Photography with purpose

Meaningful photos in early childhood documentation

As early childhood educators seek strategies for managing and creating meaningful documentation, KEETA WILLIAMS questions how photographs can be improved. Karen Hope recently discussed being pressured to produce a high volume of photographs, that may not always demonstrate learning.  Keeta continues this topic by exploring how educators can improve the quality, not quantity of their images.

Photography is a powerful medium for telling important and complex stories. A good photograph slows the viewer down, allowing them to process and appreciate the message. Photography can help educators, families, and the children themselves feel positive emotions about learning experiences (e.g. empathy, pride, and respect).

Rhonda Livingstone asks educators to ‘have the confidence to be courageous, creative and reflective’ in their documentation. A good learning photograph will look different to family snapshots in an Instagram feed, and this is okay.

Photograph with purpose

When you hold the camera, look for the learning. A photograph of a child learning to catch a ball should be of the catch, not the whole child or the surrounding playground. Zoom in on the hands, and wait for the right moment.

Change your camera angle

Many photographs are taken at the level of a teacher who is standing over children. Change the angle of your camera to tell your story from a different perspective. Hold it high above your head, or lay on the floor and look up.

Capture movement and expression

Learning is linked with doing. Mid-action photography is effective for showing what a child did (e.g. jumping, running or dancing). Educators should not be scared of presenting photographs blurred by movement, if the image actually conveys a sense of movement.

Writing about children’s emotions is challenging, unless a child actually tells you how they feel. Use photography to document a child’s look of satisfaction after they complete a difficult task, or expressions of wonder in a group of children as they discover sparkling treasures in their sandpit.

Photograph stories, not people

Imagine a group of children learning about the weather. Each day they look outside, discuss what they see, and their educator takes a photo of the sky. Families can see what their children see, and the children can use the sky pictures for further observation and learning.

Slow down

Photography is an exciting medium for documenting change and progress. Follow an infant as they learn to roll, crawl, stand and walk. Document their development with a series of photographs taken over months, not minutes.

As a relief educator I have often been asked to take a large number of photographs, all within 10 minutes. Meaningful photographs come from meaningful relationships with children. Engage with children throughout the day and keep a camera nearby, even if some days have no photos at all.

 Allow children to take photos

Research suggests when children take photographs without instruction from adults, they choose unconventional subject matter such as the inside of cubbies and cupboards. Families and educators gain a true sense of a child’s day from photographs the child takes themselves. Photography is also a method of inquiry that allows children to explore their world from different perspectives, while learning about emotions, self-concept and consent.

Photography in early childhood settings does not need to be a production line. Taking a less-is-more approach will deliver quality images that accurately tell stories about children’s learning.




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Keeta Williams'
Keeta Williams is an early childhood teacher with over fifteen years' experience. She is also a journalist and professional photographer, specialising in children and families. Keeta is an advocate for 'sciencing', hands-on learning, and nature play.

One thought on “Photography with purpose”

    Julie Lee Davidson says:

    Love all these. But should we also be courteous and ask children permission to take their photo and explain why we want it then let them see the end result.

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