Kids and cameras

Want to get your young people outdoors? Start them in outdoor photography.

When I was a kid, my mother couldn’t keep me indoors. I was constantly roaming the woods and fields near our home, dragging back sick and injured wildlife — probably to the animal’s detriment. But the day Mom drew the line (“No more critters!”) was the day she saw me coming down the road with a live great blue heron under my arm. The 4-foot bird with the dagger-like beak was nearly as tall as I was.

Parents and grandparents today often struggle to get kids outdoors and connected to the natural world. Electronics play a large part in that battle, as computers, video games, and other such devices have a strong pull for young people. So why not use that same attraction to your advantage by handing kids a camera before sending them outside? One of Ohio’s best professional outdoor photographers, David FitzSimmons of Bellville, first learned photography as a child.

“My love of photography began when I was traveling with my parents on summer vacations, watching my father take photos,” says FitzSimmons. “My grandfather was a photographer, too, so at a very early age I started picking up a camera and taking my own pictures. I bought my first single-lens reflex camera in high school, won first place in a statewide photography contest, and things took off from there.”

Today, FitzSimmons is the creator of the Curious Critters series of wildlife picture books for children. His first book, published in 2010, won six national book awards, and the series has since sold nearly 250,000 copies.

“Any type of imaging device — cellphone, iPad, small camera — that parents or grandparents can get into kids’ hands is a great way of helping them begin to explore nature,” says FitzSimmons. “Because kids are so visually oriented, it’s an easy fit; young people feel very comfortable using such devices.”

FitzSimmons also says that still photography and videography go hand in hand.

“Many kids today are more attracted to making video images than taking still shots, so my advice is to let them start with either medium, whichever one excites them,” he says. “For instance, our three daughters — ages 14, 8, and 5 — all prefer taking video, but our oldest daughter quickly racked up more than 1,000 still photos of seabirds along the Florida coast on one of our recent vacations.”

Kids will naturally want to share the images they create with friends and family. “That’s the really exciting part,” FitzSimmons says. “Because their friends will want to get outside and start taking pictures, too. Online sharing builds enthusiasm for both outdoor photography and exploring nature.”

If today’s ever-evolving photo technology seems a bit daunting to you, keep in mind that many schools have photography clubs where young people can get started.

“I would encourage parents and grandparents to find an inexpensive or slightly used imaging device that they can give to a child so that they don’t have to worry about the kid breaking it or pushing the wrong buttons,”

FitzSimmons says. “Most young people are pretty tech-savvy, and photography and videography are ways for kids to become the teachers, to show their parents or grandparents something new. It’s also a way for kids to feel empowered, while at the same time experiencing the natural world.”

One final suggestion: If at first your young person doesn’t know what to take pictures of outdoors, give him or her a list. Kids love a photo scavenger hunt.

W. H. “Chip” Gross is Ohio Cooperative Living’s outdoors editor and a member of Consolidated Cooperative. Copies of David FitzSimmons’ various books can be ordered online.