One of the most important components to shooting something memorable, whether it be an object, a person, or a landscape, is perspective.
Take children for example. While sometimes it can be totally fine to take their photograph while standing above them, what happens when you actually get down on the ground with your camera? I have gotten up in trees, on top of tables (don’t ever do this…it ended badly for me), and I’ve spent a lot of time with my belly flat on the ground – even dressed – up at weddings. I’ll go anywhere, do anything it takes to get the right angle on someone or something. Children, in particular, respond so much better to someone at their own level. Even when I introduce myself to my client’s children, I get right down on the ground at their eye level. Now, I have to admit, kids really like me a lot. I am smiley, speak softly, and I’m a bit of a comic, BUT if I stood up when I met them (I’m 5’10), do you think they’d like me as much? No! Kids are innately cautious, and grownups can be scary, so get down on the floor and try to see them eye to eye. I promise you’ll improve your framing, and your total result immediately. Most of my child sessions I walk away with sore legs and back!
The floor is not always going to be your place, however. It’s not quite that simple. What are you trying to convey in your image? With the baby shown above, there wasn’t much going on for scenery. It was a studio setup, and very simple. I wanted the portrait to be about this little guy and really nothing else. While I did get some adorable images of him sitting there just looking cute, this particular image was my favorite. I knew I would be shooting in B/W, and my backdrop was dark gray. I wanted something to add a little contrast to the image, yet give the baby something to respond to – enter soft, white blanket. Would this image have worked if I shot it from above the baby? Possibly. If I got directly overhead, that might have been really cute, but I’m not sure I would have gotten a smile. Why do you think? Well, I’m 5’10 and even though I’d worked with this child before, I can assure you that he probably would have looked at me a bit worried if I hovered overhead with my camera. I knew what it was like to photograph this little guy, and didn’t want that risk…he has a really cute worried look, but it wasn’t what I was going for!
While I could have captured all the following images from a standing position, it was important for the overall feeling of the image, that I got down on the ground with these kids.
This little baby girl was hardly taller than the wildflowers, and I also wanted to show the curve of the pathway.
This little girl was super playful, and as soon as she plunked down onto the grass, guess what I did? I don’t walk away from any session clean 😉
Sometimes you’ll find that it is good to pull back or even further away to get the correct perspective for your shot. Do you want to accentuate the smallness of the child, or perhaps to show the viewer more of what is going on in that moment and tell them a story? The more you shoot, the easier it will be to figure out where you want your viewpoint to be when you click the shutter, but it’s not always second nature, not even for seasoned photographers. I was just talking with some other professionals yesterday about how grueling wedding photography can be because you must be 100% focused the entire time. If you’re not, the moment you literally blink, you’ve missed something that could have been an epic shot.
On my most recent lifestyle session here in Portland, I had done a lot of things in preparation, which I promise to reference in a future post, but I really wanted some cute bath shots. This particular family gives their child a bath almost every morning because it is the only way he’ll be distracted enough to eat his breakfast! No joke…as a parent I can relate…you do what you’ve got to do to get that child fed. While many of the shots were cute of him playing in the bath, my favorite shots told a story, but in order to convey that story to the viewer, I needed to get above the action. It was a super small bathroom and already had four people in it! My perspective had to come from above to make sure I got all the components in. Do you see what’s going on in these shots? None of this was setup or planned…as goes most shoots that involve young children. This just happened, and Mom was just standing there looking at him as he began this little game of throwing toys over the tub wall. I needed a perspective that would allow me to get her in the shot, although she was not the subject. I needed to show the toys on the ground. I needed my subject, the baby, who happened at that defining moment to give his mom a playful look. Super cuteness!
Perspective will make all the difference in the world. Get ready to change your viewpoint, and be prepared for any situation. Get out there today and challenge yourself to find new perspectives in each shot. Go ahead and shoot it one way, then just for fun, force yourself to get a different view. Play with different positioning, and see which one you like. Oh, and if you’re shooting outdoors, wear mud boots!