By Naomi Musch
With the advancement of digital photography, nearly anyone can learn to take better pictures and have more fun doing it, as many teens have discovered. Social media gives them a forum to visually share events in their lives with frequency and immediacy such as they’ve never been able to do before.
But what if your student wants to pursue photography with a more passionate purpose? The digital photography craze means that more young people than ever are interested in photography as a potential future career. So how do you, without a professional photographer in the family, guide them along in this elective pursuit, whether for fun or for laying groundwork toward a possible career or cottage industry? That’s what my husband and I have had to figure out as our now-graduating senior, standing on the threshold of possibility, steps into her post-high school future with her eye on turning her passion for photography into a business.
When our daughter Jessamyn got her first inexpensive point-and-shoot camera, she became the family picture-taker. Rarely was she without a camera in her hand, her purse, or sitting nearby. She developed her eye with lots of practice and pretty soon discovered she was especially gifted at portraiture and promotional photography.
While some photographers specialize in capturing scenery, animals, still life, or sporting events, others lean toward time-motion, portraiture, journalism, or promotional photography. Only time and experimentation will reveal a photographer’s niche, so allow room for discovery.
My husband’s and my own expertise was vastly limited, but we found that outside sources which aid study are available to the passionate photographer. During our search, we discovered local camera clubs and photography workshops ranging from beginner level to professional. In these venues, other photographers provide mentorship and instruction. Most often, costs are minimal. Sometimes they require a slight membership fee or workshop enrollment fee.
Check with your local technical and community colleges, 4-H groups, and even in your own homeschool group. Look for volunteer opportunities where photography might be needed.
Reinforce Related Skills
In order to start a photography business some day, to start selling a few stock photos online, or to merely showcase progress, your student’s education needs to be well rounded. He should polish basic consumer and business math skills. He should learn something about understanding and creating contracts (photos of people always require a signed release form before selling or posting to websites), website creation, and marketing and promotion, and he should also become familiar with photo-fixing software, slide shows, framing, and so on. Your student should polish his communication and writing abilities no matter what, but especially if he is interested in photojournalism.
As in all the arts, exhibition is centrally important to students’ work. From the time you hang his or her first finger paintings on the refrigerator, until she shares her first poem or he performs his first guitar solo, art by its very nature is meant for sharing.
We were grateful to belong to a 4-H club that supplied Jessamyn ample opportunity for displaying her photos in public venues as well as offering professional feedback for improvement. Even if you don’t have such a venue, you can create one. Help your budding photographer start her own photo club or join one. Look for contests and publications open to youth submissions. A surprising number of small magazines, newspapers, websites, and blogs will publish a good photo no matter the age of the photographer.
Eventually, you may feel that it’s time for your young photographer to create his or her own site, blog, or Facebook page. A word of caution—first, of course, bear in mind the security, or rather, insecurity of the Internet and social media. Close direction is required if your child is going to post photos on his own site. Photos can be stolen also. For special work it’s good to use some kind of photo software to add a watermark that will deter thievery. Second, when the photographer is ready for such a step, especially if he hopes to step into photography as a business after graduation, then he should post only his best work. It’s tempting to post any photo he or she is fond of, but best work yields best results.
Jessamyn has been hired to photograph graduations, family portraits, bands, and even several weddings. That came about partly as a result of displaying quality work that gave others confidence in her ability to do the job.
Taking the Next Step With Education and Equipment
This is a dilemma. A decision about whether or not to pursue higher education with an aim toward a photography career will depend on the student, the goal, and the degree to which you believe in the benefits of a college education in today’s world. Sometimes costs outweigh the potential for future employment and income return. Sometimes a photography minor can partner well with another major or minor, such as journalism or business.
My husband and I, along with our daughter, are still weighing these decisions. While the thought of a four-year degree is daunting, it doesn’t seem that there are many one- or two-year programs offered except at certain private, specialized, and highly expensive schools. Unfortunately, most technical and community colleges offer only a few classes but do not offer degrees or certificates in photography.
However, camera clubs can continue to serve a large purpose. Also, you might consider pursuing an apprenticeship with a seasoned photographer.
Students should begin by building a portfolio, whatever the case. Offering to do some photo shoots free or at cost for friends and family members can give your student some experience and can help him add to his portfolio.
Books on photography are useful, but magazines are even better as they speak straight to the heart of the developing photographer with their range of topics, and they’re always up on current trends and equipment reviews. A similar source for instruction can be found in the ever-expanding online community. Exceptional examples include these: www.lynda.com (software online training tutorials), www.digital-photography-school.com (a complete online digital photography site where photographers help photographers via discussion boards, tips, and tutorials.), and www.creativelive.com (offers an entire catalog of online photography courses ranging from $39 to $150—there are many excellent courses on this site, but before turning youngsters loose to investigate, wary parents should note that it also offers workshops in boudoir and glamour photography).
Make Photography a Senior Project
Probably the single, most pleasant reason to homeschool is the freedom it gives to choose what we will study and how. With God’s direction and careful planning, photography can become a rewarding senior project that will help your student establish goals, develop proficiency, discover other areas of interest, and capture moments that will last for a lifetime.
Naomi and husband Jeff enjoy epic adventures in northern Wisconsin with their five adult children at home or nearby. She is the author of several inspirational novels, including the Empire in Pine series from Desert Breeze Publishing, and she mentors young writers through tutorials at A NOVEL Writing Site (www.anovelwritingsite.com). Visit her at www.naomimusch.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.