear to interact, even though one is much further away than the other.
Our shot of a girl picking up her big brother with two fingers is a classic example, but search photo-sharing sites or Google images for “forced perspective” and you’ll find lots of other examples, such as people trapped inside bottles or drinking from waterfalls. If you’re shooting with a large-sensor camera, such as an SLR or mirrorless camera, it may be necessary to set it to aperture priority and select a small aperture such as f/11 or higher so that the whole scene is in focus. This may result in a noisy or underexposed image when shooting in low light, but it shouldn’t cause any problems when shooting outdoors during the day. However, try to avoid direct sunlight if the resulting shadows are likely to spoil the illusion. It may be helpful to use a tripod to help line up your subjects, but in practice it’s often easier to make subtle adjustments by shooting handheld rather than asking your subject to move.
If all else fails, just hand over the camera and let the kids do their thing. Most children really enjoy family gatherings such as birthdays and weddings, but it usually gets to a point where it’s better for everyone to give them something to do. Appointing them official photographer not only keeps them busy, but it gives them a chance to practise a new skill. It also provides a set of photos that you probably wouldn’t get by any other means.
People tend to be happier posing for children than they are for adults, and there’s nearly always a sense of fun and adventure to any budding young photographer’s photo reel. The most important tip here to share with children is to make sure that people’s heads aren’t cropped off. Otherwise, just let them get stuck in.
⬆ Do you know where this shot was taken?
⬆ Challenge the kids to find photos where a single colour dominates the frame
➡ Dinovember is the family photo project that became a publishing sensation
⬆ Things take a turn for the worse in The Tale of the Haunted Doll’s House
➡ Would they rather photograph their greens than eat them?
⬆ Search Google for “faces in things” for some comic inspiration
⬆ It’s such a friendly looking toilet, it seems a shame to use it
⬆ Everyday objects can be arranged to look like a funny face sucking a lollipop
⬆ ➡ Trick shots are great for capturing children’s imaginations