View Full Version : Introducing kids to LF

9-Jun-2015, 10:26
I have an opportunity to be teaching photography to some inner city kids next week. The location is such that safety concerns prevent us from venturing out into the neighborhood for interesting subjects to photograph. So we'll be shooting portraits of each other with my Sinar (and mixing in digital and 35mm film as well).

I'm curious if any here have taught LF photography to kids before? I'm not worried about the digital/35mm part since I've done that before. But LF is somewhat new to me and I'm thinking the kids will just think it's cool to see their friends turned upside down in the GG. But I want to let them see something of photography they probably haven't ever seen, which is why I want to do at least some LF.

I ask for advice because I'm a little curious about how to split up what's true of photography in general (light, lenses, aperture, shutter speed, focal length) and what's specific to the operation of a LF camera like focusing and movements. I won't get into anything too complicated, of course, but I want to give them a good taste.

Anyone done anything similar before? Workshops with teens, etc...?

John Kasaian
9-Jun-2015, 10:41
Not formally but I have worked with my own kids.
If you're shooting panchro film, load the holders for them.
Better yet, shoot ortho and have them load their own holders and tray develop their own film under a red safe light. That's fun!
Besides portraits, They can shoot cut flowers & still life without venturing outside. Have them compose their own "still life" with their own stuff---make them sketch it out first because the upside down focusing bit will probably throw 'em for a loop.

9-Jun-2015, 10:58
I have worked with kids ( from 7yrs to 18 yrs old) using pinhole cameras made from 8x10 250 sheet photopaper boxes and litho film (we made cyanotypes). The kids made their own cameras (using the boxes at least kept that a constant). Black spray paint for the insides, brass shim material for the pinholes. Construction took a hour or so.

They moved slow at first, but developing the litho film in the darkroom (red safe light) and seeing the results got them so excited we burned thru the litho film! The views are so fun and odd (wide-angle) that it did not matter that the distance the kids could go to shoot was not far.

The cyanotypes were a blast, too.

One or two kids might be interested in the tech stuff ("light, lenses, aperture, shutter speed, focal length and what's specific to the operation of a LF camera like focusing and movements"), but I think most of them will be turned off by it all -- at least until they get results they can hold in their hands. The pinhole cameras and cyanotypes (but one can use photopaper, of course) will teach the kids about light, lenses, light/dark, contrast and composition. Unless you have the kids more than a week, anything more will be tough to teach in a manner that they will be interested in and retain.

This is just my experience, and of course, my opinion...but why teach them something they can do with their phones? They already make portraits every day.

Edited to add: Re-reading my post, m last sentence seems a little snarky. Heroique made a great point about LF. It will be a great experience for the kids! Enjoy!

9-Jun-2015, 12:16
...I'm thinking the kids will just think it's cool to see their friends turned upside down in the GG...

Just providing them with this experience under the dark cloth will, I think, let them feel the magic of LF photography.

I wouldn't go into any theory or mechanics, but I certainly would invite them to focus on various subjects maybe even apply a movement or two!

You can count on them to ask their own questions which you can address in simple terms, and they'll never forget what you shared with them.

9-Jun-2015, 12:51

9-Jun-2015, 13:13

If you have a Polaroid back for your 4x5, this would be the time to use it.
Nothing like almost-instant gratification when trying something new and unknown to encourage the yoots, and help them understand what this kind of photography is capable of doing.

9-Jun-2015, 13:44
Let me add just one thing. After you are confident that the kids realize how complicated a machine a digital camera, smart phone, or even 35mm camera is, then set up a view camera. After explaining where the lens is and where film would be, pop off the back. I guarantee a few will exclaim, "Hey! It's empty!" And there is your introduction to basics.

