Point-and-shoots make terrific learning tools. When I was a kid, my father, an amateur photographer, taught me all the essentials of photographic composition with a Kmart 110. I took it everywhere and took pictures of anything I saw. After each roll of film came back from the lab, my father would go over each shot with me and tell me how the rules of composition would apply to this and that. If I am still shooting when I’m 110, I’ll still hear my father saying, “… and Ansel Adams would have…” The camera was not expensive, so if I broke it I was going to be the only one crying. I could shoot anything I wanted as long as it was at least 3 feet away. Most of all, it was simple enough that I could focus my early practice on learning how to make my pictures interesting, if not technically perfect.
For the last four years I have been in charge of the yearbook for an elementary school. The books have been done almost entirely with digital point-and-shoots by 4th. 5th and 6th-graders. With a gaggle of elementary-schoolers, I’d be loath to hand my students an expensive DSLR to run around while taking pictures. Kids are generally hard on equipment and with so many handlers, even with the best of care, accidents happen. The first year I supervised the book, I told the publisher that 75% of the candids in the book were done by children between 9 and 12 years old. Her response was, “Wow! They’re hired!” Why? Because those kids were learning composition while we worked. They learned patience. They learned how to avoid common mistakes. Most of all, they learned how to make the most of what they had in hand.
Since the particularly old model we were using that year and the next two years had a considerable delay between pressing the button and actual image capture, action shots required thought about where the action was going to be, watching the ball, panning to follow the subject while the camera thought about firing and shooting over and over until the shot was what we wanted. Admittedly, a DSLR would have done the job much more easily but, here again, it was a camera in kid hands and they were using it as a learning tool.
For one year’s basketball assignment, it took a 9-year-old the whole game to get a shot where the action was in the frame the way she wanted, but in the last 5 minutes she got the perfect shot- one boy from each team lunging for a basketball in mid-air with a hopeful look on one and pink-faced desperation on the other. They filled the frame beautifully. In the absence of a high-quality zoom lens, she caught them right at the net, where she had parked herself and waited, like a wildlife photographer waiting for her quarry.
Did my young photographer get frustrated and quit after this? No. She is now 12 and was just this morning stalking fast-moving dragonflies with her own camera.