Teaching Photography to Underprivileged Youth

I will be teaching a photography class for underprivileged middle schoolers and would like some suggestions. Any good resources for putting together this class would be appreciated. I am looking for a simple online platform to host the class and student portfolios, software suggestions, project ideas, post-processing and photography books, and anything else that might be helpful. The class will be every-other week for a year, and each one will last about 1hr 45min.

This is pretty much a no-budget endeavor, so resources and hosting have to be free. I will be using free or open-source applications to edit the photos. Any suggestions for software? I have thought about Darktable and Gimp as the editing platform, but I don’t know if that might be too complex for 12-15 year old kids with no prior experience. Other software I am aware of on the Windows platform is RawTherapee, DigiKam, Photoscape X, LightZone, and Krita. Additional Windows suggestions are appreciated, as well as recommendations for Mac (I’m not as familiar with Macintosh).

Really if anyone has experience teaching photography or other digital art to kids, I would love to hear from you. Your recommendations, tips, and experience will be invaluable for teaching these kids.


Would you be able to share where you are teaching and what resources you have? I am also wondering if you could partner with a local library for those who don’t have access to computers or have a safe place to practice their photography and post-processing.


I did that about four or five years ago for the school of my daughter. Be prepared that the classes will get smaller when the school-year ends and kids need to work harder in order to save that math or english grade.

Software wise: The Gimp. It runs on multiple platforms and offers all you will need. Kids can download it for free and I do recommend to leave RAW and such stuff out of the game. It’s PHOTOGRAPHY - not post production in the first place.

I don’t know where you live, but I didn’t find it difficult to get digital cameras for the kids. A letter to the parents, a post in two forums and I got a bunch of Nikon D40, D50, D80 and Canon EOS 400D, EOS 20D and the likes. Some came with quite good kit-zooms (18-105), some had no lens and I could help out - and some kids had their own or could bring daddy’s cam.

Cameras change hands every two weeks. One group gets a photo project, meanwhile the other group works on post prod. Start with portraits (because every kid loves to pose or at least see a picture of his own face) in window light, avoid “landscapes” because not every kid will be able to go to the countryside and the richest kids might shoot spectacular settings (we have a house at the beach - my daughter could come up with shots from the dunes and the sea) … but that’s not fair with kids who rarely leave town.

Don’t let kids get used to a special camera. Everybody should have the possibility to work with the “star” and everyone must try his best with the shitty box, too. Check on this - don’t allow preferences because the “looser” who gets “always the worst cameras” will feel like photography is not his thing anymore.

Be straight and honest. Not every picture is good, not every kid has given his best. show good pictures to everyone “here, see what Sally has come up with, it’s just great!” and critique rubbish “a portrait shall allow a communication between the model and the beholder - this is just a snapshot of someone”.

Work on M from the beginning. The first day, you measure the light and tell them (e.g.) “all cameras must be set to ISO 400, f 5,6 and 1/250”. Take it from there and let them find out what incremental changes will do to their shots. Never forget the natural order of things:

P ussy
S tudent
A dvanced
M aster

Have fun and when you convert one of the class into a future lifelong camera-slinger, you have done God’s work ;o)


TBH before I focus on technical things I teach people about composition.

  • rule of thirds
  • “go down to your subject”

But also mention that those are just guidelines not hard rules

really the first technical thing I teach many people is

  • exposure compensation

Easiest way to get your exposure right without going straight to manual mode. I even tell them how to find it on their smart phones.

Last bit is then how aperture and shutter speed affect their photos and why it might matter to control part of it if you want a certain look.


I’d agree with this personally. Composition and developing an “eye” for pleasing compositions is a skill that carries across all visual arts in my opinion. Learning to “see” and frame what they’re looking at in various ways really helps to get kids engaged and playing around without worrying about anything technical at all.

(I’ve seen way more technically poor images with incredible impact than technically perfect ones.)

Perhaps some exercises with some common objects/areas and asking them to find the most interesting views would help to expand their horizons (someone once said if you can’t find something interesting to shoot within a mile (block?) of your home then you aren’t trying hard enough. :slight_smile: ).

For example, Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30:



Thanks to @paperdigits for letting me know this conversation is happening. :slight_smile: I teach university level intro to photography currently, using darktable, gimp, hugin and processing.org although I would suggest maybe sticking to one software to start especially as the students who are younger with limited time. I would suggest personally darktable as it is a bit easier to pick up in terms of workflow. (gimp gives you a lot of leeway to make mistakes and sometimes simple tasks are harder in result. Both is the side effect of the program being more flexible and having more features/options for granular editing). This is of course unless you want to teach them compositing which can also be fun for them, in which case GIMP is definitely the way to go.

