This post is going to be a bit different than my regular post … no frills, no natural outdoor experience, no photos … wait, I do have a relevant photo that I will share later in the post.
I’m directing this post to all photographers. Notice, I didn’t say “professional” photographers … anyone with a camera and who can make “reasonable” images qualifies. What I’m blogging about is the call for you to help the youngsters in your community learn photography. Yes, I understand many of you do not consider yourself teachers. Not a problem. I’m not talking about formal classroom classes, although that certainly works if you are capable of doing classroom work. Maybe just a gathering of a small group of kids in the local meadow, or on the streets of your town, or anywhere you can photograph (that means about any place, doesn’t it!). Working with the kids can not only be rewarding for the kids, but I think most of you will find rewards for yourself, too!
My experience working with the kids started just over a year ago, when asked to be a “photography project leader” for our local 4H organization. Like many of you are now probably thinking, my first reaction was to turn and run for the hills! My first response was “Let me think about it”. Did I really need to think about it? Or was this response made in hopes I would not again be asked? Regardless, it didn’t work … about a week later, I was asked again. With some reluctance, I hesitatingly said “I’ll give it a try”.
As our first meeting approached I repeatedly asked myself, “Why did you say ‘yes’!”. Oh well, too late now … I have to get things ready ready for our first meeting. And what things do I need? What will I “teach”? What do the kids want to know? Will I just be a “glorified babysitter”? Oh no, what did I get myself into? I proceeded to put together my thoughts on paper and figured that maybe a parent or two would be at the meeting and would “help” me get through the meeting.
At our first meeting, I was pleasantly surprised when the kids began rolling in, followed by parent after parent. I was counting on a handful of kids being there; instead, there were a little over a dozen kids, with as many parents! Hmmm, maybe my “babysitting skills” won’t be needed! To make a long story short, the meeting went very well. Most of the kids were asking a lot of questions and seemed genuinely interested in photography. And many of the parents were even joining in on the discussions. Quite different than I had expected!
To sum up my first year as “Photography Project Leader”, it turned out very well. Besides having monthly presentations in the classroom, we met on several occasions at a local prairie to photograph wildflowers and insects. And the kids were always accompanied with a parent! Many of the kids ended up entering some of their work in the county fair this past summer, with many winning ribbons and some even selected for state-wide competition! And in a few hours from publishing this post, I will be presenting another program to my 2nd year 4H students (we’ll be talking about composition). And, by the way, I didn’t have to think about it when asked to be the leader this year!
I think it is fair to say that the kids that I have been working with are having a lot of fun and learning more about photography as we go along. But I’ve also been rewarded. Not only do I feel like I’m making a small impact in these kids’ lives, but they are also making an impact on my life. First, I feel the need to be better informed on photography topics, so that I can answer all their questions. Second, the exchange of ideas with the kids has actually ignited some thoughts in my head, for some photography projects I can do. Third, I have a feeling of satisfaction that I am making a difference, although maybe only small, with some of our kids. And I am finding some of my 4H kids/parents coming to me with photo opps. As an example, I have longed to photograph some Barn Owls in the wild for many years. There are not many remaining in Missouri, mainly due to the decreasing number of available barns to nest in and the decreased grain storage bins (which attract mice, the main diet of the Barn Owl). After one class, one of the parents invited me over to photograph their barn owl family. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I had misunderstood her. Surely, she said Barred owls, not Barn owls (Barred owls are everywhere here!). She then sent her son out to their truck to bring in a photo. When I was handed the photo, I was totally amazed to see a Barn owl! Needless to say, I was over there photographing the Barn owls (2 adults and 3 recently-fledged young ones) in no time! Here is one of the images I captured of one of the parents:
Likewise, I have more recently volunteered to participate in the local high school’s “Job Shadow” program. In December, I received a call from the local, rural high school. They told me they had a student that wished to be a wildlife photographer and wanted to know if I would work with the student for one day. I accepted and we met on “Job Shadow Day”. It was a cold day in December, but I took the student to 4 nearby places that I like to work. Unfortunately, we did not see much wildlife (except for a cute squirrel who was inside a tree cavity and would poke his head out to watch us, and a young, spiked deer buck) but had a fun day. We ended our day in a quiet place in the high school, me showing her how I use Adobe Lightroom for post-editing my images. Again, a good feeling of helping one of our local kids.
This post is not meant to be about me, but about the opportunities for volunteering that exist for all us photographers. And who knows, maybe a spark will ignite in even just one kid … one less kid on the streets! So, please consider what you can do to share your passion with the kids in your community. You both will benefit!
Oh, and if you missed my Barn Owl posts of 2011, courtesy of my 4H student/parent, here are some links: