Highters Heath 2012





Highters Heath 2012, a set on Flickr.

Highters Heath 2012 Reflections on Yr 1 Photography


I’ve led a week of photography with Year One at Highters Heath Community School since 2008.  I’ve led creative projects with young people for 12 years, the past four years I’ve evolved and refined methods of teaching photography to young children in schools and nurseries across the Midlands.


My original remit back in 2008 was inspired by the question:

What’s it like to be five and look up at the world?

The past two years we have involved a more curriculum inspired approach.  Last year looking at Forces, pulling pushing etc – which didn’t work too well and proved rather restrictive to the more creative approach I had developed previously.  Far more successfully this year we looked at the topic of Materials.

Materials – http://www.flickr.com//photos/rubberears/sets/72157629949743163/

There are 28 children in the class, I worked with 7 children for a whole day, supported by a  TA.  Each child had a school camera to themselves.  On the 5th day I worked with the whole class.

I don’t set objectives as I’m paranoid of falling into a teaching by numbers or tick box approach to learning, when in reality it’s a never ending journey.  But the things I had in mind every day were:

  • to introduce/develop competent use of digital cameras
  • encourage creativity and investigation through photography
  • to introduce/develop consideration of composition – taking an image they mean to take
  • develop thinking skills and decision making
  • develop language skills through discussions around materials and analysis of images
  • improve concentration spans
  • increase confidence
  • have fun

We began each day with a simple game “Tell me about this?” which gave the group a chance to talk about three different objects, a metal teaspoon, a plastic milk bottle lid and a cardboard raisin box, which were produced one at a time out of a bag.


Whether the object was metal, plastic or cardboard came out at various times, it was rarely the first description.  The exercise proved a great way of getting them talking and it gave me a handy introduction to children I’d never met before.


Milk Lid

it’s a little soft – bumpy – hard to squash – it’s a lid – it’s a circle – little lines big lines – green – plastic – bendy – got a dot – hard to bend – like a wheel

Raisin Box

it’s wiggly – you could rip it – it is red – got the sun on it – kind of grapes – yellow and white writing – a box – cuboid – the box is cardboard – the box is wood – a little soft – can squeeze it

Tea Spoon

the handle is warmer – slippery – shiny – writing on back – it’s metal – it’s hard – you can’t bend it – grey – silver – pointy and flat – not soft – you eat with it – it’s like a scare-crow without arms

They each held the object and passed it on, the third time the object was passed around in the bag, this additional challenge created excitement, greater focus and more descriptions.  For example they guessed it was a milk bottle lid and were debating if it might be Blue, Green or Red.

The first photographic ‘challenge’ of the day was aimed at warming up their observational skills and introducing the concept of composition.

“I own 6 cameras, the cheapest is £60 the most expensive £6,000.  

Do you know what’s most important for every photographer?

– Their eyes.

Do you all have eyes?”

I always end up with a number a really great images when I run these projects, but unless you have observed a child taking the photograph it’s hard to establish how ‘intended’ an image is, as opposed to being a happy accident.  I’ve been keen to find a way of increasing the precision in planning / composing an image.

For a long time I have used the phrase “Before you push the button, look around the edge of the frame.” but it doesn’t work too well with this age group.  I’ve finally found a way of introducing and developing ‘intended precision’ by exploring composition, thinking about proximity to the subject, looking at what’s included and excluded from the frame and positioning of the ‘elements’ of the photograph in the frame.


I had photographed a number of corners around the room on my iPad and showed the group the first one, if a child knew where the image was taken, they had the chance to replicate my photo.

corner 1


I like corners, they’re everywhere, they can be 2D or 3D, they can be composed in many ways. They are specific enough to get you started, yet abstract enough to encourage creative freedom.

Take the photo, look at the photo, think what would improve the photo.

‘What would improve this photo, what’s a distraction from the chairs, what should you include, what should you exclude?’

I like corners, they’re everywhere, they can be 2D or 3D, they can be composed in many ways. They are specific enough to get you started, yet abstract enough to encourage creative freedom.

We then played a kind of spot the difference – discussing how to take a photograph that was most like mine.  This proved an effective way of applying thought to the composition and developing precision when framing and leads to my first mantra.

“Decide what you INCLUDE and EXCLUDE from your photo.”

Camera Skills

For a child to have creative freedom with a camera they need to be technically confident  using one.  I check they can turn the camera on, hold it correctly, take a photograph and look at the photograph by asking them to take a photo of their feet.