In terms of hardware I assume cameras will be largely out of the budget. (even if there might be 1-2 in the class for demonstration) If phones are possibility, you can get them to use that. There is a lot that can be done phone cameras these days. The trade-off would be the parts about lenses and apertures remaining more abstract as they will have less experience with it. The positive part would be that they will be able to continue their hobby after the class as they will already have the tools.

Phone cameras are definitely enough for learning basics of exposure and composition. For android phones there is an open source app called Open Camera that is quite good, and will give them some manual settings at least (and possibility to shoot raw) if the native camera app doesn’t have that option (many do, though, these days). What is available ends up depending on the underlying firmware of the phone through.

I hope this helps.


Hi, it is for a group called Clubs in the City. These are at risk kids - I am not expecting any resources from parents. This will be my first time working with them, so I am not 100% sure what to expect. The kids will probably be between 12 and 15. I believe they will have 1 DSLR and some point and shoot cameras. I was thinking about reaching out to some local camera shops, or even camera manufacturers to see about getting some donations.

Also, it meets 2x a month for a year, so I’ll have to come up with about 24 lessons. The club will run for about an hour and 45 minutes. I appreciate all the feedback so far.

I run the photography club at the middle school where I work. This is a diverse group socioeconomically. Most of these kids just shoot with their phones, so we talk a lot about composition and using light. Fortunately, our school district has a subscription to Adobe products, so I’ve donated some of my RAW files to the cause and we’ve taken some lessons in Lightroom. These kids love to go places, even locally, so if you can arrange a trip of some kind they will love you for it. You’re making a difference in their lives, so have fun and value the time that you spend with them.


A few notes from my experience working with children:

  • The emphasis should be on photography. Editing is not so important at first.

  • Think about what could be photographically interesting in the environment and indicate the topics

  • The topics should be broadly defined so that the children can incorporate their own ideas and interests. (e.g. topics like “diversity”, “colours in nature”, “my district” etc.) Children also like photo stories (photo comics). Let them think up a story and you help them to realize it.

  • Do not try to play the teacher, but rather guide them. That means, theory comes when you first demonstrate the “cool” things to them. For example, play with perspective, depth of field, details, etc. Then they are attentive and learn theoretical backgrounds quickly and easily.

  • The same goes for editing. Darktable (or any other raw developer) and GIMP are fine. But I would start with GIMP, because you can be much more creative in the beginning. First you show the (without explanation) simple but “cool” things, what you can do with it - if possible, quickly. When they have made the first steps and experience first success, you can show them more complex procedures.

  • Just let them play and experiment with it for a while. If they get new ideas by playing with it, take these impulses and try to integrate them into your work.


Thank you all. Your replies are all very helpful. You have given me some great ideas!

I am still looking for a good free online way to manage the class and have a private gallery for the class. Anyone have suggestions for that? I found a site called cluster.co that allows you to privately share images with a group. The only problem I see with it is I don’t think there are albums or some way to seperate images for different assignments or students (don’t see any sort of folder structure). Any ideas about something similar?

Thank you again.

You could use a static site generate configured to use the netlify admin panel, hide the site behind an .htaccess or similar.


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Its great that you’re doing this! I think the comment that many/most will use a phone is probably spot-on. Focus on composition and lighting. Make sure they know that taking the same picture in the same place with different light can make all the difference. Make sure they know that not everyone thinks the same and that discussing why you like (or don’t like) somebody’s photo is all good - don’t take it personally! These days it seems that post goes hand-in-hand with taking shots, 50 years ago, we had to learn to process film and work in a dark room with red lights and smelly chemicals - post is part of the process. There are apps on phones that do stuff auto-magically, teaching that part of the equation is a whole different topic but you can’t ignore it. The kids are going to want to know how to do editing beyond cat ears and furry faces.

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Thanks again to everybody for your feedback. We should be starting the first week in February. I need to get a plan together for these sessions. I will definitely be incorporating some of these suggestions!


How is this going? It would be great to compare notes at some point. I’m always in the market for something new for my students to learn.

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I’ll let you know. The first class was cancelled, but have one tomorrow 2/15. Hope it goes well!


Can i suggest Faststone image viewer as a great way of accessing photos.
It is free, very user friendly, has useful image editing features, handles RAW etc.
Great lightweight way that anyone to view their pics
I’ve used it for years and it keeps improving. Any heavy lifting I go to RT etc

Hi @Transit and welcome.

While Faststone is excellent and you don’t have to buy it, it is not open source/free software, which is what we focus on here. There are plenty of places to sing the praised of proprietary software, but this isn’t one of them.

Oh dear sorry about that!!
The outline (below) is ambiguous
Thanks for the welcome.

To provide tutorials, workflows and a showcase for high-quality photography and cinematography using Free/Open Source Software.

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The ambiguity lies out there, more than in the outline itself. Maybe this definition helps clarifying.


(From the Free Software Foundation web site)

Oh, and welcome!

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Thank-you for the welcome and explanation.
I understand.