Jim Noel
9-Jun-2015, 14:43
I have never taught kids because I don't think goats are quick learners. I did teach children and adults in public schools and colleges for 62 years. Two of my own children learned to use a view camera when they were 8 years old, as I did. For groups, however, only a few of that age will be able to handle the details. My preference for children less than about 12 years of age my preference is to begin with 35mm or pinhole cameras, depending on time available. I like to use a view camera to show how a lens focuses a reversed image, how aperture effects the quantity of light, and how short a time light is passed at 1/100th a second.
Sorry if some are offended by my preferring not to call children kids, but I think it is a sad commentary on our modern society's lack of attention to the true meaning of words. To me, the term "Kid" is derogatory to children.

David Lobato
9-Jun-2015, 17:17
I have no experience like that, but got a similar idea in Baltimore after I got a too-good-to-be-true deal on a monorail Toyo and 150mm lens. Some of the details I was thinking of: permission from parents or guardians (no exceptions), pre-setting the focus distance and using a string to place the camera at the right distance to shorten set up time, using a Metz 45 flash for fill light, and fulfill my promises for prints. I wasn't planning on teaching unless a subject asks me. A person very knowledgeable of the area would be necessary. I have adult friends in Baltimore to begin and practice with. That may tell me whether to continue or not.

9-Jun-2015, 18:14
i've demo'd a large format to kids, mainly grammar school aged kids
they ooo'd an aaaaah'd they looked in back and fiddled with the focus
other times i showed them a home made 5x7 camera they looked at it
and i passed around a box camera and told them it was like a cell phone camera
from 70 years ago, they kind of laughed ... then we made cyanotype photograms
in an art class. ( i've done this i think 4 times ? ) they had a blast, and some of the
kids made photograms that looked like they could have been made by man ray or maholy nagy ...

have fun with your adventure !

9-Jun-2015, 18:16
(light, lenses, aperture, shutter speed, focal length) and what's specific to the operation of a LF camera like focusing and movements. I won't get into anything too complicated, of course, but I want to give them a good taste.

Anyone done anything similar before? Workshops with teens, etc...?

That part of it is essentially high school physics. I'd go easy on that. I'd keep it hands on. A pinhole or camera obscura setup would be good simple hands-on, then graduate to LF.

If you've got a place for it and the time, cyanotypes are fun for all ages. I did cyanotype photograms (about 80 of them!) at a mini maker faire with kids of all ages. Use thinner paper so it dries/exposes faster.

David Lobato
9-Jun-2015, 18:32
This thread on Baldwin Lee got me thinking about it.

Alan Gales
9-Jun-2015, 20:52
Maybe you could bring some of your own photographs to show them what movements can do.

Drew Bedo
10-Jun-2015, 04:40

What age group?

My wife has been a teacher administrator from 7th through 12th grades for +25 years, and I've tutored Jr High students.

While this workshop will be a positive and enriching experience for them, I would have to think carefully about conducting a hands-on event with "kids" younger than 8th grade.

At a grade school level, perhaps a show-and-tell sort of demonstration would be best. At the hifh school level, a presentation to a combined art and science group could be most productive.

Whatever the case; please let us know what you did, why and how it turned out.

12-Jun-2015, 07:54
I've been teaching a number of younger students for a few years now, originally on 35mm only, then onto 120 with a tlr, and now onto 4x5.

Originally I taught them on my wista sp and now on a cambo monorail. It is easier to start them off shooting ortho litho, such as the precut arista brand. It's easy to handle and load with a safelight and it's cheap. But the results will always be very contrasty and not that nice to print. If you don't have access to that you can cut photo paper for them to load as well. That makes for a nice transition from pinhole cameras that they use with photopaper as well when I teach.

If shooting indoors you need a lot of light. Under my school fluorescents I usually get a meter reading of 5.6 and 1/2 for 100 speed film. Flash or even better continuous lighting is needed for portraits. Still life images on tables are easier, I've had them shoot toys, sea shells, anything around the room really. Just remember to compensate with the bellows factor.

