Nature Photography for Outdoor Education

Cover Photo Nature Photography for Outdoor Education- boy holding camera

Photography is a great way of getting students, especially those hard-to-reach middle-year students, to engage with nature. Students can integrate their digital world with the natural world, by using technology as a way to explore and get to know nature. Not only do students enjoy the novelty of exploring outdoors with a camera, they also can explore more closely and see things that they may have otherwise missed while using a camera. These nature photography ideas for outdoor education will help you to get started using the camera as a way to get your students to engage with nature.

Before You Start, Get Permission​

Be sure to check your school’s policies regarding phones, cameras, and other devices at school. If you require students to bring a device from home, ensure that they have family permission to do so. 

Also, be sure to talk to your students about being respectful with their photography. For example, always ask permission first if you want to include a person in your photo. Also, ensure that you have permission to be in a space if you plan on taking photographs outside of the school property. 

Boy with a camera in a field

Equipment for Nature Photography​

You don’t need fancy setups or tons of equipment to get your students started with nature photography. All you need is some phones or iPads to get everyone started. Check with your school phone policies before starting any photo project. 

Digital Cameras​

Digital cameras used to be a big deal, but now with everyone having cameras on their cell phones, we don’t see them as much anymore. Families may just have a few stored in a closet that they might be willing to donate. However, depending on the age of the camera the quality of the photos may vary greatly. Also, each camera has its own unique memory cards and charging cables that may go missing (or already be missing.) Furthermore, with newer computers, transferring photos to the computer can be a challenge as newer computers are being built without card readers or USB inputs. 

Pros of Digital Cameras​
  • They are easy to use- most are just point-and-click
  • They are cheap or easy to find
  • You can start a collection of them 
Cons of Digital Cameras​
  • The photo quality may vary
  • Ensuring that all the cameras have their respective charging cables, connector cables, and memory cards can be a pain
  • Transferring photos onto computers can be a challenge

Phones or IPads

Most of my older students have a phone that they bring with them to school (our school policy is that they have to stay in the locker during the day, except if they are given permission by the teacher to get them.) Most of these phones have fantastic cameras that take beautiful pictures, even up close. However, if not all of your students have a phone that they are able to bring to school or if phones are not permitted at your school this may not be an option. Similar to digital cameras, it can be challenging to transfer photos onto a computer if you are needing to print the photos. 

Pros of Using Phones/IPods​
  • In my experience, most of my older students have one
  • They take great photos
  • They belong to the student so the student takes responsibility for it
  • Students that have air drop capabilities can easily transfer photos
Cons of Using Phones/IPods​
  • Phones at school may conflict with your school policies
  • Students have the potential to lose or damage their phone during the photo activities
  • It may cause some students who don’t have a phone (or don’t have the fanciest phone) to feel “less-than” 
  • It can be a challenge to transfer photos onto a computer

IPads​

IPads are my go-to for doing photography projects at school. The photo app is easy to use and students usually end up with some fantastic photos. We have a class set of iPads at the school that the students are able to use for these types of projects. However, there are some drawbacks to using these as well. For example, we aren’t able to print from the IPads with our school network so the photos need to be transferred to a computer for printing. Also, since kids are using them outside, there is a potential for the iPads to be damaged.

Pros of Using IPads​
  • If your school has a set these are readily available 
  • They are easy to use, just open the app, point and click 
  • They take good photos 
Cons of Using IPads​
  • Can be challenging to transfer photos to a computer, especially older versions that can’t airdrop
  • Are a bit more bulky to carry around
  • Can be damaged when being used outside

Traditional Film Cameras​

I have no experience using a traditional film camera with my students. I have had friends who have used them during high school photography classes, but otherwise I have no real experience with them. These can be fun in that your students won’t know what their photos look like until they are developed. However, finding film and getting the film developed are the biggest challenges here. 

