Low-Angle: It’s for the Children

I realize I owe you lovers of the graphic arts a Part 2 to my Illustrator Transparency, Photoshop Resolve article. And I’ll get to it, don’t you fret. But this week I got a wild hair up my nose. I say “nose” knowing full well that Colleen will give me crap for censoring myself. (Compare this to dekePod, where I vigilantly defend my every naughty utterance). But you see, this week, I have to self-censor because, this week, I’m givin’ it up for the children. The wee little vulnerable, innocent, pure-as-driven-snow children. Who in the case of my boys already know most the choice bits of wayward vocabulary (as well as some of the advanced combos), but also know better than to employ them in public.

As those of you who are familiar with my stuff know, I’m not a photographer. So you won’t find me proselytizing on such topics as aperture and focal length. But I am a graphic artist and I do have an eye for framing and composition, which is where this article comes in.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with the low-angle “hero” shot. By way of contrast, consider the image below. It shows my seven-year-old, Max, building sand trees using a sculptural variation of the Jack-the-dripper technique. For those interested in such things, the technique involves extremely fine, wet sand which is then squeezed though the palm and occasionally whipped at a target, as we see Max doing here. (He’s actually amazingly deft at it. I know, I’m the dad so I would say that. But he’s as good as me, and I rock at sand trees.)

The image nicely conveys a moment of dynamic energy. But the story is told from my perspective, the perspective of an adult.

More interesting, it seems to me, is to hone in on the boy and take in the story from his perspective. In the case of the image below, the result is less kinetic, but it offers several advantages: We’re able to see both the artist and his work. We can linger on a more methodical, introspective moment. And we witness the action from the vantage of another 7-year-old, making this less an observation of a child and more the examination of a peer.

Low-angle Max

It should be said, this is hardly a convenient angle. Unless you’re willing to lay your head in the sand — in which case, you might be taking the whole “looking through the eyes of a child” thing a bit too seriously — you’re probably working blind. I had a big LCD preview, but the sun at my back made it nigh on impossible to see. My recommendations therefore are 1) get in tight, 2) back up a step to give yourself room to straighten and crop, and 3) shoot as many shots as you can. If your kid gets self-conscious or irritable, direct and distract. (In other words, employ your basic Parenting 101 skills.)

Also be wary of the elements. In this case, for example, I was at most an inch from plunging the lens into the sand. A small tripod or monopod on a board might have served me well here, but if I had taken the time to get that elaborate, I probably would’ve missed the moment. So I picked a stance that I could maintain for a dozen or more shots. I checked my balance. And I kept an eye on my equipment.

The result is a shot that’s not merely candid. Blessed with ample light, contoured shadows, and some nicely sculpted information in the hands, face, neck, and tummy, the composition is nothing less than a portrait of a fellow artist practicing his craft.

Oh, and in the spirit of keeping things equitable, here’s a low-angle shot of my youngest, Sam. What better way to convey the brooding tempest of a young James Dean brandishing a boldly colored plastic shovel? Just don’t get on his bad side.

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  • I totally agree that shots

    I totally agree that shots from that angle look much more interesting and should be experimented with more!

  • Thanks for the tip

    The last foto is awesome :)

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