How To Photograph Children At School?

  • With thirty-six exposures, or even twelve, in the camera there is a temptation to shoot indiscriminately. Writers on child photography often advised taking many exposures, in the belief, presumably, that with a large enough quantity, there are bound to be a few good shots at least. But it is possible to have thirty-six indifferent pictures on a roll, and, although I am not against taking many pictures, I believe that no exposure should be made without at least a quick survey of the situation in relation to its picture possibilities.

  • A photographer wishing to remain an unseen observer, must study the child's movements and expressions. You must recognize when a group of children promise to create an interesting situation. You must anticipate the development of the situation to its natural climax. You must, in effect, survey the happening from the outside, taking pictures, changing the viewpoint, striving for improvements until all the important factors fuse into a good picture. Your first set of rough prints must show a progression and improvement with each shot leading to the one which caught the essence of the situation.

  • This kind of approach is put across in the more progressive art schools today. Students are encouraged to use the camera to increase their awareness of the world in which they live. Even in primary schools, children are given cameras and sent out to make photo-essays. These youngsters will not be content to take snapshots with a box camera. They are using photography as a means of communication. They have been called 'the Young Communicators'.

  • For the younger viewpoint, I contacted Hugh Scaman, a student at Leicester College of Art, England, who had had photographs of children accepted for a Kodak exhibition of students' work. I learned that he had ambitions to be a photo-journalist. He regarded young children as good photographic subjects because they were not old enough to be self-conscious and were not concerned with the image they were putting over. 'They are full of vitality,' he said, 'not yet having learned to invent worries. They are too busy running, playing, laughing or shouting or sitting quietly alone or perhaps with a friend, so completely absorbed as to be oblivious of the camera.'

  • On the whole, the children Hugh Scaman has photographed have not suffered from camera-shyness. He has found that if a child behaves shyly all one has to do is to make a great show of photographing someone else. Whereupon the 'shy' child looks disappointed, indicating that the apparent shyness was a form of exhibitionism. Sometimes children are too keen to be photographed and stop their play to come crowding round his camera. He finds it is no use shouting at them. This is the time to talk with them. They eventually leave and continue their game. Except, that is, for the die-hards whose heads will appear on every second frame. 'These cheeky show-offs sometimes make the photographs,' he says. (In my own experience they usually spoil many pictures, since they are only too well aware of the camera and assume deliberately false expressions.)

  • Scaman considers that a lens of a wider than normal angle is ideal, especially where there is little room to move between rows of desks in a classroom or where one is surrounded by children. He thinks the 35 mm. reflex camera has the advantages of eye-level viewing without risk of parallax error, and the camera allows many frames to be shot in rapid succession. But his particular camera has the drawback of an extra loud shutter which makes the children aware of his presence, even in the early stages. His photograph of the two children peering cautiously from behind a rocking-horse was taken on fast film with normal development in MQ. It was taken with the classroom lights on and sunlight coming through the windows.

  • He is reluctant to use flash because it attracts the children's attention too early. There are always things to photograph in class but one must not interfere with the teaching. This would be ill-mannered and would lose the validity of the scene. He is unstinted in his praise for teachers. 'Photographing in a school,' he says, 'gives one some idea of the problems and the pleasure of teaching.'

  • Another representative of the younger school of photographers is Sheilah Latham, radiologist turned photo-journalist who regards photography as a natural extension of her consuming interest in human nature. She did not set out consciously to specialize in child photography, but, because of their wonderful lack of inhibitions, children do tend to form the major part of her work. She uses two single lens reflex camera bodies with a full range of lenses, which she finds a convenient and versatile method. She always uses available light.

  • Many of her pictures, like 'Diane', tug at the emotions. The defiance on the child's face, on which is imprinted the mat k of neglect and deprivation, make this a strong and moving comment. Many of Sheilah's pictures speak eloquently of social problems. But sometimes she will post herself with shutter cocked and senses alert at a strategic point, perhaps at a pedestrian crossing or in a children's hospital. Delightful series of uncontrived pictures result. Sometimes the camera is spotted, as in 'Monica'. This attractive link girl, a natural model, responded with a happy, toothy smile.

  • Sheilah Latham has been very successful in international exhibitions. But she continually studies the latest advances in technique to keep abreast of the newest practices. That fact, plus her instant recognition of a situation and her spontaneous reaction to it, make her work outstanding.

More About Methods of Approach In Child Photography

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