A Four Year Old Photographer

Harper smiling with my Voigtlander Bessa R2
EPSON scanner image
Harper posing proudly with a Zeiss Ikon

At what point do we become photographers?  If it’s when we take the first shots we’re proud of then my daughter Harper is well on her way!

After years of playing with Mom and Dad’s cameras, Last week I finally purchased our four year old her first camera.

I have always allowed Harper to handle our cameras in order to get her familiar with and interested in electronic and mechanical devices.  While most parents shudder at placing an expensive/delicate camera in a toddler’s hands, I look at it as an opportunity for them to explore and learn about something more useful than a regular toy.  Teaching Harper some basic math and to respect cameras and photos by treating them carefully are at the core of what I try to communicate.

Watching as Impossible Project photos process amidst some 35mm developing reels
Learning her way around my Nikkormat FT2

By about 2 she understood that one had to advance the film prior to clicking the shutter release on a 35mm SLR and by 3 she knew to hold onto a camera with two hands and keep the neck strap on to protect the camera.  Around this time she also used her early counting skills to count along with me as we waited for peel apart film to process before she pulled the film from the paper print.  And then I began letting her take her own photos on Mom and Dad’s Instax cameras.  It didn’t take her long to understand how to load the film correctly and fire off the dark slide.  She used to blow through shot after shot without looking through the viewfinder though, seemingly unable to associate what she saw through it with normal sight and/or the resulting image.  Consequently, her early photos are out of focus, accidentally composed snapshots that vaguely represented something in the general direction of what she wanted to render.  But this year, Harper started showing signs that made it clear to me that it was time for her to receive a camera of her very own.

Harper posing with her white tiger and Mom’s white Fuji Instax 7s

When shooting Instax she has learned that she needs to be at least about two arm’s lengths away from her subject and she began holding her arm out to measure “about 2 feet” she repeats after me.  And then The Breakthrough, she started looking through the viewfinder of my Instax Mini 90.  After just a few well composed shots, we rushed online to choose an Instax from B&H!


Without hesitation, Harper chose a grape colored Instax Mini 8 with a raspberry colored fitted case.  I usually recommend that people, particularly kids, start with at least an Instax Mini 25 for its auto exposure but like many young photographers, the pastel palette of color choices available for the Mini 8 trumps functionality.  I figured it wouldn’t be TOO hard to teach her to set the rudimentary manual exposure adjustment on the Model 8.  The addition of exposure control should prove to be just one more important skill and thing to consider when shooting.

During her first week, Harper burned through about 7 packs of Fuji Instax Mini film.  Below are a few of our favorites.

Harper’s Grape Fuji Instax Mini 8 (and her toes!)
A very well composed stool
Our annoying but lovable dog, Argus (a la the once-popular American 35mm rangefinders)
Harper’s fairy garden with some Easter sticker decor
A pile of colorful, dried up Play-Doh bits
A few of Mom and Dad’s cameras
A trip to the grocery store…
…the floral section…
…And more treats!
An action shot of Mom!  Don’t be alarmed, the car was not in motion!

As you may have noticed, I myself am a film-centric photographer so maybe it’s only natural that I would give my daughter a film camera as her first.  But I think that instant film is a good starting point to get kids interested in and learning photography for several reasons that should be considered over price, convenience or parents’ familiarity with digital.

–Every kid that I know LOVES to shoot instant film.  They are excited to see a photo moments after they take it.  While digital sort of provides this, it’s magical to watch an image fade into existence from nowhere. Kids also love being able to run around with that tangible product and hand it to people or even decorate it with stickers or add it to a book.  It’s going to be a while for small children to wrap their heads around file management and online sharing (thankfully!) so in the meantime, I think having tangible photos allows them to learn to be responsible for objects.

–While instant film costs money per photo, this will eventually with some guidance, teach kids to be conservative and DELIBERATE with their early photography.  They will learn to pace themselves and anticipate/prepare for their shoots.  At least this is my hope!

–Keeping your kid’s camera loaded with film will cost you but the Instax Mini 8 only sells for about $60 and is a very simple camera.  Serious abuse or a very high fall onto a hard surface will certainly kill an Instax but 3 foot tall kids dropping these cameras on carpet, and even concrete will probably be just fine.  In many ways, these cameras are less delicate than digital point-and-shoots.  To protect against falls and to add a neck strap are the reasons I bought Harper a fitted case with her camera.

–Even digital cameras that are designed for children are going to be more complicated to use and produce prints from than an Instax.  They just have a lot more buttons and settings that distract from actually taking photos.  I want Harper to learn to use complicated electronics for sure.  I mean, she also has her own iPad, so she’s not a luddite.  But giving kids just the right amount of challenge so that they can excel without becoming frustrated is important.  For us anyway, the Instax 8 does that balancing act just fine.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Harper’s early photography.  We’ll see if she stays interested and enthused, and I’ll be sure to share more photos as they come.  Thanks for reading!

Harper staged the contents of my camera bag after a shoot, excited to help Dad process film!

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6 thoughts on “A Four Year Old Photographer

  1. I’ve recently introduced my 3 year old son to Instax and he loves it.
    He does have a kid’s toy camera from Vtech and he likes to pictures with that. However, I think he gets more enjoyment from the Instax because there is an actual print. A couple weeks ago we went out and I let him shoot a pack and he just had a blast.

    Liked by 1 person

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