This past week we have been shooting fuji fp100c in the park. It's has been one of the favorite classes for the students. It's quite amazing to everyone when you pull the image apart. But lugging a monorail and tripod around with a first aid kit, big dark cloth , film holder and pack film, lightmeter, loupe, and extra dslr is quite a workout after a few hours (usually 5 hrs a day for me). An assistant helps a ton if you can get one or delegate responsibility to a few good students. I marked off the ground glass with colored dry erase marker for this format as it's a bit smaller than 4x5. If you plan to shoot the instant film indoors the 3000b is much easier. You get a faster film and no need for filters as the 100c is daylight balanced.

Before having them grab and play with the camera I always cover simple rules and explain the functions of each knob. This is important because sometimes they will want to adjust the composition on the ground glass and force the camera to move on the tripod, I have seen quick release plates loosen up because of this which is not good for stability. Or students forcing the standards to move and turn. It's also crucial to explain to them to make one adjustment at a time, locking and unlocking one control at a time. Explain to them the strong springs of the back, and how to keep fingers clear when opening it or pulling out film holders or they can be pinched. When using the shutter you have to be quite careful as the younger students will want to cock and fire it repeatedly. You can have a messed up shutter quickly if they play roughly with it.

I usually use a 135mm lens with them, and occasionally shoot a 90mm.

Good luck!

12-Jun-2015, 10:04
Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! I'm nervous but looking forward to it. Starts next Tuesday for 3 days at the high school level. I've got 35mm, 120, and the 4x5 paper. FP100C, roll film, etc... Even digital.

17-Jun-2015, 13:26
I'm glad to hear you're teaching another generation about these wonderful cameras that are so instrumental to the history of photography, and so rewarding to use. The LF experience is like no other!

This is my first post. I often lurk here, but couldn't resist the urge to post a response! I, myself am a 19 year old college student and also a darkroom technician. At the place where I work/go to school, I often help the instructors with lessons, perform typical darkroom duties, and teach my peers how to use the equipment. I shouldn't necessarily say college though. The program; Bealart, is the only one of its type in Canada. You get a university credit/advanced standing from an art program held within a high school. It's somewhere between a high school and a university course, and as a result, has students of all ages.

Typically we start by showing the younger kids, 13-15 year olds , how view cameras work and teach them about the 4x5 format, its history, etc. At this stage, they begin with 4x5 paper negs and pinhole cameras they build themselves. From this we teach them the basics of optics, the camera obscura and so forth until they are introduced to cameras with lenses. We have a Cambo 8x10 and my personal Omegaview 4x5 that serve as exemplars. Aside from the 4x5 pinholes, they are taught composition, exposure, focus, etc. on 35mm cameras. Once comfortable with those fundamental aspects of photography, they get to use the 8x10 and 4x5. leading up to this, they learned about large format with no practical experience aside from pinhole. They begin with using the 8x10 in studio. Lighting and composition are more or less per-arragned, but they get to load the holders with ortho film or paper in the darkroom. They get to cock the shutter, focus (with no movements), load the back, pull out the darkslide and fire. The students are put in pairs, so they shoot headshots of each other, each with one side of the film holder. They basically get to shoot their own class portraits, and we put them on display at the year end art show!

We stay in the studio for a few more weeks and allow them to shoot portraits of each other (older students are encouraged to find models). As they get more comfortable with the view cameras, students learn about the scheimpflug principle. They are introduced to other films, such as x-ray film (cheap) and B/W negative, often Arista stock or HP5. They are also taught how to contact print, and how it relates to various techniques (e.g. cyanotype, which they often do on clothing, salt prints and wetplate). We let them experiment from here on out, with a bit less structure. At the end of the year, they get to keep their own portraits they shot at the start of the year. Along with the prints they made during the year, those class portraits are displayed at a year-end show.

A bit of an anecdotal point, I've found small black t-shirts to work well as interim darkcloths. Put the big end around the camera, the small end around your head, and you're good to go. ;)