Choosing a Digital Camera for a Child

Which camera should you get for your child?

cameras for kids

“Young Photographer” captured by Mohamed Muha

This article is divided into age groupings to help you decide what kind of camera would be best for your child. The age guidelines are simply a starting point, as kids progress at their own pace, and some will be more interested in “serious photography” than others.

Toddler through Early Elementary School

What Kids Like About Cameras/Photography at That Age

  • Turning the camera on and off on their own
  • The cause and effect of pushing a button and having something happen
  • Seeing someone or something through an LCD display
  • Seeing themselves on the display or in a picture
  • Doing things like Mom and Dad
toddler camera

“Drat! Overexposed.” captured by Donnie Ray Jones

The Type of Photos You Can Expect to See

  • Pictures of the floor, the ceiling, or partial shots of people and objects
  • Multiple pictures of the same person or object

What to Look For in a Camera

  • Since the first stage usually applies to younger kids, you’ll want a sturdy camera designed for small hands
  • Completely automated features, including flash and focus
  • A picture resolution/storage space combination that can hold a lot of photos
  • Controls that are easy to use and understand

Early Elementary through Middle School

What Kids Like About Cameras/Photography at That Age

  • Capturing favorite things, people, and places
  • Capturing memories, such as vacations, field trips, birthday parties
  • Being trusted with a digital camera of their own
  • Printing pictures or using them for cards, journals, and scrapbooks
child photographing a wedding

“Future wedding photographer” captured by John Mayer

The Type of Photos You Can Expect to See

  • Posed and candid shots of friends, pets, and family members
  • MANY pictures from each life event, including field trips, vacations, and parties
  • Shots of themselves posing with friends or doing silly things

What to Look For in a Camera

  • Easy to use and understand
  • Sturdy and inexpensive, in case it is dropped, lost, or stolen
  • Mostly automated features, but some control over things like the flash and zoom
  • Good resolution (clear photos), but not so high that the pictures eat up storage space
  • Just for fun: special effects, such as captions, clip art, etc.
  • Custom camera cases and straps for the fashion-conscious

Middle School and Older

What Kids Like About Cameras/Photography at That Age

  • Capturing friends and favorite places or belongings
  • Exploring sense of self with self-portraits and photos with friends
  • Self-expression and a creative outlet
  • Editing photos and possibly creating scrapbooks, collages and journals
  • Printing photos, using them on web pages or otherwise sharing them
teen photographer

“64/365 The Explorer” captured by martinak15

The Type of Photos You Can Expect to See

  • A lot of group shots, particularly of friends
  • More artistic pictures of nature, architecture and people
  • Self portraits, either alone or with friends, that display different aspects of their personality.
  • Expect to see more expressions of sexuality in the photographs as that is an important part of exploration for this age group.

What to Look For in a Camera:

  • A reasonably priced, adult-sized camera
  • Control over flash and zoom and possibly other more advanced features
  • Some kids may still enjoy customizable faceplates or “fashion” cameras
  • Mostly automated features, unless they are showing a more serious interest in photography
  • Expandable memory options

Ideas for Encouraging a Love of Photography

The great thing about digital cameras is that you can easily download the pictures to your computer for viewing (or deleting) without paying for prints. They can also be downloaded to a disk for storage or printed at home.

Show your child the basics of how to operate the camera. Kids may even need to know what button to push, and where to place their hands, so that they are not blocking the viewfinder. Teach them the importance of light, such as making sure there’s enough light to see what they’re photographing. Teach them to have the light in front of the subject. Tell them not to point the camera into the sun. You may need to teach your child to focus the camera.

Show your child books of photography by famous photographers, including those that feature photos of children. Good examples are “In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers”, any of Anne Geddes books or photos of babies, or any by Ansel Adams. If you have pets, any of William Wegman’s dog books would be good to show them, as well. Point out the use of light in the books, how the photographer centered the subject in the photographs, and what there is about the photograph that makes it interesting or fun.

Take your kids to photo exhibits or find ones suitable for your family online. Look for local exhibits by contacting studios or museums in your area. Ask the children to comment on the use of light and how the photographers created their images.

teenager writing about photography

“National Geographic Photo Camp” captured by PopTech

Print your child’s photographs and display them for her to see. Acknowledge all your child’s efforts.

Let them come up with ideas for photo shoots or photo contests that can include the entire family.

You can suggest a “What Is This?” contest. When taken close-up, many commonplace things take on weird, unusual, and otherworldly appearances–especially if they’re shown upside down or at an unexpected angle. Even the family pet! “What Is This?” mystery photos can be put on-screen on your computer as a slide show, and everyone can take turns guessing what is in the photo.

Or you can hold a photo exhibition, where you can invite family and friends over for snacks and an art showing. Kids love showing off their works of art!

Another idea is to make a jigsaw puzzle out of a photo print. The kids can print out a photo (on card stock) or paste a photo onto cardboard (to make it thicker), and cut into squiggly pieces for a puzzle the whole family can enjoy.

Let your kids have fun with their camera. Encourage them to photograph whatever subjects appeal to them. Answer their questions, and be there if they ask for help.

About the Author
Leslie Uhl has a BA in Photography from Art Center College of Design and has been taking photos for over 20 years (http://www.leslieuhlphotography.com/blog3/). Both of her children also love to take pictures, and this article is based on her experiences finding the right equipment for them.

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3 responses to “Choosing a Digital Camera for a Child”

  1. Will says:

    Are you serious? This is very incorrect, you are off significantly in what you think children use cameras for and what to expect from their photos. I’m 13, and this is just embarrassing.

  2. Susan says:

    My 2 1/2 year old grandson loves using my iPhone to take pictures and has actually taken some pretty good ones already. Sure would have loved some actual camera recommendations for his age group.

  3. Ricky says:

    @ Will
    I dont think the author was stating that all children produce the same photos. It’s most probably the majority. There are some children who have a genuine interest and stand out from the crowd as they know how to adjust different modes and take decent photographs. Dont get emotional ;)

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