Get Down Low For a Unique Perspective

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By David Julian

Wheatfield fisheye.jpg

“Photographing a landscape from a low angle perspective helps me illustrate subjects in nature.”

When photographing the land, I shoot traditionally and also look for a unique perspective or point of view. Low vantage points are often overlooked, and are often truly rewarding. Before getting close with my camera to capture the details, I use my body position to try various ways I might view the subject. To the causal onlooker, I must look insane with my bending, squatting, squinting and even lying prone or upside down on the ground.

Walking along a country road on Whidbey Island, WA, I was drawn to a small field to use as a backdrop for a montage on organic farming. There were so many great shots in that field waiting to be discovered. I envisioned a wide angle ground perspective that would dramatize the wheat stalks reaching for the sky.

I placed my tripod-mounted camera with Sigma 15mm fisheye lens attached right down nearly to the ground facing upwards and set the lens to a close manual focus. The fisheye lens has lots of depth of field, so sharpness is even past f5.6. I knew I wanted the sun to be an element but not overwhelming, so I waited until a cloud obscured it.

The result is the exact ‘bug’s eye’ view with just the glow behind the wheat as I had envisioned. I also used a 20” diameter silvered collapsible reflector to bounce light up into the wheat.

composition Discovery park 7-31-10-32.jpg

Sometimes all you need to do is to crouch down to toddler’s height to see the world anew. Lying on your back will get you an even lower perspective and can also be a chance to catch a breath and ponder other possibilities.

Composition Discovery park-19.jpg

In the photo below, I was in a dense forest in Kauai, HI. Trees seemed to surround me, and nearly obscured the sky above. I wanted to capture that ‘closed in’ feeling, and got down on my knees with my 15mm Fisheye lens to include the trees from trunk to canopy. I finished the image in Adobe Lightroom using one of my custom toning presets.

Kauai10-494.jpg

As I travel and teach workshops, I enjoy taking group shots of my students, and like to go beyond the usual ‘stand-and-grin’ style.

One way I approach this is to lie on my back with my camera pointing straight up, and have everyone gather around me. This strange behavior not only makes for a unique perspective, but gets everybody to smile. I always add some exposure compensation or use Manual metering to keep the faces well exposed. Everyone enjoys watching me pick the grass (and occasional ants) out of my hair as I pretend it’s just business as usual.

ISD AK-Hiking grp under towering trees.jpg

Next time you are in the field, find the best position that speaks to your subject, grab your wide angle and get low!

DJ self portrait kayaking web72Travel, nature and fine art photographer David Julian has spent 30 years capturing the essence of places, people and light with creative vision.

Since 1991, Dave has led over 60 workshops and won several national awards for fine and commercial arts. His images have been commissioned by leading corporations, collectors and published in books, blogs and magazines including Nikon World, Outside, Geo, Islands, Conde Nast Traveller, Audubon, Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo Pro, Rangefinder and The New York Times Travel magazine. When not taking on assignments or developing projects, Dave kayaks, speaks publicly and instructs group and individual photography workshops in the US, abroad and online.

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Some Older Comments

  • Peter September 9, 2012 02:04 pm

    To the "oldies" having trouble getting up - would it be possible to use your tripod in reverse by holding the feet and keeping the head and camera low to the ground? A swiveling viewfinder would be a must for this. Then just trigger the shutter via the remote. I've never done it so perhaps someone can give it a go.

  • OnyxE September 9, 2012 12:29 pm

    Looking up at a flower.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/marionlynne777/7959511764/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • Satesh September 9, 2012 07:09 am

    Looking up at a sunflower
    http://500px.com/photo/13444627

  • Betty Bastai September 7, 2012 04:28 pm

    ah! I see it now! Anyway hello everybody! I have just bumped into this site. I guess I started to take more pictures from the ground when I became a scubadiver. My example is from land, though.

    good night!

    http://rawbubbles.blogspot.com/2012/09/day-hopping-september-4-2012.html

  • John McCosh September 7, 2012 12:22 pm

    I always love taking shots from ground level at Weddings.

    http://mccosh.smugmug.com/Weddings/Matt-Heather/M-H-Effects/i-K3n3NR2/0/M/Photo-537-M.jpg
    http://mccosh.smugmug.com/Weddings/George-Julie/Effects/i-sVGHgmG/1/M/Photo-445-M.jpg
    http://mccosh.smugmug.com/Weddings/Matt-Heather/M-H-Effects/i-fMGcLqR/0/M/Photo-558-M.jpg

    Cheers
    John

  • Steve September 7, 2012 12:21 pm

    I often forget about this too, but it's definitely fun to do.

  • Shelly September 7, 2012 09:27 am

    Thanks for the suggestion, Colin. I won't be able to afford a new camera for a while, but that's something to consider when I do get a new one. :)

  • Colin Burt September 7, 2012 09:16 am

    Shelly - I completely empathise with you. Getting back up with nothing to pull on is diabolically difficult for us seniors. If you are ever contemplating a new camera consider one with a swiveling live view screen which allows you to hold the camera down low from a bending position and tilt the screen up to compose your shot. Takes a bit of getting used to, and more battery drain than the viewfinder, but better than having to holler for help to get upright ! Mt Nikon D5100 fits the bill at a reasonable price and there are plenty of others up-market from it.

  • Ray September 7, 2012 02:20 am

    I have been shooting shots like this of my kids for a few years, to get a different take on the same ole shots people seem to take over and over.

    http://flic.kr/p/d718jY

    http://flic.kr/p/d718bu

    http://flic.kr/p/d718nw

  • Barry E. Warren September 7, 2012 01:22 am

    Nice Idea, I'm going to start doing this more often.

  • Scottc September 6, 2012 11:05 am

    Low is a great angle and usually overlooked.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4720197999/

  • Shelly September 6, 2012 09:01 am

    I love shooting from the ground, but these days, it's not so easy to get back up, so unless I'm with someone who can help or there's something to hold onto so I can haul myself to my feet, I don't make the attempt and miss out on some shots. Getting old isn't fun at times.

  • Gary Mc Nutt September 6, 2012 08:13 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/garymcnutt/7270217892/in/photostream/lightbox/

  • Mridula September 5, 2012 05:39 pm

    I was trying to shoot the Menara KL in Kuala Lumpur and there was a halo around it. I was going low and low to capture it. The trouble right in front was a police check post :D In the end I did not go flat on the ground because of the police thinking they may think I am crazy and I didn't get the complete halo!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • Kerry Garrison September 5, 2012 03:52 pm

    Good tips. I always suggest you should try shooting things different ways and from different perspectives.
    http://cameradojo.com/2011/06/08/looking-at-things-from-a-different-angle/

  • raghavendra September 5, 2012 12:37 pm

    I love this kind of experimenting in angles,
    Have taken a picture with low to high angles

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2010/08/experiment-in-angles.html

  • steve September 5, 2012 07:07 am

    Dog's eye view
    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Southern-England-scenes/G0000.xAeTcT_pgs/I00000Rs5kARroOA

  • Jai Catalano September 5, 2012 06:29 am

    The down low angle is great. It is such a powerful perspective. I love up high too. It can play a nice opposite to shooting low.

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