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Nixa Camera Club Helps Kids Develop Photography Skills

Once a week during the school year, Amy Short packs up supplies and heads to the John Thomas School of Discovery in Nixa.

The Nixa resident, who believes in the importance of giving back to her community, volunteers her time to lead the school’s Camera Club, for kids in grades four through six.  She’s been leading the club since 2014.

It all started when Short was helping out with the yearbook club at JTSD.

"I saw with the yearbook that they had fun taking pictures and they liked doing it, they just needed some help with their skills," Short said.

So she came up with the idea of starting a camera club.  It was approved the following year.

Short takes the kids outdoors when she can, but on a recent rainy day, she came up with an indoor activity with the help of her husband, Steve Craig.  The husband and wife, by the way, are the Fishin’ Magicians, a magic duo that takes its show on the road across the U.S. and performs at events around the Ozarks.

After gathering club members around a table, Short showed them a Batman video to demonstrate what they were going to do, and the kids were eager to volunteer.

In front of a backdrop of a brick wall, they took turns in various roles, creating photos that made the students appear to be climbing the side of a building.  In one scene they wore sparkly red capes and in another they wore lab coats since it is a STEM-focused school, after all.  Some students held onto strings attached to the bottom of the capes and coats to create a windblown look.

After lots of trial and error, they got photos they were happy with.  

Short learned quickly that the most effective way to teach photography skills was through projects and activities.

"So, one of the best examples was when we do shutter speed is I bring in this fan, and the challenge is:  Can they take the picture and stop the blades of the fan?"

And, rather than teach specific photography techniques, she focuses on things like composition.

"What is where in the picture?  Rule of thirds.  Taking pictures with something where there's a lot of texture, a lot of repetition where it's the same shape or the same color, those kinds of things," Short said.

She prefers nature and travel photography, and she’s found that’s what the students prefer as well.  Every year they take pictures of classroom pets. 

The club started by using cameras that it shared with the yearbook club.  Since then, they’ve had cameras donated to them by the Nixa Police Department.  And Short secured grant money for new cameras and other supplies.

Club members go on excursions to take photos to places like Dickerson Park Zoo and the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center with their parents providing transportation and serving as chaperones.  A Nixa DARE officer once set up a fake crime scene and talked about how officers use cameras in police work.  The department later donated cameras they no longer needed to the club.  The kids also take pictures when they go on field trips at the end of the school year.

And this year, the club hosted a photo contest for the entire school and served as judges.

They also take pictures at school events like Grandparents Day and Day in K when new kindergartners and their parents visit the school. 

The kids said they love being part of the Nixa JTSD Camera Club.  Rocco Neal said his favorite part of the club is "just, like, the general lighthearted mood."

He said they always have fun.  He especially loves trick photography.

"Like, where you set a camera shutter speed really low and have somebody run, so it's like a bleach of color," said Neal.

Taylor Myers likes the social aspect of the club, "getting to do activities with all my friends."

She likes taking pictures of flowers and her friends the most.

Eli Farr said he loves coming to camera club because he gets to hang out with friends and have a good time.

"I like it because it's a good opportunity to learn about cameras, how to run them, how to take better pictures," said Farr.

Dash Crawford, a fifth grade member of the JTSD Camera Club, said, "I just like learning how to take new pictures, some of the simplest things that you can do to take...better pictures is just move.  Sometimes, like some of the people we judged for the Spring Break Photo Fun, if they'd just moved and the tree was out of their picture, it would've looked so much better."

And Avery Hawks said she likes going outside to take pictures of natural objects.

"Flowers, nature, and, like, things close up," said Hawks.

She thinks club leader, Short, is "really fun."

The students get to share their work with the public every year by hosting exhibits at various places.  They’ll have an exhibit soon at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center, but the dates haven’t yet been set.  And the club will feature photos from current and past members in an exhibit at the botanical center in Springfield May 24-July 24.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.