Its All Right to Make Photographs Looking Down on Children

baby orphan possum on green grass photographed from above to emphasize vulnerabiltiy


You know the drill, which you've probably heard in relation to photographing children. "Don't shoot down on children" was what I was taught. I guess it comes from the notion of not talking down to children, which I've never done.
Of course all rules are meant to be broken. You just have to know when its appropriate to do so.

The reason why it's not considered right to photograph children from an elevated position is because, by doing so, you can make them look vulnerable or powerless in the resulting image. But what if that was the desired outcome?

Let's say you've been commission by an international aid organization to travel to the horn of Africa to photograph children in an over crowded and under resourced refugee camp. With an influx of new arrivals the camp is put under enormous strain. The ability to provide food, clean drinking water and sanitation have been compromised and the threat of disease looms large. You get the picture!

Money and lots of it is needed to deal with this problem in the short term. Your job is to make photographs that elicit an emotional and, as a consequence, a financial response from Middle America - a term I often use to describe the middle class throughout the western world.

Under normal circumstances this is not the way I would recommend photographing children. But there is always a time and a place where almost any rule may need to be broken. You should be clear in your mind why you're doing it and comfortable that the advantages of such action far outweighs any associated negative affects.

Future visits to the area might allow you to photograph the children in a different manner. Improved health care, families re-united, greater safety and a genuine sense of hope for a return to a more normal life are examples of the story you could tell. And what an opportunity that would be for the concerned photographer.

The above photo features a baby possum. It was found, orphaned, along the side of the road. Friends of mine, with some experience in caring for injured or orphan wildlife, were taking care of it. I made this photo by placing the baby possum on the grass and photographed, from an extreme angle, downwards to emphasize its vulnerability. I've used the image several times to draw attention to the plight of injured or orphaned wildlife. I love its mouse-like appearance and the apparent gesture associated with its outstretched hand (pore).

The greatest photographs that deal with adversity seem to share one common element: a duality between negative circumstances and the potential for positive outcomes. It's the underlying strength, even pride within your subject that needs to be explored, regardless of their current circumstances. For within that moment, lies hope. And, ultimately, I feel that's at the core of what any donor wants to offer those they support.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru