Kids and cameras: 9 tips for beginner photogs, from National Geographic Kids

As long as my grandsons have known me, I've had a camera in my hand more often than not. I may not be a pro, but taking photos is one of my favorite activities.

I like to think it's my penchant for taking pictures that encouraged my grandsons to enjoy using various cameras—from their kid camera to smartphones to my DSLR—for shooting shots around their place now and then. 

I'm pretty good about explaining to my grandsons the basics of using a camera, but as a true and untrained amateur photographer myself, I'm not the greatest at sharing with them sure-shot techniques for composition and more, in easy-to-understand snippets they'll understand and remember.

Enter National Geographic Kids book Guide To Photography by Nancy Honovich and National Geographic Photographer Annie Griffiths (which I recently received free for review).

nat geo kids guide to photography

Guide To Photography is a colorful collection of tips, tricks, and techniques from pros, for young photographers ages 8-12, shared in an easy-to-digest format, in a size and style just like the beloved National Geographic magazines.

nat geo kids guide to photography

From the book, I've compiled some of the most basic tips for beginning photographers like my grandsons, kids who may be younger than the recommended age for Guide To Photography yet seem ready for a few pointers on taking photos—techniques grandmothers and others, photographers or not themselves, can encourage in even the youngest wanna-be photographers:

kids and cameras

Take the stance, then relax. Get a firm grip on the camera, with your left hand cradling the body (and holding the lens, if bigger than a point-and-shoot) and the right hand grasping the side of the camera. Note where the shutter button is, then relax. With a manual focus camera, press the shutter button with smooth, even pressure. With an automatic focus camera, press the button halfway to lock the focus according to the camera directions, then follow through the shot, pushing the button completely down.

Straighten up. If photos turn out unintentionally crooked, turn on the camera's grid option. The grid lines (or dots) will help line up the shots more squarely. More advanced photographers can use the same grid for composing shots using the rule of thirds (explained on page 118 of Guide To Photography).

This way and that. Position your camera vertically or horizontally according to your subject. Vertical orientation (the "up and down" angle) works great for tall things such as trees, tall buildings, people standing, and it also best captures things moving up or down, like a person jumping on a trampoline. Horizontal orientation (like the horizon) is perfect for things that are longer than they are tall, such as animals, planes, buses and trucks. Plus, horizontal best captures things moving from side to side, like a football player running down the field.

Get close. It's easy to want to get everything in a photo, but that often leaves the main subject lost in the shot. Fix that by moving closer to the subject. As you line up the shot, look at the background and see what's distracting or adds nothing to the picture, then move closer to the subject so those things aren't there and the subject takes up most of the frame.

Forget the flash—most of the time. The flash of a camera can make lighting seem harsh and the photo washed out. Flashes also are the main reason subjects end up with red eyes, as glare of the flash bounces off the back of their eyes. If your camera has the red-eye reduction setting, go with that. If not, situate subjects near a light source rather than using a flash for lighting.

Stay still in the dark. When taking pictures in the dark or low lighting, the camera must be perfectly still or the results are blurry. No matter how still you try to be, the results will be far better if using a tripod for such shots. If you don't have a tripod, setting the camera solidly in place on a fixed object, such as a fence or rock or table works, too. Just be sure to press the shutter firmly without jiggling the camera.

Animal tricks. Kids love taking photos of their own pets as well as those in nature and at zoos and aquariums. For your own dog, cat, or other fur baby, don't expect them to pose for you. Capture them doing things they do regularly by waiting for that activity to happen. Things like snapping shots as your dog eats, or your cat lies on the window sill, or birds enjoy food from the feeder. At the zoo, hold your camera flush between bars (only in zoos and such where it's safe and you're allowed to) to keep from having bars in the picture. At aquariums, hold the camera flush against the glass.

Fun with friends. When taking posed photos with friends, take another one or two after they think you're done. Those sometimes end up being the funniest photos you'll get.

Experiment with angles. Try taking pictures from various positions for different effects and artistic expression. Angles include from eye level, aiming upward, shooting downward, and "becoming the shot" by directing the camera at yourself (selfies, in other words).

More on my source: Guide To Photography by Nancy Honovich and National Geographic Photographer Annie Griffiths contains a plethora of picture-taking tips, techniques, and information on every facet of photography and photo equipment (including smartphones). It's a comprehensive 160-page guide made for kids ages 8-12 yet entertaining and educational for adult photographers, too. Guide To Photography can be purchased from the National Geographic Store ($14.99). Learn more at National Geographic Kids.

Disclosure: I received this book free for review; opinions are my own.