Common mistakes are:

Sausage fingers’ – When a finger slips in front of the lens, on the photo appearing like a blurry sausage.

Chicken wings’ – Elbows need to be tucked in to hold the camera steady when the photo is taken, preventing a blurry image.

Moving the camera before the photo is taken – wait for the black screen to appear.

Keep the wrist strap on for safety and to prevent it appearing in the shot.

Potential developments are using the flash and “Photograph your feet with the ceiling as the background.

I showed the groups a few more ‘corner’ photos on my iPad which they had to go in search of around the room.


Again with the aim of replicating my images as closely as possible, we began discussing the various materials and shapes present in these images.  “There’s a green fabric triangle, and wood and brick.


How many different materials are in this photo?”

With the basic camera skills under their belt the exercises move beyond these rather tight remits to more exploratory ones.

Find your own corners to photograph.” and

Find corners made from different materials.


I like corners, they’re everywhere, they can be 2D or 3D, they can be composed in many ways.  They are specific enough to get you started, yet abstract enough to encourage creative freedom.

During this session I constantly had the students coming up to me to show me their photos, this is where they benefit from one2one support, advising them on how to improve a certain composition, encouraging them to try different things and setting them new challenges where necessary.  I didn’t ask any of the groups to show me their photos, yet every set of children instinctively wanted to share their accomplishments.  I took this as a very positive sign, they were focused and engaged, benefiting from a camera each.  I’ve done similar exercises in pairs sharing a camera and it rarely carries the same momentum.

A crucial element of each day is the time I allow for reflection, looking at the photographs and discussing the merits of the images and indeed any problems or improvements that could be made.  This can be quickly done by connecting a camera to a TV or projector and scrolling through the images, pausing at the ones worth talking about.  Although it’s a better use of time to download selected photographs and just look at the relevant ones.

Hit, Miss or Maybe 

Whilst scrolling through photos I encourage a voting system thumbs up for an image they like, down for a poor image an side on if they’re not sure.  I make it clear that there is no right or wrong and it’s ok for people to like or dislike an image, what’s important is that they can explain why they like it or not.  This keeps all criticism constructive and develops an analytical language.  I reserve double thumbs up for an outstanding image.

Here’s my second mantra…

‘It’s not just WHAT you photograph but HOW you photograph.’

On the drier day (and even on the wet days when the rain stopped) we went outside in search of Materialsto photograph.  Photography is the capturing of light, there’s much more light outside, even on a dull day.

I had prepared a sheet of challenges, “Photograph a finger on a shiny surface.” etc.  But I found the children were focused enough with the challenge of photographing different  materials.


Again the photographers instinctively wanted to share their achievements with the accompanying adults, who offered suggestions and encouragement, reminding them to think HOW to take a photo, for example, look uplook down.

‘Boring photographers take boring photographs at eye level.  Interesting photographers take interesting photos by finding interesting angles.’

After a short session taking photographs we would return to the library to review them, using the method detailed above.

I occasionally varied the focus,  “Photograph repetitive patterns.”  “A friend touching a material.”  “Three materials in the same photograph.” “Find wooden circles.” etc.


After a while some students became automated, taking photographs without really thinking carefully about what they were taking or looking at the image they had just made.  I needed a new process.

Take – Look – Think

Take the photo, look at the photo, think what would improve the photo.

Take the photo, look at the photo, think what would improve the photo.

‘What would improve this photo, what’s a distraction from the chairs, what should you include, what should you exclude?’


My first question is ‘What is this a photograph of?’  If they can’t answer this question there’s a problem, if they can ‘It’s a photograph of plastic chairs.’ then I say, ‘Good, what else is in the photo?’  and we talk about the other elements in the image, ‘There’s the wall, some floor, a window, Josh’s foot.’


‘What would improve this photo, what’s a distraction from the chairs, what should you include, what should you exclude?’  With this knowledge, we decide if the photo can be improved by taking the image again.

He took (twice) he brought it over to show me, I asked him a question, he realised he could improve it before I finished speaking.


We finished each day with a 5-10 minute presentation to the rest of the class, this was an opportunity for those photographers who felt like it to speak to the whole class explaining what they had done and share some of their photographs.  We would also repeat the various learning points and phrases which meant by Friday the group of 7 were already familiar with these.

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