It’s good to see

I’ve had a few community involvement jobs recently working with novice and aspirant photographers, helping them improve their photographic ability. Most of them expect techy stuff, and when I say “Nah, it’s not about cameras, it’s about seeing” some get anxious. This was perhaps not quite what they expected.

But once they get their heads in the groove, they love it! Two different groups I worked with in Easter  Ross that each wanted to explore woodland areas were astonished that they only managed to get 50m from the classroom and no further, spending four hours getting more and more intimately acquainted with the ever-changing patterns of light and shade, and small details, in a relatively small area. Once you look beyond the obvious, and then the less obvious, there’s a whole world of wonder to poke about in.

Leaf, rock, water and reflections © John MacPherson

It was great to see an iPad being used in earnest by one young lad whose interest in photography had been kindled precisely because of the ease of use and instant feedback the Apple tablet offered. Whats all that about use of computers and iPads making kids lazy and stopping them enjoying the outdoors?

Tablet and stone © John MacPherson

And last week was even better. I was asked to run a short course for a primary school group on a small island off the back of the Isle of Skye on the west coast of Scotland. The twelve children, all between six and nine years old, were brilliant. Several had their own iPod Touch devices (at home), and all had some experience with mum or dad’s phone camera or digicam. I’d several out-of-the-box new cameras for them to use that were supplied by the funding organisation, but unfortunately without instructions. The children took less than minute to figure out how they worked. By the time I found my glasses, they were sorted! So I gave them a quick inside session, about looking, thinking, seeing, and enjoying, and got them all fired up. The aspect that really got them animated was colour temperature, and the notion that ‘mood’ in a picture can somehow be imparted by the predominant colour, either ‘cool’ or ‘warm’, and how that can affect the perception of the viewer. This was only a short exercise but it really grabbed their attention.

Then we all went outside and I briefly showed them ordinary stuff but how it can look extraordinary when seen through the ‘eye’ of the camera, then let them loose with their small digital compacts. Not bothered by the drizzling rain, and unfazed by the serious midge clouds that swarmed around us, the children devoured the photographic opportunities in their playground like locusts.

Raasay Primary School © John MacPherson

And the work they produced was superb. My favourites were a fallen fuschia on wet tarmac that one child spotted, a crane fly on a wall heading for a dark horizon that was stalked by another observant youngster, and a leaf seen from beneath by a very small child, but there was more, much more………


© Raasay Primary School



© Raasay Primary School


© Raasay Primary School

…such as this wonderfully quirky ‘portrait’ which I think is fabulous. There were some wonderful portraits taken but for reasons of confidentiality I’m not able to show them. But trust me, they’re good!

© Raasay Primary School

By the end of the day they were exhausted, happy and buzzing, despite being somewhat damp.

It’s easy when you’re an adult, but particularly when you’re ‘a photographer’, to become all serious and lose sight of the sheer fun that taking photos can be, particularly for young people. But more importantly I think its worth reminding ourselves how empowering photography can be for children, helping them to develop the knowledge and ability to be able to explore and question what’s around them.

Now that we all have devices that can so easily ‘show and share’ its worth remembering that it all begins with the skill of seeing.

Author — John Macpherson

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

Discussion (2 Comments)

  1. Yep, I wish I’d started when I was that age. Well done John. This sort of thing should be encouraged across the educational board in my opinion.

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