Children or Animals
NEVER Shoot Down on Children or Animals
It’s one thing to do a shoot with a cooperative human subject who is willing and able to follow directions. It’s something entirely different when photographing children and pets, who have wills of their own, even on their best behavior. Yes, they are both incredibly cute, but after all, the purpose is to get the best photo possible.
With limited opportunity to snap a still shot, you must take every advantage you can if you want a good result. The simplest thing you can do to improve your photos is to shoot from the right angle – getting down low with kids and pets.
Shooting From Above
It’s Visually Uninteresting
Adults view children and pets from above the majority of the time. Think about it – when was the last time you got down to eye level with a kid or a dog? Unless you’re a pet owner or a parent, it’s probably been a while. An overhead perspective is the same angle everyone always gets. The most compelling photographs capture their subject from an interesting angle.
The Perspective Is Off
When you take a photograph or even just look at a scene, the objects in the foreground naturally appear larger than objects in the background. This effect seems natural when looking at something head-on, like a landscape or portrait. Unfortunately, it’s an unappealing effect when looking down on a subject.
Shooting from above distorts the perspective of your subject by making the top half of their body look more prominent than the bottom half. In a dog’s photograph, this tends to look like a big head with tiny little feet. A child photographed from above may lose the entire lower half of their body behind their head in the picture.
Your Subject Shrinks
Viewing a subject from above can often cause them to look smaller overall. If you’re photographing pets and children, chances are you want them to be the focus (or one focus) of the picture. Shrinking your subject by photographing them from above will have the opposite effect. Instead of a standout subject, you wind up with a result that looks forced and unnatural.
Why a Low Angle Is Better
To avoid these unpleasant consequences of shooting from above, get down to eye level with your subject or lower. When you think about it, this is the rule with adult humans as well. Still, it can be easy to forget when working with smaller subjects like animals and kids that the best angle is almost always at eye level for several reasons.
It’s a Novel Perspective
As I said before, most people don’t get down to eye level with kids or pets very often. Seeing them from a lower angle puts the viewer in the moment with the subject, creating a more impressive picture. Whatever you’re trying to capture in the final image will come across more effectively when you get down to eye level with your subject. When photographing children and pets, this means getting down low.
Your Subject Grows
In the same way that viewing kids and animals from above makes them look smaller, viewing them from eye level or below makes them look larger. A lower angle will help your subject fill the frame, which draws the viewer in. You can even try a forced perspective shot to make a child look as though they’re towering over a toy car, for example. You can imagine the comedic possibilities of photographing what appears to be a giant cat terrorizing a city.
How To Take Better Photographs of Kids and Pets
Aside from positioning yourself correctly relative to your subject, there are a few more things you can do to improve your skills for photographing children and pets.
Take Advantage of Available Props
Trying to get children and pets to sit still for a photograph is, well, a bit like herding cats. Anyone who has ever attempted to photograph either knows that they don’t hold still, and asking them to do so guarantees a result that looks forced.
Rather than trying to get them to stop moving, use props to catch their interest and slow them down. New toys, something to climb on (or in), really anything that catches their attention for long enough to click the shutter button will do. You’ll also score an opportunity to snap some natural candids.
If you’re photographing multiple child or animal subjects, you’ll have a hard time getting more than one at a time to look directly at the camera. That’s okay! The interactions between your subjects will create a much more visually exciting scene anyway. Try to catch the girls whispering together or a boy laying his head on his dog’s shoulder. These precious moments are often more stunning in pictures than a head-on smile could ever be.
Focus On the Eyes
The key to connecting with a human or animal subject in a photograph is to make sure the eyes are clear and in focus. Even if the kid or pet is looking away, if their eyes are in focus, the emotional impact of the picture will be that much more powerful. By getting down to eye level, you can be sure to capture the subject’s expression in a way that captivates the viewer.
With animals and children, you often have little to no control over their behavior and positioning. Changing your own perspective on your subject can have a dramatic impact on the final result. Get down low with kids and pets to bring the viewer into the moment with them and allow them to experience the ambience of the shoot without making the viewer feel like they are above them.
Protip: When photographing children bring bubbles!