Pros of a Traditional Film Camera​
  • The novelty of getting film developed can be fun
  • Your school may have a set of cameras if they had a previous photography program
  • It is great for photography purists
Cons of a Traditional Film Camera​
  • Finding the cameras, film, and a developing studio can be a challenge
  • Most kids won’t know how to use the camera so you will need to do some pre-teaching
Child taking photographs in the forest in the winter

Ideas for Nature Photography in Outdoor Education​

If you set your students free with cameras you will get excitement and momentary engagement. However, as soon as the novelty wears off the students will begin to lose interest. Therefore, in setting out on your photo journey it is best to have a plan. Here are some nature photography ideas for outdoor education to get you started. 

Photography Nature Journals​

This is an activity that you can spread out over the course of many days, weeks, or months. You may make your journals as structured or as unstructured as you would like. 

1. Provide students with different journal prompts each day. The prompts should direct the students as to what you would like them to focus on. You can gear your prompts towards a topic that you are studying or have general prompts for each photo session. Some examples of prompts are:

  • Find something beautiful
  • What is the tiniest thing you can find?
  • What is something that you find amazing?
  • What is something that you wonder about?

2. Have the students compile their photos into a nature journal. You may choose to do a digital journal.

Some options are:

  • Printing the photos and making a scrapbook
  • Making a blog (get parent permission first)
  • Making a google slide show
  • Turning the photos into a collage either digitally or physically

Capture the Details​

This is a short-term activity to help your students really get to know something in their learning space. In this activity, you would instruct your students to take as many different pictures of as many details as possible of a single item. For example, if the student is instructed to take photos of a flower. They might zoom in on the petals, on the stem, the leaves, the stamens, etc. You may wish to include this as part of your unit on trees, plants, insects, or wherever your imagination takes you. 

Photo Stories​

Photos tell their own story, but you can also use photography as a jump-off point for getting your students to write. Have your students take a photograph or series of photographs. The students can then use a photograph or a series of photographs to tell a story. Depending on the age of your students you could have them write either fiction or non-fiction stories. 

Changes Over Time​

Photography can be used to help your students understand the changes that happen in their learning space over time. Students can choose an area to study over course of the school year and visit it repeatedly. The students can use photography to document the changes that occur with the seasons or just the changes that occur over time. 

Photo Maps​

A great way to combine mapping skills and photography. Students can take photographs of different locations around your community or learning space. The students then create a map and use the photos to illustrate their map. Depending on the age of your students you can have the students add in details or do research on the areas they chose to include in their map. You can tie your maps into your science curriculum through mapping out different plants, animals, or habitats in your learning space. You might also be able to tie in different social studies themes into your mapping and photography. 

Boy taking a selfie by a river

Some Considerations for Photography in Nature​

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings​

Remind your students to be aware of their surroundings and to look out for different dangers. When the students are immersed in their photography, they may not be looking where they are going or noticing potential dangers around them. Having students work in partners can help students to look out for each other.

Be Respectful of Each Other​

Teach your students to ask permission first before taking photos of each other. This is especially important if you are choosing to have the student post their photos in an online format. 

Be Respectful of the Environment​

Remind your students to be careful of the environment that they are photographing in. Sometimes in our efforts to get the perfect shot we might step on something or accidentally knock something over. Teach your students to be aware of their surroundings and to try their best to not have a big impact on the environment.

Treat Animals With Respect​

Getting a good shot of an animal shouldn’t put that animal in danger. Remind your students to keep a safe distance when photographing animals. Chasing animals and invading their homes can be potentially dangerous to the animals.

3 boys taking a selfie together

Now Let’s Try Some of these Nature Photography for Outdoor Education Ideas…​

Photography is a great way to get your students outside and immersed in nature. You will be amazed by the quality and creativity that you will find. These nature photography ideas for outdoor education are just a start to getting your kids outside. Armed with cameras, your students can use photography to document the beauty and wonder of nature. They can share their own understanding of nature and continue to build their connection to the natural world.

Ready to start getting outside with your students, but aren’t sure where to start. Why not check out our “Get Outside Toolkit.” In this toolkit, you will find tons of handy teacher tools, handouts, and templates to help you get started with getting outside with your students.

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