How to Teach Kids Photography: Composition – Part 1

Bad Photo Example

If you, or a child you know, take(s) poor quality photographs don’t worry. Help is on the way. Billy Chia’s How to Teach Kids Photography tutorials are simple, real-life tips and tricks for increasing your photography skills one step at a time in child sized chunks.

Today’s tutorial will cover the following topics:

  • Filling the frame
  • Breaking the frame (Open Composition)
  • Not Breaking the frame (Closed Composition)

Follow the narrative to learn how to take better pictures by incorporating these elements of composition.

Warning: Eve-Marie’s self-portraits may cause you to fall out of your computer chair with laughter.


When Eve-Marie and I picked up the camera today I wanted to see how much she remembered from last week’s lesson so I asked her to take some photos based on what she learned. This is what we got:

Photo 1

Photo 2

She followed last week’s tips mechanically. The first shot came out pretty nice but the second shot wasn’t quite right. The problem was that she backed too far away from her subject. I asked her to take a photo “inbetween” the first two:

Photo 3

Better, but still not there. The problem was that she was focusing on where she physically held the camera in space (which is exactly what I taught her to do) and not necessarily on what it looked like in the frame. (where we needed to go today)

Filling the Frame

I said, “Evie you need to fill the frame.”
Eve-Maire gave me her “Dad you’re crazy and are saying funny words whose meaning I don’t understand” look.
I told her that the “Frame” of a picture is the edge of the picture and ran my finger around the LCD screen of the camera. We looked at her first picture and I asked her, “Does this fill the frame?”

E: Yes
B: Does the second picture fill the frame?
E: No
B: See if you can fill the frame.


Very nice. Try again.


Excellent. Once more.


Good, but this picture only filled the frame top to bottom leaving lot’s of space on the side.

B: Does this picture fill the frame?
E: Uh, no.
B: How can you fill up the frame?
E: I don’t know.
B: Is shape of this dog short and fat or long and tall?
E: Long and tall.
B: Try turning the camera in order to make the frame long and tall.


Beautiful! She was really getting the concept at this point. Although I was intrigued by the differences between the open and closed composition of the two dogs. I said, “Try a picture of Ashlyn and me filling the frame.”


(Yes, I was holding a baby throughout this entire tutorial.)

Breaking the Frame

I said, “Ok, now break the frame.”
Eve-Maire gave me her “Dad you’re crazy and are saying funny words whose meaning I don’t understand” look. Again.

By looking at the pictures of the dogs I explained, “When part of your subject is on screen and part of it goes off the screen it ‘breaks’ the frame. This is called, ‘open composition.’ Try taking a picture with part of our faces on screen and part of it off.”


Not Breaking the Frame

Sweet. Now try taking a picture where all of your subject is contained within the frame. This is called, “closed composition” becuase the frame “closes” around your subject.


At this point we practiced more open and closed compositions together. (All pictures by Eve-Maire with my coaching.)








Final Outcome

At this point Ashlyn finally fell asleep. I told Evie that I was going to take a nap and she could practice on her own.

Caution: I don’t recommend letting your 6-year-old use your expensive digital camera unsupervised unless they are trustworthy beyond their years.

The results:



Our Canon Powershot A610 has a swivel screen that you can spin around to allow you to take pictures of yourself. Evie figured this out on her own while Sarah and I were in the bedroom, that crafty kid.

A Few Self Portraits








Which picture is your favorite?


8 Responses to “How to Teach Kids Photography: Composition – Part 1”

  1. 1 Sarah Chia June 27, 2007 at 6:22 am

    I think I like Self Portrait #2…which Eve titled, “Chinese Eyes.” Although #5 is funny, too.

  2. 2 Eve Chia June 27, 2007 at 8:49 am

    I like that one. It’s cute.
    I like that one becuase you can see the whole dog.
    I like the one where I’m holding my nose. I was just doing that for fun.

  3. 3 worshipcity June 27, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    Eve I am with you on the one where you’re holding your nose! You are hysterical!
    I also like Horsie on an Orange #3.

  4. 4 Katie June 27, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I have to say that i really like them all. I can’t choose just one as my favorite. can you email me them and some pics of Ashlyn. I want to do a collage of her and Ashlyn.

  5. 5 Amanda June 28, 2007 at 7:26 am

    I think #4 is great because it actually looks like she’s genuinely laughing hysterically. It’s awesome! Usually, when I take self-portraits and try to show laughter, it ends up looking like I just hatched from an egg and I’m just a little disappointed in how I turned out.
    Evie–great pictures, kiddo! I think you’re on to a great new art 🙂

  6. 6 Jay Sellers July 5, 2007 at 8:01 am

    …and THAT my friends is why I’m so anxious to have kids. You look like a cool dad, Billy.

  7. 7 Kat October 19, 2007 at 9:49 am

    How awesome! I have a 6-year old grandson that takes over my digital camera every time I go over to visit. He does a really good job but I’ve got to teach him how to focus so he gets a clear picture of what he’s looking at. Those are some great tips!

    BTW, YOU HAVE A HALLOWEEN TREAT OVER AT MY BLOG UNDER “Thanks for the treat Hootin’ Anni’s!”

  8. 8 Billy Chia October 19, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the treat!

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