Need a fun family activity that will “click” with everyone?
Looking for a new way to enjoy the great outdoors?
Experience the excitement of searching for nature’s treasures with a family photo adventure.
In this article, I’ll show you how to plan and organize an outdoor photo scavenger hunt and I’ll give you some hints to help you take great pictures.
Why a Photo Scavenger Hunt?
An outdoor photo scavenger hunt brings the expression, “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” to life. Searching for a list of clues will cause children to look at nature a little more closely and discover things they may have never noticed before.
Photography is a way to capture bits and pieces of someone’s life—things that matter to them, the people around them or things that they find beautiful or interesting. And what could be more beautiful than nature?
A photo scavenger hunt gets kids outside to appreciate nature.
Kids are innately curious and creative. Their generation has been raised with the ability to take unlimited photographs, anywhere, anytime and have mom or dad post them immediately on Facebook or Instagram for all the world to see. They love to share.
People love to share photos online.
A photo scavenger hunt combines creativity and technology. I’ll teach you a fun activity that involves your kids and a camera, which will enhance keen observation skills, encourage them to appreciate nature and improve creativity and camaraderie.
You Will Need
- Digital camera or camera phone—one for each player or team
- Scavenger hunt list (see below)
- Pen or pencil
- Watch or timer
- Laptop, iPad or other device for viewing photos
- Prize or snack for winning player/team (optional)
About 30 minutes to make scavenger hunt lists
15-30 minutes for the hunt
30 minutes for viewing photos
The great outdoors
Dust off your camera, switch your smartphone to photo mode and get ready for family photo adventures, scavenger hunt–style.
How to Have a Photo Scavenger Hunt
You can have an outdoor photo scavenger hunt almost anywhere—a park, the beach, a hiking trail or campground, an empty field or even your own backyard.
The object of the game is to be the first to find and photograph the most items on a list within a given time.
#1: Choose a Location
Think of a place to have your scavenger hunt. It could be anywhere—inside or outside—but for this activity, we want to focus on nature.
There are lots of possibilities to choose from. Some are closer than you may think.
- Hiking trail
- Zoo or farm
- Your backyard or neighborhood
#2: Make Your List
Decide in advance if you’ll play as teams or individuals. This will probably be dictated by the number of cameras you have available, but the children’s ages or your location could also be factors.
For safety, place little kids on teams with older kids.
Create a list of things that you want your kids to find. Print it out on the computer or write it down on a piece of paper and make sure to have enough copies for every player.
If you don’t have time to make your own list, you can print this photo scavenger hunt list (PDF).
Download this list or create your own.
When creating your list, make sure the difficulty level is age-appropriate so the participants will not feel discouraged by items that are too hard for them to find.
A list can be made easy for smaller kids by keeping it generic. It can be made difficult for older kids by making items more specific. For example:
An example list with level of difficulty for younger or older kids.
When making your list, think of what might be seen in nature at the location you choose.
If you’re out on a hiking trail, you can include things like animals or animal footprints. If you know which animals inhabit the area, you could make it specific; for example, a raccoon or fox footprint, etc.
Doing your hunt in a rural area? Include farm animals on the list.
You can give two points for things that are extra-hard to find such as a cloud shaped like an object, ants carrying their food, a tadpole, reflection of a sunset on water, etc.
Include a few difficult or unusual items on the list—take a picture of the strangest thing you see, take a picture of something common that you think no one will recognize, etc.
Include items such as “the most unusual thing you see” on your list.
Nature is all around us, even below our feet. Include photos of things that are small or close up on your list.
Take close-ups of nature.
Look above eye level. Include things that are high up or at a distance.
Look up, too.
Create a tally sheet for keeping score. This would be handy especially if you have a large number of participants.
#3: Explain the Rules
Once you’re at your chosen place, distribute a camera and a list to each participant or team.
Each team or player needs a camera or camera phone.
Before starting the game, make the rules and expectations clear to everyone participating.
To keep everyone safe, you may want to remind them to use the buddy system or set boundaries for the game (“stay between this road and those trees,” or “stay where you can see me and I can see you”).
Teach the kids how to use the camera before the scavenger hunt starts.
Photography tips for kids:
- Make sure they know how to turn on the gadget. A lot of kids are familiar with camera phones nowadays so it’s easy.
- Make sure they know how to focus on the subject and to wait after they click the shutter before they move the camera away.
- Steady hands and firm stance are important when shooting photos so the photos will not be blurry.
- Show them how to shoot correctly and let them show you that they really know how before you start the game.
- Good light makes a difference in photos. Make sure that the subject you’re taking is properly lit. If it’s too dark, it won’t show well when photographed. Use flash if needed.
Let your kids know that photos need to be recognizable. In doing so, they will be encouraged to take better pictures.
#4: Ready, Set, Go!
Start your photo scavenger hunt.
Teaching kids to take better photos is an extra benefit to this treasure hunt.
Set a time, say 20 minutes, for teams to search and photograph as many items on the list as they can. The amount of time you set will depend on the location, the list and the ages of the kids.
Ready, set, go! Set kids loose to explore nature and find items on their lists.
Make sure all participants return to an appointed place when the time runs out.
#5: See What They Found
Gather the kids around you and let each one take turns showing the photos they took.
If you have a laptop or an iPad with you, upload the photos immediately so everyone can see the images on a bigger screen.
Bring a laptop or tablet so everyone can see the photos.
While reviewing the photographs with your kids, have them say a few things about the photos.
For instance, if it’s a photo of a squirrel, ask what the squirrel was doing while they were photographing it; ask which characteristics of that squirrel they find interesting.
Ask your kids questions about the photos they took.
Encourage your kids’ curiosity and imagination by asking “what if” questions like, “If you were a bird like the one in this picture, where would you fly?”
All the kids will be anxious to show their own photos. Set a time limit for each child or do a round robin so no one has to wait too long, which may cause them to lose interest.
Check off the items on your tally sheet as they show their images. Award a point for each item they photographed. Be consistent with awarding points. If a photo is unrecognizable, it doesn’t earn a point. Award the highest scorer a prize.
Variations on the Photo Scavenger Hunt
List activities that people or animals do instead of listing objects. For example, a person walking a dog, a kid running, a person talking on the phone. Be cautious when you’re taking pictures of people, as some don’t want to be photographed.
Variation #1: people doing things. Photograph someone splashing.
Make it a theme-based list. For example, choose color as your theme and search for objects of that color; for example, a red barn, red lipstick, red balloon, etc.
Variation #2: colors. Photograph a red flower.
You can make the list optional as well. Just have them photograph any object of that color they can find.
Some Final Thoughts…
Your outdoor photo scavenger hunt will surely create wonderful memories for you and your children. Remember, no matter what you choose to do, the success of these activities relies on having a great attitude.
Go have fun and fill your weekend, your evening or your summer vacation with adventure. And don’t forget your camera!
What do you think? Have you done a photo scavenger hunt with your kids? What kinds of wonderful things did you take pictures of? I’d love to hear about them. Please leave a comment or a photo from your scavenger hunt in the box below.