My son Damion texted me before Christmas: “Dad, while I’m home on break, I’d love it if you could teach me how to use one of your film cameras.”


Son, you could not have asked your old dad for anything better.

I had visions of us taking a photo walk together, maybe through Crown Hill Cemetery or Broad Ripple. Father and son, walking, chatting, shooting, bonding. Alas, temperatures hovered around zero all Christmas week. It was weather fit neither for man nor for aging mechanical photographic equipment.

So instead I loaded some Tri-X into my Pentax KM, mounted my sublime 55/1.8 SMC Pentax lens, and let him shoot around the house. The all-mechanical KM seemed like a great way to introduce him to the mechanics of photography, given its match-needle metering.

I explained about aperture and shutter speed and depth of field. I explained about film’s light sensitivity, the ISO scale, and exposure latitude. I showed him how to focus, match the needle, and activate the shutter. I gave him a couple composition tips. And then I let him go.

Damion and Pentax KM

I tried not to hover so he could just wander about and expose whatever subject seemed interesting. Like father like son: we both love to just follow our noses. Here are a few of his photographs:


I love how he experimented so freely, yet he never left our family room. He shot all 36 frames within 200 square feet! I enjoyed finding that he captured his old dad responding to comments on his blog. Not everything he shot turned out as he envisioned, he told me. But he was satisfied that some of it did.

When he was done shooting I asked if he’d like to take a camera and some film back to Purdue with him. “Well, sure! If you don’t mind,” he said. I did mind about my KM and that 55/1.8 — I use that combo often enough that I’d miss it. So I handed him my Pentax K1000 and my 50/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. This combo had extra significance because his mom, who was a professional photographer when we met, used her own K1000 and 50/2 to photograph our family while we were married.

I also gave him a couple rolls of fridge-fresh Agfa Vista 200 and encouraged him to get out when the weather was nice, walk in the park or the woods, and photograph whatever he found to be interesting. I told him that if he enjoyed it and wanted to keep going, I’d let him keep the camera and lens — after I send them to Eric Hendrickson for a mechanical overhaul. I said that the gear would come back in like-new condition, ready for 20 or 30 years of pleasure. He was suitably impressed.

I’m dying to hear whether film photography “takes” in him!


33 responses to “Father-son photographic bonding”

  1. Rhianne (@forthedistractd) Avatar

    This made me smile so big! It looks like Damion has an eye for the details, which you know I’m a fan of. Imagine if my first roll of film photos had those shots in, I’d be absolutely thrilled. I can’t wait to see how this turns out for him.

    p.s. LOVE that you put King of the Hill images in there too, I love Bobby!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Given that we were shooting inside he was going to have to use wide apertures and so I suggested he move in close to experience bokeh. It turned out well for him in several photos! And that King of the Hill meme was perfect for this, wasn’t it?

  2. Ivan Pilov Avatar

    This is so great! I hope one day I’ll hear that question from my son too.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping!

  3. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    How cool is that? My kids have, at one time or other, gotten an interest in some things I am passionate about, and it is a really gratifying thing to experience. I hope he develops (sorry) a real interest in this as you and he could have some great times in a special way.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Even if he doesn’t, this afternoon was plenty of fun.

  4. Heide Avatar

    What a heartwarming post, Jim — because clearly Damion has been watching and learning from his dad all these years! I’ll be eager to see where this new-found interest takes him. Thank you for sharing a few of his photos, too, and please pass along my compliments.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks H! Here’s hoping he finds lasting joy in photography.

  5. Bill Bussell Avatar
    Bill Bussell

    Great story and pictures from your son. My dad had a baby Busch Pressman slightly before I was born. I watched him use that, and his 35mm shooting Kodachrome from my infancy. I had several cameras from a very young age. I began using the Busch Pressman about the 5th grade, loading 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 sheet film, and popping flashbulbs at basketball games. I used his darkroom, graduated to strobe and a Rollei in Junior High. Skipping forward, I was a pro photographer eventually doing everything. Then, I did a reinvent to become a tech writer for all kinds of things including civilian and jet aircraft engines. It has been fun. Hope your son can get some that enjoyment in a changing world.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, sheet film in the 5th grade! That’s hardcore! I was a tech writer too, but early in my career.

