Introduction To Photography For Kids

Photography is a really modern, cool kind of art.  Even a kid who isn’t into painting or drawing might get excited if you put a camera in his hands.

We’ll go through the history of photography and the camera, as well as look at some famous photographs.  Then we’ll do a simple activity to teach kids how to take a great picture.  Finally, kids who are interested might want to go on and do the 30 Day Photography Challenge.  We have a free printable with all the instructions you need.

History of Photography

Early photography was bulky, cumbersome, difficult, and expensive.  People who invested in it and became good at it made money doing it.  They opened photo studios in many towns and did portraits.  Most photography was done indoors because of the difficulty of hauling around the equipment.  A few photographers became famous for their work.  One of the earliest was Mathew Brady, also known as the father of photojournalism.

By Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Check out some Mathew Brady photos of the Civil War. Look through them and discuss what you see.

Aboard a U.S. Navy Warship during the Civil War. By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Union Soldier By Matthew Brady (Copy of original photo taken 150 years ago) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Abraham Lincoln by Matthew Brady. Library of Congress, American Memory Collection, Words and Deeds in American History, Civil War Photo Album ca. 1861-65 from the James Wadsworth Family Papers. Photographer: Matthew Brady

History of the Camera

Now learn more about the history of the camera.  George Eastman founded the Eastman Kodak Company and brought photography to the masses with his invention of roll film.  His life is fascinating and there are many children’s books on him.

By User ChiemseeMan on de.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Look at some art books of photography or even some of your favorite family photos.  What do you like about them?  What do you notice about the backgrounds, the lighting, the composition (where people and objects are positioned), and how close-up or far away objects are?

Ansel Adams, Famous Photographer

Ansel Adams is another famous American photographer.  His photographs of nature and grand views are unsurpassed even today.  His photos were instrumental in the formation of the National Parks.  When people saw the amazing natural beauty out west, they wanted it preserved for future generations.  Look at some Ansel Adams photography in art books from your library.

Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana. Ansel Adams [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photography Exploration


Let your kids take some photos of their own. Discuss these principles before they begin:

  • Light is very important.  The best light for photos is natural day light, overcast skies or a sunny day in the shade look best.  The light right next to a window indoors can be very good as well.
  • Try to avoid harsh shadows over people’s faces and don’t make them squint into the sun.
  • Get close up to your subject if you are photographing a person or animal.
  • Take lots and lots of pictures to get the one perfect shot. (Thank goodness for digital!)
  • Be careful of what is in the background of your photo.  A cute red wagon with a background of concrete and a trash can is not attractive.  Also make sure that the background doesn’t interfere with the subject of the photo – for example, a tree that appears to be growing out of someone’s head is distracting.
  • After you get one or a few great shots, print them out and frame them or make a collage.  Photography is art.

30 Day Photography Challenge For Kids

For kids who are interested in learning some basic photography skills, they can take this 30 Day Photography Challenge.  There are assignments for each of the 30 days with specific things to photograph.  Click here or on the picture to get the free printable.

Additional Layers:

  • The Impressionist movement of painting was a response to photography.  Photos were far more realistic than anything an artist could produce, so instead of realism in art they worked on moods and light and capturing essences that a photo could not.  Look at Impressionist paintings and learn more about them.
  • Experiment with photographic paper.  What happens to it in the light?  Try leaving pieces out for different amounts of time, from a few seconds to many minutes and in different light levels.  Learn more about the chemicals that respond to light.
  • After looking at Brady’s photos, you can jump into books on the civil wear to learn more.
  • After looking at Ansel Adams’ photos, a study of the National Parks would be very interesting.  Check out the National Park website for kids.  Kids can sign up to be junior web rangers and complete many activities and earn badges all while learning more about the national parks.
  • Make a timeline of the history of photography.
  • National Geographic Photographers have some taken some of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating photos, check out some of them here.
  • Trick photography can be fascinating to kids, try the Klutz Tricky Pix book (affiliate link).

More From Layers of Learning

Layers of Learning Unit 4-5
Layers of Learning Unit 4-5 teaches about Impressionism and how it came about largely because of the invention of the camera.

Art Lesson Warm-Ups – Come see how we start every art lesson.

Explore color and the role it plays in art with this exploration. Also get a free printable color wheel.

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