The type of photography assignments or projects you give to your children will depend on their age and skill. A beginner or young learner might not be able to do more advanced projects, but something on this list should help them become more familiar with their camera and have fun while doing it. The ideas presented here can be adapted as you like to make them easier or harder for your child. These projects let kids learn through play and while they are intended for kids, grown-ups can get just as much enjoyment and practice from them as well.
Choose a color and look for only items of that color to photograph. This can be a great activity for younger kids who are just learning their colors. For an older student consider having them find not only one color, but complementary colors, analogous colors, and more. Color theory is important to the “art” aspect of photography. Have them choose a theme to go with the colors. They can photograph only “warm” colors or only “cool” colors, or find colors that remind them of an emotion like love or sadness. For more ideas on photography with color, check out our Color Theory Creativity Cards.
Choose a letter and find subjects that start with the letter. Stick with that one letter, or try making your way through all of the letters one by one. Students can also find subjects that match their initials or the letters of their name. Older students might enjoy trying to find objects that look like letters, for example a hula-hoop could be the letter “O.” Another option might be to arrange several examples of an item into a letter shape such as a bunch of acorns to make the shape of the letter “A.” Once they've collected enough photos of letters they can spell words and messages and even arrange a collage on a program like Photoshop or Publisher (see examples created by a 10-year-old student under the next section).
Pick a Theme
Select a topic or theme and photograph related objects. For example, you could use the theme soft and take photos of pillows, stuffed animals, squirrels in the yard, feathers, fluffy clouds in the sky, and more. You can select a theme for the day, or create a photography project over a week or a month where you take photos of the same object or subject or the same place every day at the same time, or over time. As an example, your student could take a photo of a flower through its life cycle, or the sunsets every night for a week. Some other possible themes could include reflections, clouds, trees, a pet, shadows, cars, bugs/insects, or even themselves!
A fun alternative on the theme is a “Day in the Life of…” Have your student document their entire day. They should set a timer on their phone (or yours) and take a photo every 30 minutes or every hour. The photo does not have to be of themselves. It might start with a photo of toothpaste or breakfast cereal, then something they see while walking the dog, etc. They can also photograph the “day” of someone else in the family, even a pet! This activity is best for weekends or other days away from school; however, if you check with your school they might be given special permission to document at school or even get a feature in the school yearbook.
There are a few simple “rules” of composition that even the youngest budding photographers can utilize. Showing them more than one composition method will allow them to vary their shots and expand their creativity. One such rule is the Rule of Thirds. Take a magazine or printed internet photo and draw a tic-tac-toe type set of lines on it with a marker. Have them take photos where the main subject is along any one of the lines (horizontal or vertical) or at the intersection of the lines. You can show them the photo here as an example.
Another simple composition rule is called fill the frame. This means exactly what it sounds like! Fill the frame with the subject. This can be fun for patterns, flowers, parts of vehicles like tires or tail lights, as well as for portraits of people and pets. The sort-of opposite composition method is called negative space. This means to leave empty space around the subject so the subject stands out. Have your student try both methods on the same subject to see which one works best.
Leading lines are another basic compositional tool. This one is a little more difficult so it might be better for older students. The idea is to look for “lines” that guide the viewer and lead the viewer into or around the frame. These lines might be subtle like a row of trees or fencing or it might be more obvious like a boardwalk heading out into the ocean. Once you start seeing leading lines you will see them everywhere! For example in the photo below there are many leading lines – the road, the rays of light, the railing, and more.
For more Composition Basics read our past blog post.
These Are A Few of My Favorite Things…
Create a list of favorites such as favorite snack, favorite toy, favorite color, favorite t-shirt and more. Then have your child photograph them one at a time, or as a set. Ask them to think of creative ways to display the item(s) so they aren’t just set out and photographed straight on. The reverse task can also be fun – photograph the things they don’t like. Don’t be surprised if they photograph things like dog poop, broccoli, and items used for household chores!