  6. Film Beginnings Avatar

    A great post that hit home for me. My 10-year-old son shocked me when he asked to try taking pictures with a film camera. I said “you have a camera in your pocket?” He told me that he liked the whole process that I went through and wanted to learn about it. This conversation occurred in early December 2017. Because I experience the same weather as you, I’ve been slowly piecing together a blog post about our father-son film experiences and I hope to publish it once it’s complete. Thanks for a great read.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well that’s awesome! I look forward to your posts.

  7. Joshua Fast Avatar
    Joshua Fast

    There is something incredibly powerful about kids learning photography, especially film. My niece and nephew both shoot film cameras and prefer them to digital. My niece had just started a black and white photography class in high school and asked if i had a film camera she could borrow. Yes! I had a Canon AV1/50mm 1.8 just sitting on the shelf. She started developing her own style and before long was shooting it outside of school. I ended up giving her the camera for Christmas, it’s a good choice for a college student, FD glass is cheap and plentiful. My nephew started shooting a holga, so I got him a matching AV1 and now he’s hooked as well.

    Your son has the talent, the examples you shared would rival more seasoned photographers given he never left the living room. That’s awesome!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks so much Joshua! He does have a good eye. He used to draw a lot and had decent skill so perhaps that experience translates.

      You’re so right about Canon FD glass. I considered lending my son my TLb and a 50/1.8. I have two or three of that lens that I got “free” with various bodies.

      1. Joshua Fast Avatar
        Joshua Fast

        I think your camera choice was wise. There’s a reason so many schools used the K1000 as a starting point for students. I still use my K1000 frequently, it’s refreshingly simple. It doesn’t hurt that K mount glass is so good.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          The K series cameras were so pleasant to use. That really helped. Compared to a Canon FTb or a Minolta SR-T, the K1000 felt so smooth.

  8. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I became interested in photography in my early teens. My dad, an avid Kodachrome shooter, supported my interest by “lending” me his Retina IIc rangefinder camera. I say “lend” because 46 years later, I still have it. :-)

    He also gave me a $100 loan to buy an old Federal enlarger, safelight, trays, developing tank, etc. and talked my mom into letting me set up a darkroom in the corner of her basement laundry room.

    How nice you are doing the same for your son. Perhaps four decades from now he’ll hold that ancient Pentax in his hands and think fondly of your kindness.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Damion kept at it with that K1000 and even still used it sometimes in his middle age!

  9. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    A heartwarming story Jim. I am impressed with his pictures.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Jon! Me too.

  10. dan james Avatar

    Love reading this story Jim, and very impressed that your son got some great (and timeless) shots without leaving the house. A lesson in there for any of us who think we have to go somewhere particularly exotic or far to be able to make interesting photographs!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You really can make good photos pretty much anywhere!

  11. M.B. Henry Avatar

    I’d say he’s off to a good start – those pictures are great, what an eye for capturing the beauty in the simple things!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      He did see some interesting things! Very gratifying for me.

  12. Marcus Avatar

    He’s already better than me. Curses. :)
    My interest in photography was crushed during a high school career day. I had some interest in learning what photography is about, so I attended a session taught by an engineer who worked at the local radio station. I think he did photography as a hobby or side business. Anyway, he came in and started a very technical explanation of how f-stops were calculated. Nothing about the actual making of photographs, the joys of the darkroom, and so on. His talk was overwhelming so I gave up on the idea of being a photographer or even playing with my father’s Zenit-E in the china cabinet drawer.
    Fast forward about twenty-two years when I took a part-time job working on a television show here in Korea. I became chummy with the camera operator and he shared the tricks of his trade and encouraged me to buy my first SLR. I’ve been addicted to photography ever since and it’s a real shame that I didn’t have someone to encourage me when I was a high school student. Your son is a lucky fellow.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I didn’t take up photography seriously until I was about 40. I sort of wish I had picked it up sooner but really it’s been a lovely hobby to take on in my middle age. So I suppose I have no regrets.

      1. Marcus Avatar

        Yes, although I started late, it’s something I can do into my old age. Even if it’s just photos of the nursing home walls. :)

  13. DougD Avatar

    I like this, particularly in light of your post about your road trip with your own father.

    Well done Jim, you planted the seed, but didn’t overwater it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That would not be at all like my attempts at keeping houseplants.

  14. Sam Avatar

    Hey Jim, so nice! I’d love to hear my kids as to use my film cameras but I guess they’re not of interest yet. I’m happy your son has taken an interest in following your footsteps!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Give your little ones time!

  15. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    This just sounds like a lovely moment.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was, thanks!

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