Exploring life through the lens is a fantastic way to spend the school holidays, writes Dionne Christian.

With the advent of phones that can be used as cameras and online picture-sharing sites like Instagram and Tumblr, everyone can start snapping. While easy tools are encouraging us to think about photography in new ways, there is now a generation of kids (and their grown-ups) keen to learn more about using a camera or a phone to take great pics. Use the school holidays to explore "life through the lens" with these ideas to inspire budding photographers.

Photography classes

Auckland Zoo is a great place to go to see wild animals, learn more about their habitats and how we can do our bit to preserve both the animals and their environments. It's also one of the best places to learn how to photograph animals - wild and not-so-wild - with classes for beginners through to more advanced snappers. Students start the day with a professional photographer learning about aperture, shutter speed, ISO and composition followed by an afternoon safari around the zoo to put the theory into practice. The Young Photographers Workshop for 10-14-year-olds has an experienced zoo guide to share their top tales about the animals and take the kids to meet some of them up close. I completed a beginners' course and found it an extremely informative and fun day. No matter what sort of camera you're using or how good you are, you'll end up leaving a much better photographer than you were when you arrived.

Takapuna's Lake House Arts Centre has added a new kids' class in response to the growing interest young people are showing in photography. The seven-week course is tutored by professional photographer Julia Glover. Each 1.5-hour class will focus on a different genre - landscape, portraiture and food, for example - as well as the history and theory of photography. Education co-ordinator Sally Lush and Julia hope budding young photographers develop their creativity and learn more about what makes a great shot. And you don't need to fork out for a fancy camera - mobile phones or cameras of any style can be used, Sally says.

Take photos

Here are some ideas to get snapping these school holidays:

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Great locations include the Auckland Zoo; regional parks like the Waitakere and Hunua Ranges; urban escapes such as Cornwall Park and the Auckland Botanic Gardens, and our beaches can be stunning even on winter days.

Take up Steve's mentor's suggestion: think about what's in your neighbourhood - the buildings, landscapes and people can tell stories about where you live.

Learn by example. Check out National Geographic's Your Shot website, where professional or hobbyist photographers share their best pix. You can contribute photos (and captions) to themed assignments curated by National Geographic staff, enter competitions and glean tips and hints from the pros.

The kids' section includes especially selected photos, games and activities.

Young photographers attending the workshops at Auckland Zoo. Photo / Supplied
Young photographers attending the workshops at Auckland Zoo. Photo / Supplied

Hear an award-winning photographer

Award-winning National Geographic photographer Steve Winter grew up in Indiana and was given a camera for his 7th birthday by his father, a keen amateur photographer.

Steve's in town next month to inspire those who love travel, exploration, discovery and photography. He'll take audiences trekking into some of the world's most remote locations, sharing stories about camping at 15,000ft (4572m), being charged by rhinos, caught by quicksand, tracking down big cats and coming face-to-face with a tiger.

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His advice to aspiring young photographers is to take pictures whenever and wherever you can and not to worry about making mistakes, because it's how you learn. Steve wanted to be a photographer from the time he got his first camera. After university, he signed on as a photojournalist for Black Star Photo Agency, taking pictures for the likes of Time, Newsweek, Natural History, Scientific American and more.

"Photography is about using pictures to tell a story and the best thing you can do, as an aspiring photographer, is to learn how to do that," he says. "It means thinking about composition and the story you want your pictures to tell.

"When I was growing up, I thought the stuff around me was boring. The best pieces of advice a photographic director at National Geographic told me was, 'if you show me someone who can bring in a story shot 15 miles from their home, I'll give them a job', because there's an art to finding stories in your own neighbourhood. We all have stories in our lives, our neighbourhoods and our families."

He has a mission, saying that sharing the beauty of big cats - tigers, jaguars, snow leopards and cougars - prompts us all to work toward saving them.

"By saving the world's top predators, we save huge forests, rivers, wildlife and, ultimately, our planet."

Lions in South Africa. Photo / Steve Winter
Lions in South Africa. Photo / Steve Winter

Powerful photo exhibition in town

As its name suggests, the World Press Photo Exhibition is a travelling show of best shots from the annual press photography contest. Thanks to the Rotary Club of Auckland, it's in town this month. Entries from 5692 professional press photographers from 131 countries (97,912 images in total) were whittled down to 45 prizes in eight categories by a jury of internationally recognised photojournalists.

The 41 winners come from from Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Denmark, Eritrea, France, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, Britain and the United States. Some of the images are pretty powerful and poignant - disturbing even - so the exhibition is recommended for those over 12.

Need to know

Auckland Zoo Photographers' Workshops run throughout the year. Kids' workshops this Wednesday, July 15 (9.30am-2.30pm). Kids need to be 10-14, with a digital camera. $95 per child, which includes zoo entry. Bookings essential. For more details on this and the adult workshops see the Auckland Zoo website.

Lake House Arts Centre's 7-week Saturday Morning Photography Club for 8-16-year-olds (August 8-September 19, 9am-10.30am). $140 (or $130 for Lake House members), bookings essential. Ph (09) 486 4877.

National Geographic Live: My Nine Lives with Steve Winter, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Wednesday, August 5. Tickets from $39. Book on 0800 111 999.

The World Press Photo Exhibition, Level 6, Smith & Caughey's, Queen St, July 4-26. Tickets $10 weekdays, $15 weekends, students $5.

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Posted by Herald Life on Saturday, 11 July 2015