Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning Photography at a Young Age

This post is part of "Kids Week", running October 10-14 on the KEH Camera Blog
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I recently put out a call to photographers who got into photography at a young age and asked them a few questions about their experiences. I think we can all learn from reading other people's stories, and also gather ideas for how to get other youth involved. Also, I'll share a little bit of my own story at the end...


Elizabeth Grimsley- I've always loved taking pictures ever since I was little, but I officially learned how to do photography in 9th grade. I took the offered photography course taught by Peabody Award winner George Mitchell, and started learning on a Canon EOS film camera. I learned all of the techniques of film development, and then also learned digital photography on a Canon 5D. I continued to take photography all four years of high school and was taught by, what I think, was one of the best, most experienced teachers I could have had. 

George always entered our work in both local and national competitions. To get our work on the grid, he would help us fine-tune our skills and produce the best work possible. I won multiple honorable-mentions and a couple of first place prizes in those competitions.

Photo by Elizabeth Grimsley

I think teaching children to look at life through another set of eyes is a great way of broadening their horizons. If they can learn to think artistically and see a different view of the world, I think they can accomplish more than just with maths and sciences.
I still try and keep photography as a part of my daily life. I am currently in college studying journalism with a possible focus on photojournalism, so hopefully I can continue on with photography later on in life at a higher level as well.


Alex Mouganis- I’ve always been curious about what you can capture with a camera; I just didn’t know its potential until late high school. I remember going to Greece as a little kid. Maybe about 6  or 7 years old. My father had an older model film camera and when I asked my parents if I could have a camera too, they gave me a Kodak point and shoot disposable film camera. When you have a camera in your possession and are presented with something you’ve never seen before in person, your instinct is to snap a photo. I was constantly snapping away and my mother had to keep buying me more cameras. By the end of our trip, I had taken 500-600 photographs. No big deal now with digital cameras, but at that time for a film camera, it was pretty substantial. 

The most important thing I can suggest is to enable your children. I strongly believe that all children have a need to express themselves creatively. Why not see if that creative urge is with a camera? I’d suggest giving them something that is fully automatic. Only guide them enough to use the camera, and let them take care of the rest. Once they have taken a few photos, upload the pictures so they can see them in detail and see if they can pick out their favorite photographs. Once they do that, have some printed and display them around the house to remind them that what they have done is something special.


Robert Korn- I started photography in the 7th grade at 13 years old. My photography teacher (Mr. Queeno) had a Nikon FM I believe, I purchased a used Yashica TL-E as my first 35mm SLR.  It had a top shutter speed of 1/500 and one of the LED's for the meter was burned out so I mainly learned to guess exposures. Everything I learned was from high school photography class. 

One of Roberts first photographs taken at around the age of 13.
  
I believe that you still can't beat the value of learning on an all manual 35mm SLR.  Concepts of aperture, shutter speed and proper exposure seem to be lost as people become more reliant on automation.

After college, I had moved on to other things, but after finding a Canon AE-1 at a flea market it resparked my interest.  It was the camera I had always wanted when in high school, and having it brought back a lot of memories.  I dove back in head first and ended up buying my first DSLR and now am very active in the hobby. 


John Miller- I was about 11, when I was in 7th grade when I started being interested in photography. I first learned on a Brownie Hawkeye, and lusted after the Graphics (Crown, Speed), but that was not to be. I was self-taught from Kodak information in their darkroom kit. There weren't any photo clubs around in my area when I was young, but I started college at 16, and took sports shots for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier when I was still under 18 years old.


Dan Rinkel-  Well it was 1958 when sitting on the mill porch painting a picture of the mill pond, a man who had taken the tour of the 1846 historic mill came out and sat by me at 6 years old, and told me how to see the colors. When he was leaving, he told me he was Norman Rockwell and he would be seeing me again and to keep making pictures. He did keep coming around when he was in the area, always checking to see how my painting was progressing.

Then at age 8, a man and his wife came to stay with my great grandmother. Now this man really changed my life forever! He let me carry his camera around as he took pictures of historic Greenfield Mills and the river. He told me that one day when I was ready to really take great pictures I would own a camera like his. The thing I remember most was sitting in my great grandmothers dark bathroom as he explained how he was processing his film and then set up a contact printer and I got to see my first 6x6 contact sheet. Wow, was I hooked! That man happened to be Ansel Adams.

Now all through my school years I was selling oil paintings to tourists using the money to buy camera equipment. I had my first Bessler 4x5 enlarger set up in 1962 at the age of 10, which I used to print my negatives shot with my Nikon F. The best camera I owned as a teen was my Calumet  4x5 though. Everything finally looked correct with it. By high school, I was also selling photographs of cars and taking up as much time as the school would let me in their darkroom, which was never enough, but I did have my own set-up at home also. I took every art course available and was active in the art club. Got a job working weddings on weekends for a studio in Michigan. By the time I was a senior in high school, I had already gotten a scholarship to study fashion photography in Atlanta based on my art talent, and the rest is history.


