This project is great for kids of all ages. While learning about lighting and composition, they are also going on an imagainary jungle or forest adventure! Their final photos are amazingly realistic. You can set this up as a scavenger hunt in a natural area with the animals pre-posed in different locations, or you can give a toy animal to your kids and let them do the posing.
Digital camera, tablet or phone with a camera
DIY reflector (directions here, cardboard & foil)
A natural looking setting for the animals. Either an outdoor area or window that has natural vegetation behind it.
Blanket or towel for kids to kneel or lay down on while getting close-ups of wild animals!
Optional Props - foil colored with blue sharpie for water features, clay or silly putty for holding animals and props in place, any natural props that may help create a scene like rocks, small sticks and leaves.
A foil reflector is an easy to make tool that will improve your photographs dramatically. Kids enjoy using them because they can see the results. You can use any stiff cardboard surface, however, a piece of white foam board is ideal because it gives you two surfaces that are useful in photography. Use the white side when the sun is bright and intense, and the silver side when the sky is overcast or you are in the shade. Cut a piece of aluminum foil to the size of your foam board and then glue it in place with the shinny side facing up. Your reflector is ready to use immediately!
Using your DIY reflector takes a little bit of practice, but you will see the results when you are using it correctly. The reflector is most effective when it is placed opposite the sun, so that the light from the sun hits it directly and bounces toward your subject (in this case the toy animals).
After practicing with the reflector, it's time to go on a photo safari! Take the animals out and set them up in a natural setting. Some optional props to have on hand are: rocks of different sizes, small sticks, foil colored with a blue sharpie for water features, leaves and silly putty to stick the animals on branches.
FIND AN UNCLUTTERED BACKGROUND
After the scene is set, there are a few composition tricks that you can practice that will make your images stand out. The first tip is to find a background that is uncluttered and is as far away from your main subject as possible.
The first image of the tiger has a CLUTTERED BACKGROUND. In the second image, the background is UNCLUTTERED and the focus is on the tiger. Another tip for blurring the background - place your subject far away from the background and zoom in with your camera.
THE RULE OF THIRDS
Another composition trick is to place your main subject in an appealing spot in the frame. This is called THE RULE OF THIRDS. If you think of your images as having grid lines that break it up into thirds, the most appealing locations to place your subject are where those lines meet. See the example images below.
The last tip is to GET CLOSE and AT THE SAME LEVEL as your subject. This might mean kneeling or laying down on the ground.
The great thing about toy animals is that they stay where they are put! You can take your time composing and using your DIY reflector to get the best shots possible. When you are done, share your shots with friends and family! Then, start planning your next photo safari, possibly at a local zoo.