life . Portrait . street

Madison, WI


Fontana Giusti

How to photograph children
part 2 - get low... even lower

I must admit that was planning to make this article about framing and composition, but as I was digging through my photo library, I realized I first needed to address angles, because I do have strong opinions on the matter, much more that I do on framing and composing.

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now to photograph your children at their level. And yes, that’s true. Photographing kids at their height is 100% the most important rule anyone should keep in mind when they find themselves in the company of small people.

plongé (high angle)
use sparingly, and only with intention

I’m not saying to never photograph children from above, there are circumstances that call for it, or sometimes you need to snap fast and that’s alright, but it should not be your default angle with kids. just like with grown people, you should treat plongé angles as a creative tool. Just be mindful that it tends to dominate and crush the subject and it doesn’t always look very good.

In my opinion, a high angle works when the subject is looking up, eyes are on the camera, and there’s strong engagement. Not your everyday scenario…

On these two images Emilio (1) and Inga (2) both clearly mean business, and the intensity of their stares justifies the high angle. It accentuates their provocatory stance.

Here I broke my own rule, and I love the image. It tells a story of connection, of summer walks in the neighbourhood with a kid that’s growing too fast, out of my frame.

When it contributes to the story, the high angle can be wonderful. 

Of course, there are exceptions, like all good rules, and I can’t always explain it.

Like below, the two kids gossiping in the favela, I first snapped it from my height with the Holga (in BW), and then caught myself and took another image from their height with my beautiful Kodak Retina (in color). And for some reason – maybe the Holga’s optical qualities?- the photo taken from above looks so full of life and much more dynamic.

Not everything can be explained. Nevertheless, the general principle stands. As the French would say, it’s an exception that confirms the rule (don’t ask, it’s a French saying).

level with the kids
the gold standard

So yeah, when in doubt, I recommend photographing at subject height. It’s the best, it tells a straightforward story, and it’s a good exercise in empathy: move at your subjects level, that’s where they see the world from.

Here’s a selection of my very own images, I had too many to choose from,  so I went with these…

I must warn you, this takes a toll on your knees, but it’s really worth it. 

Sometimes all it takes is to sit, that’s pretty gentle on your joints…

You really cannot go wrong. It works with everything, whether the child is looking at you, a little far away, or very close up.

Oh, and it works for groups of kids as well:

And on a final note on this level, if you find it difficult to get low, at kids level, I would encourage you to try out a camera that’s made for waist-level shooting. I’m personally deeply in love with my TLR, but there’s a bit of a learning curve to using one of those. You can start with using the live view screen of your digital camera and keep it open at 90° so you can aim from the hip. 

When you shoot at waist-level, you’re already at kid height, or almost if the kid is very young…

Contre-plongé (from below)
my personal favorite

If your knees weren’t keeping up at kid-level, you can stop reading, it’s about to get worse.

Before I dive into this next area, let me show you how I regularly find myself. Now that I mostly photograph my kids on film, it’s even worse, I’d be lying flat on the floor, good thing they’re growing up…

The photo
The photographer

There’s something extremely lovely about looking at kids from below. It puts them in charge, they’re not just the subject of the photo anymore, they’re the protagonist, or, in other words, the main character. They’re in the driver seat.

This is a more playful approach to children’s photography, but kids are all about play, so why not? 

This is an angle I’ve been spontaneously using since kids started populating my life, without thinking too much, and it’s only recently, when I started paying attention more, that I realised two things:

  1. it’s (oddly) not very common with families and kids portraiture
  2. but it works so well that if you start looking around you, you’ll notice kids fashion brands use it a lot. 
I’ll invite you to have a look at Zara kids campaigns and editorials, you’ll see, they shoot wide and/or from below. In my home, we’re not Zara, so our clothes are always filthy, but that’s our life, so I’m fine with it…

I believe that a low angle especially when combined with a wide lens (which is the default for smartphones, in case you needed another reason to try…) make images dynamic, which is very well suited to the busy-ness, restless-ness and unquenchable thirst to explore of childhood. Embrace the distortion, make the kids move, get close and fill your frame.

I’m also not saying that you should take all your kids pictures from below from now on – kid height is still the gold standard – but give it a try, it’s a fantastic tool, and once you accept the damage to your joints, it’s really easy.

Get close, use a wide-to-normal lens, and let the kid guide you, they’re the boss. My kids think they’re in charge anyways, so I have no choice but to run with it…

I hope you found this article useful, and if not, I hope you enjoyed the pictures of my kids…

Before we part ways, just know that I have regretted not getting low enough to photograph my kids, but I never regretted getting lower 🙂

Are you a parent looking for a lifestyle family photographer in the Madison area, or a children photographer in Madison, WI, or are you a parent who likes my approach to kids photography and would be interested in putting me in touch with their (pre)school?

stay in touch

subscribe to my newsletter to keep informed about my next events and whatever I’m concocting… 

– I promise I won’t spam, I can barely send an email…