Regan Conroy- I was in about 5th grade when I started photography, not my business but taking photos. I started my business in about December of 2010! As of right now I am 13 years old. Since I haven't been doing it for a very long time my favorite is my camera now, the Nikon D3000.
Photo by Regan Conroy

To all photographers out there... no matter how young or how old , just follow your dream. Never give up on what you love. It takes practice and patience. It could take you years to find your passion or it could come to you as fast as it did to me. This is a quote that I made up and feel that photographers of any age should follow. "Everywhere you go, there is a perfect picture in there somewhere."


Michael Wise- I started in photography at around 11 years old. I jumped right in the deep end, so I was soon developing my own film and printing my own pictures. I started with a small 110 that I got as a birthday present. I started processing film on that camera. Eventually I spent a summer doing chores to save up for an SLR. I remember taking the lens apart, and the repair costing me another six weeks of labor. Later, I got a Pentax ME with the aperture-preferred auto-exposure. My ME became the ME Super because I wanted more exposure control; that was my camera through high school. 

I was mostly self-taught, though I was encouraged, then discouraged, by my parents, who first gave me a full darkroom to work with, but felt that such a hobby was not a suitable career for their son. In that, I think they were wrong, not just because I had some promise as a photographer, but also I never had a passion for making money the way I had for making pictures. I learned all the darkroom stuff on my own: my uncle, an architect, encouraged me initially by sharing his camera and knowledge with me, and then by getting me a large book on photography. The way my mother tells it, he asked if the book would be appropriate since it had nude photos in it, and she said with the book's back broken from use, "the nude photos weren't the dogeared part."  

I joined the yearbook staff in high school as a junior. Most of the other photographers started their first year. It took me a while to get a sense of where I fit in during high school. I entered a contest to become a photographer, which included a sports assignment. I took a bunch of track and field action pictures. The outgoing editor, a photographer himself, insisted the new editor take me on the basis of the photos I submitted. Access to a darkroom was one of the perks of being a yearbook photographer, but I already had one of my own, and really wasn't that interested in being the "photo-nerd", pissing off my fellow students by taking photos of them all the time. The sort of interpersonal skills needed to take people pictures eluded me at the time.

As far as advice goes, you really need to work in film. The whole process of shooting, developing, and printing teaches the basics like no digital camera can. The image with digital is too ephemeral, too easy to fix on the fly, doesn't require careful composition or decent reflexes necessary to capture life. It also gives an appreciation of how to work with manual tools in a creative way. 


Jenn Fletcher- (Hi, that's me, your KEH Blog editor) I started taking pictures when I was pretty young with a point and shoot. Then in middle school, one of my teachers decided to have a "photo class" during our Home Room, which got me really interested in learning more. As soon as I got to high school, I enrolled in a real photography class. I purchased my own Pentax K1000, and continued to take photo classes for every available elective. Luckily, I went to an arts magnet school, so there were plenty of classes available during my four years there.

I was completely hooked and dove head first into all of the photo activities I could possibly fit into my life. I started working for the "teen page" at our local newspaper. I was so actively involved in the newspaper stuff, that I was lucky enough to be able to go to conferences (and speak at one), and was entered into high school photography press competitions (and won!) by my editor. After a few years of that, and during my senior year in high school, I arranged to intern in the photo department at the newspaper as one of my electives. This was a wonderful experience for me, especially for being so young. I entered tons of call for entries for group shows, and ended up exhibiting five times before even graduating from high school, including a youth show that was exhibited alongside Lauren Greenfield. By the time I got to college, I had also been published in print numerous times, won national awards, and was even interviewed by a TV network for a special on youth photographers.

One of my earliest photos from sometime in the early high school years. Photo by Jenn (Alexander).

It still amazes me at how much I did at such a young age. I had the programs in my area, I just had to search for them (ok, and my parents totally helped me with that and always had suggestions for things). I had the drive and spent my extra time and energy doing everything I could to get more involved in photography. And of course, I had a huge amount of support from my family, friends, teachers, and mentors.

So, what's my advice for young photographers? Surround yourself with what you love, keep at it, find good people in the field that will help you and mentor you, take classes, get involved in clubs or activities that are related, and make sure that you have people who support and encourage you in what you do. As far as adults go- you need to be the ones to support and encourage these young artists. While they may or may not choose to go into a filed like this as a career, they are building many other important skills along the way and finding outlets to express themselves at most likely, a rough time (c'mon, do you remember your preteen and teen years?!). I for one, in addition to learning about photography, learned many life skills in the process such as responsibility, organization, public speaking, writing, problem solving, etc.etc.... and, finding a passion for a child or teen could change things around in other areas of their lives. Photography pulled me out of a teen angsty 'I want to drop out of school' funk and made me work harder and be more focused than ever.



We're doubling up on our posts today and have another one coming to you shortly. Stay tuned...