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Gnomes at Summer Camp? How to Use Photography to Motivate and Challenge

by We Inspire Futures Team

Matthias Flynn is a professional photographer who enjoys motivating summer camp participants with the joy of his art. Join us as we interview him about his “gnome strategy” for teaching photography during a summer camp.


Tell us about your Gnome lesson.

The Gnome lesson was a creative lesson given to my summer camp photography students. They were asked to photograph a gnome around the neighbourhood using various photographic elements and techniques that were taught throughout the teen summer camp week.


What was the age group of the students?

The age group consisted of 12 – 18 year olds.


What materials did you need to facilitate the lesson?

All you need is a digital camera of any kind and a garden gnome.


What was the purpose of the lesson?

The Gnome lesson was designed to teach students about the fundamentals of photography in a fun and interesting way. It was developed as a final review lesson for the students to show off what they learned throughout the week.


How did it go?

When first asked to walk around town with a gnome some of the students felt pretty silly. But one of the wonderful things about photography is that when you hold a camera in your hand, you can do almost anything that would normally be considered silly or strange. The camera, I believe, empowered the students to push the boundaries of what they are normally used to. The camera gives permission to approach complete strangers and ask them if they wouldn’t mind being in a photo with a garden gnome.


What surprised you about the outcome of your lesson?

What surprised me was the change I saw in the students’ work and their attitudes. Some of the students, when they first arrived at camp, were shy and only knew how to “point and press” to take a photograph. They had no idea about the features of their camera and they didn’t understand the elements needed to create a “good” photograph. The gnome lesson was the final assignment given to the students and so it was wonderful to see how much the students progressed. They became more confident as they became more knowledgeable and their photographs reflected that. It was very rewarding to see that what I taught them was able to stick.


What photography examples can you share? Why are these great examples?

I’ve attached a couple of photographs from the lesson plan. They show all the examples of what the students learned throughout the week of what makes a good photo. Good lighting, composition, rule of thirds, sharpness, scale, etc. But really, I think the photos speak for themselves.


gnome1 gnome2












default_user_iconMatthias Flynn was born and raised near Toronto. Early in life he discovered a passion for creative writing. He managed to publish a few poems and short stories but found it lacked the creative outlet he sought after. It wasn’t until his father gave him his first 35mm professional SLR camera, he found his new creative outlet. Matthias now currently resides in Toronto where he pursues his career as a professional photographer.


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  • Julia

    Great ideas!