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Giving Children a Shot at Photography : Hobbies: Kids of almost any age can have fun using a camera. But they need guidance and the right equipment for their age and ability.


Budding young photographers might beg to get ahold of Mom or Dad's camera when the holidays arrive. But handing it over without proper instruction might do more harm than good--not only to the equipment but to youngsters' confidence.

"Kids can get frustrated quickly if their photos don't come out sharp, and if they have a bad enough experience, they may not want to take pictures anymore," warns Danny Rivas, manager and photographer at Damel Photography in Agoura Hills.

Rivas suggests children be a minimum of 8 years old before they are entrusted with a real camera. Even though disposable cameras are indestructible, he adds, any real effort a younger child makes to take a photo could prove a waste of time.

Parents wishing to encourage their children's interests might want to start them out with a camera sold by a toy store. Fisher Price, for instance, makes one called the Perfect Shot (suitable for kids ages 5 and older). It takes real pictures and sells for about $20. Less expensive styles sell for around $10 and take standard 110 film. Among those stocked by Toys R Us are models by Le Clic and Quick Shot.

When kids are ready for more sophisticated equipment, Rivas recommends what is known as a "point-and-shoot camera." This category includes the disposable variety, which he suggests for kids ages 8 to 11. For obvious reasons, throwaway models--priced from about $13 to $18--work well for youngsters not responsible enough for expensive equipment.

One especially child-friendly version of the new disposables is a camera called the Talking Sidekick. Recently introduced by Polaroid--and not intended solely for children--the single-use camera utilizes a built-in, pre-programmed computer chip that plays standard shutterbug talk: "Smile and say cheese" or "C'mon, look happy." Unlike other Polaroid instant cameras, this one must be dropped off at a photo finisher. The unit sells for about $14 at food, drug and department stores.

When kids reach the ages of 12 to 14, Rivas says, they may be entrusted with a 35-millimeter auto-focus camera, but he cautions that those with interchangeable lenses are best left for those 16 and older.

Whatever equipment they use, children enjoy snapping photos for a variety of reasons. Some, like 10-year-old Samantha Rosenberg of Van Nuys, see the historical benefits of picture taking.

"When you are older, you can look back and see what you did and what you looked like when you are young," says Rosenberg. She's been taking pictures for five years and already has quite a stash of photos featuring family members, friends, her pet rabbit, dog and two cats. Most were taken with a hand-me-down Kodak, though she started with a toy-store camera.

For 10-year-old Erin Hoover of Calabasas, picture taking became a hobby when she was about 8. Using a Vivitar 35-millimeter camera, Hoover enjoys snapping shots not just of friends and her pet kittens, Pumpkin and Shayna, but of herself as well.

It's a skill she mastered after considerable practice. She measures the distance through the view finder by focusing on a particular object, then positioning herself in place of the object, holding the camera at arm's length and snapping the picture. A big fan of Steven Spielberg, Hoover often sends photos of herself to the director along with frequent fan letters.

Erin's 13-year-old sister, Lauren, also an avid shutterbug, usually takes several pictures on the last days of school and at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, where she spends much of her summer. Lauren says she enjoys photography's artistic aspects.

"I like taking pictures because I can't draw," she says. "It's still creative and pictures look even more real."

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