Teaching Digital Photography to Students

Jared Skye
photography students

Teaching digital photography carries with it a number of excellent benefits for both the teacher and the student. Not only does it give you the opportunity to help others develop their passion for photography, but it also allows you to hone your own skills by helping others. While there are a number of great reasons to begin teaching, there are a few things that all potential instructors should understand before jumping in.

Tips for Teaching Digital Photography

Before you start passing around the camera you might consider showing students samples from photography books. Then, spend a few minutes discussing how the images inspire outstanding photography. Once you introduce the subject matter, you can move on to camera basics and fundamental photo techniques.

1. Define Goals

Don't leave your students in the dark. Make it clear what you wish to accomplish. For example, clearly state that upon completion of the class, participants shall be able to:

  • Use a digital camera more effectively
  • Make informed decisions regarding subject matter and composition
  • Take appropriate actions regarding subject matter and composition
  • Improve, enhance and modify the appearance of their digital photographs
  • Export their digital images into a variety of software applications

2. Cover Camera Basics

If you are using an elaborate digital camera, consider sticking to the basic features when first introducing the device to students. You don't want to overwhelm anyone right away. Rather, review the essential parts of the camera and save the more advanced elements for future lessons. Some of the basic lessons to teach include:

  • How to hold a camera
  • Understanding camera settings
  • How to insert and remove the camera's memory card
  • How to use the viewfinder
  • Using Live View mode
  • How to shoot a photo

3. Go Over Fundamental Photo Techniques

Once students are comfortable handling the digital camera, move on to teaching them some basic photo techniques, including:

  • Vocabulary: Spend time reviewing basic photo terminology such as angle, pan, distance, level, focus and framing. Then, demonstrate each function before allowing students to experiment by themselves.
  • Zoom: A lesson on zooming can begin with an explanation on distance. Use samples from photography books to illustrate close-up shots versus panoramic photos. If you are working with younger children and your camera has a zoom function, cover it with tape at first until the kids fully understand the concept of distance. In the interim, have the students move around to capture shots from different distances.
  • Lighting: Your students don't need a crash course in advanced lighting. However, they do need to understand the fundamentals of exposure and color balance.
  • Depth of Field: Teaching students about the proper use of depth of field is an integral part of any photography course. You don't need to go into how to calculate depth of field with a given aperture and focal length, but helping students understand the impact that focal length and aperture have on depth of field is very important.
  • Understanding Light: Really, photography is the act of shaping and capturing light.

4. Practice

Give your students plenty of assignments and opportunities for practice. If you need ideas, consider using photo prompts.

5. Evaluate

Help your students improve by asking them to evaluate their own and their peers' photographs constructively. Offer your own constructive feedback, as well.

Teaching Younger Students

Teaching digital photography to children or young adults can introduce many unique challenges to the process. After all, children learn things in an entirely different way than adults do. Due to this, it's smart to alter the ways you teach when approaching young students. The following resources can help you come up with methods for instructing kids in the art of photography.

  • 13 Lessons to Teach Your Child About Digital Photography by Darren Rowse goes into some specific lessons geared toward younger students. These lessons cover most of the basics of photography in a fun and engaging way that is more likely to hold the attention of younger students.
  • How to Teach and Introduce Children the Wonders of Photography by Christina Dickson is a great resource when it comes to helping you understand how to best approach photography instruction to kids and young adults. There are a lot of excellent points in the article about how children learn and how to best tailor your approach to have the biggest impact on children.

Instructional Resources for Teachers

First time teachers may have a hard time deciding on an appropriate curriculum for their students. It's important to understand what level of skill you're expecting from your students and to plan your curriculum accordingly. Here, you'll find a few excellent resources on developing a curriculum for students of any skill level.

  • Hartnell College: Hartnell provides an excellent online syllabus for beginning photography courses. The linked document provides a detailed outline of the types of equipment required for a basic course, a starting point on selecting a textbook, and it provides some background on grading methodologies. You don't have to use this document as a "rule book" but you can use it as a great guideline when molding your own class structure.
  • Jen Sullivan Photography: Jen Sullivan provides solid resources for intermediate-skill photographers and people looking to learn about wedding photography. The syllabi on her website provide a lot of ideas on how to structure a course for more advanced students.

Put Your Skills to Use

In the end, none of these resources are worth very much if you don't have a passion for photography and a highly developed skill set. Take these resources for what they are: guidelines. It's up to you to inject your own personality and perspective into how you teach others to capture light.

Teaching Digital Photography to Students