This project idea is best for older students especially those with an interest in portrait photography. Ask your student to take portraits of all members of the family including the family pets. There are different styles of portraits – headshots (professional and casual), partial body shots, full body shots and environmental portraits (the person in their element or with something that signifies an important aspect of their life/identity such as a football player on the field in uniform posed with the ball). You can have your student practice with different portrait styles. This can be a great time to introduce aperture priority mode for more advanced users. With wider apertures they can control the depth of field and work on getting the blurry background behind the subject. This is also a great time to warn your student about limb chopping. The general rule is if the part of the body bends (a joint), then don’t crop there. Remind them as they practice not to cut off feet or tops of heads and to move with their feet to get the best framing and angles. A cheat sheet like the one below can be helpful.
Wildlife is everywhere! Wildlife photos don’t have to be exotic or hard to find creatures like lions or eagles. It can be cats, dogs, insects, lizards, squirrels or anything else you can find in your yard or local community. If you live near a farm perhaps you can get photos of cows or horses. If you live near a zoo or aquarium your student can practice at those locations as well. Just be aware that zoos and aquariums may have some aspects that can be challenging such as wire fencing, reflective glass, and long distances between you and the subject. Some animals are also a challenge because they are fast moving. This can be a great opportunity for advanced learners to practice with shutter priority mode and dialing in a faster shutter speed to freeze the animal’s movements. Once they have a collection of photos of “wild things” ask your student to make a slide show or display of their images.
Advanced learners might appreciate some tasks related to different lighting styles such as high key, low key, or backlighting. Backlight is when the main light is behind the subject. A backlight during “golden hour” creates a nice glow behind the subject. Golden hour is the hour before sunset. Getting the correct exposure on the subject can be tricky which is why this is better for older learners. Have the person face away from the light so the light is behind them. Expose for the subject (focus on their face) to get the glow behind them. If you expose for the sky (focus on the sky) you can create silhouettes.
Low key and high key lighting are lighting styles used for dramatic effect. If you’d like a project lesson using low key lighting, sign up for our newsletter and you will get a Boredom Buster lesson (part of which is shown below) that shows you how to accomplish the effect step by step.
Natural window light is another great type of lighting to work with. When the light is bouncing in (not streaming in directly) you get a nice, soft light that is still very bright. Position a subject – a product, food, toys, flowers, etc. – in the lit area and photograph from different angles. If the light is still too bright you can use white fabric (a sheet or shower curtain) in the window to diffuse the light a bit more. Or use the bright light as is to make big shadows and create drama.
A photography scavenger hunt can be great fun especially when there are multiple students involved. You don’t even need to create a hunt – we made one for you (and a video to go with it). Most of the items on our hunt can be found around the house or yard. Our hunt includes a picture cue version for the youngest and can be used as a hunt for all items or like a BINGO game. The scavenger hunt can be used individually, in teams, as a cooperative or competitive activity and it can be used over and over (as an added challenge tell the participants to use new photos and ideas each time).
Perspective and Forced Perspective
Beginner photographers often take all of their photos from eye level – and all the same direction and from the same viewpoint. Encourage your student to try other perspectives such as from up above (bird’s eye view) or down below, even lying on the ground (worm’s eye view). Have them move around a subject and shoot from different angles and sides. Move those feet!
Once they get the hang of changing perspectives have them try using Forced Perspective. Forced perspective requires the photographer to use two subjects of vastly different sizes, yet photograph them from an angle or perspective that forces the viewer to “see” them as the same size. For some great examples, check out this site and see the photo below.
Blogging / Art Show
Once your student has a collection of photos encourage them to share their talents. While social media can be a place to do this, I personally am not a fan or encouraging young artists to share on social media, or use social media at all. The last thing we want is a budding photographer to feel like a failure or give up because a photo they posted didn’t get any likes or “enough” likes (what is enough likes anyway?). Instead, I suggest you encourage your student to set up an online gallery or art show through a free service like Weebly or Wix. If your child also likes to write you could help them set up a photography blog (there are lots of free options) where they write about the images they took – how they took the photo, why they took the photo, where they were, and more. These options give them a record of their learning and are much more professional outlets for their creativity that can still be shared to friends and family without the negativity that can be experienced other places online.
I could have posted a bunch of other ideas for photography projects, but I will save those for another time so this blog post doesn’t get overwhelming long! Hopefully these ideas will get your child’s creative juices flowing and give them some parameters for their photography practice times. Remember that you can adjust the projects as needed depending on your student’s level and maturity. It is worth reiterating one more time that the key with any of these projects is to keep it fun and enjoyable. If you participate alongside your student as they learn you will also get some great quality time together!