Perspective in Photography - Don't just stand there move your feet!

Perspective in Photography – Don’t just stand there move your feet!

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Photographers often fall into the bad habit of shooting everything we see from eye-level. We are walking around, something catches our eye, and we take a picture right from where we are standing. If you want to make an immediate impact in your photography, you need to get out of your eye-level (or tripod-level) rut. You need a change in perspective.

McEnaney road

Sure, you can change your composition by zooming in or out with your lens, but if you want to change your perspective, you are going to need to move. Don’t let your feet, or your tripod, root you to the spot: get ready for some bending, turning, walking, and climbing. Start working with perspective in photography, your images will thank you for it.

Get Low

Get your camera down towards ground level, and see how it impacts your perspective. Getting down low allows you to feature the foreground of your composition, and gives your viewer context for the rest of the photograph. Use a wide angle lens to feature the foreground, while pulling the viewer into the image, as below.

McEnaney wide angle leaves

Getting down low can change the way your viewer feels or reacts to your subject. Getting low can make your subject appear taller or more imposing. Subjects viewed from below can look commanding and powerful. Even a simple sunflower can be seen to tower above its surroundings.

McEnaney sunflower

Getting low can also completely disorient your viewer. This near water-level view becomes a study in colour and texture, as the water and the fallen autumn leaves interact with each other. From eye level, this would simply have been a photograph looking down into a storm gutter. Getting low simplifies the composition and puts the viewer into a different, and unique perspective than their everyday viewpoint.

McEnaney gutter

Get Up High or Look Up High

You can get low and look at subjects from their level, but you can also get up high and take in your subject from above. Getting well above your normal line-of-sight will certainly give you a new perspective. In the photograph below, the other tourists on the decks below give context to the passing iceberg, as seen from the cruise ship. This higher-up view also provides a sense of scale for the large size of the ice berg and hints at the size of the ship.

McEnaney iceberg

If you do not want to physically get up high, standing and shooting does not mean you only have to shoot straight ahead. Spend some time looking up, and you will find plenty to improve your compositions and your perspective. With very tall subjects, looking up from below will accentuate their height and size. The power and immensity of these redwood trees are best emphasized by looking up, from directly below.

McEnaney redwood

Go for the Lateral

Finally, do not forget to think laterally. Beyond just changing your stance or your direction of shooting, you also need to remember to move yourself. Talk the time to walk around your subject, to consider the background and foreground. Think about how all the pieces of your final composition fit together. Your first view and your first angle are often not the best available, but you cannot be sure until you have taken the time to investigate others. Walking all the way around Buckingham Fountain allowed me to choose this final composition and perspective featuring the downtown Chicago skyline. I also made the choice to position the spray from the fountain directly in front of a building to make it more visible.

McEnaney fountain 600

Moving your feet can change the way that different objects in your photograph interact with each other. While the top photograph of the Wisconsin Capitol in lights was an adequate shot, moving just a few feet to the right and squatting down allowed me to feature the lit outline in the foreground with the actual Capitol building in the background. This juxtaposition of elements improves the story-telling ability of the photograph.

McEnaney lit capitol

McEnaney double capitol

Summary

Do not fall into the trap of shooting everything you see at eye-level, just as you see it. Take the time to explore your subject, and considering changing your perspective. Get low and see what changes, get up high and explore a new view, or move laterally and watch different interactions occur and disappear between objects.

McEnaney chairs from above

McEnaney chairs get low

You may have a hard time choosing a favourite view: from above to emphasize the view of the foreground lake, or get low to show the expanded context and the threatening winter sky? Share your thoughts or your own perspective images in the comments below!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Katie McEnaney is an educator and photographer from Madison, Wisconsin. Read more tips on her blog, Boost Your Photography. Her first eBook, Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR, is now available for Kindle on Amazon.

  • Chetan Jain

    Relaxing – I was in the pool and took this shot with my lens just above the water. http://www.flickr.com/photos/chetankjain/11712381763/lightbox/

  • Simon

    > Even a simple sunflower can be seen to tower above its surroundings.

    You must get different sunflowers from the ones I see… the ones I’m used to are almost twice my height, and you’d need a ladder to get that kind of shot…

  • Raghavendra

    we definitely need to move the feet specially when we try to take a picture of a cat:)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2013/09/cat-on-tree.html

  • Angela W

    The grass was during a sunrise

  • Angela W

    I was getting a little bored with taking pictures of flowers straight on. This bleach white flower with a bright green trees helped with my first experiment.

  • This is so apt. Very nicely explained here. I’ve taken many shots by keeping my camera at ground level or a shot from up or looking up.

  • Sean Bleakley

    Berlin Wall

  • It truly is one of the first things one should learn when starting out with photography. That your feet are the most important compositional tool, and that zooming is only for framing. Good post.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Great example of a low perspective shot!

  • Katie McEnaney

    Very cute ‘looking up’ shot.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Makes our five-six footers sound much less impressive!

  • Katie McEnaney

    Great example of changing up the perspective on a popular subject.

  • Chetan Jain

    thanks Katie

  • Eliseo Valdebenito

    Dear Katie, how do we make ‘disappear’ the three in the back? aperture? focus?

  • RMFearless

    great

  • Jacquie Woodburn

    I love this – I love it even more because you have chosen to show examples – how we would probably do it & how it could be improved. I wish more experts did this! So thank you.

  • Katie McEnaney

    If you wanted the background to be blurred, then you should shoot at a wide aperture (like f/1.8 or f/3.5). You could also use a zoom lens from farther away and zoom in (still with a wide aperture), which would also make the depth of field (area of the subject in focus) more narrow and the background more likely to be blurred.

    Another option would have been to move around slightly to shoot this shot against an emptier background.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Thanks for the feedback, Jacquie, and you’re welcome! As a visual learner, I have always found that seeing examples helps me, so I try to do the same.

  • CHibsch

    The flip down view finder on my Sony camera make these low down shots easy.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Great combo of low angle and sun flare!

  • Rob

    Excellent article. I have a pet dislike for image photographed at 5′ above the ground. These days with live view and tilted LCD’s there is no need for it. Just changing the height makes so much difference to so many images…R

  • Dodo

    This is my picture with different perspective.

  • marius2die4

    One Chrysosplenium in few different perspective:

    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/2013/01/alta-planta-din-padure_26.html

    Also , depending on what do you want to transmit (big-small for example), perspective is important ( a man shoot entire from grass level with a wide lens)

  • Katie McEnaney

    Yes, definitely agree. As I pointed out with my sunflower example above, perspective can definitely influence the ‘idea’ that is transmitted by your image.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Great low angle, and love all the details in the leaf veins!

  • mcnastee

    thats a cool photo

  • Chetan Jain

    thanks

  • Ev

    I know I am late in joining the discussion, but I am new in the group. Here is a photo I took by getting down and dirty…or wet in this case.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Lovely! Great details in those drops and lovely background bokeh. Well worth the wet knees.

  • Tunji

    Thanks Katie!

  • Ross Belarmino

    I totally agree, get out of your eye level… and find the interesting angle.

  • Guest

    i take this one last week when my friend was relaxing lying in the grass

  • shawn

    i took this one last week when my friend was relaxing lying in the grass
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10202253054396785&set=a.2402288625620.2104655.1503234274&type=1&theater

  • shawn
  • Katie McEnaney

    Looking up definitely emphasizes how much it has grown!

  • Katie McEnaney

    Good use of a different perspective!

  • shawn

    thanks 🙂
    I just love taking Pictures and I’ve just started, I have to go a long way

  • NadiL820

    Relaxation. I was on my vacation in Jamaica. Relaxing in a hammock after a few minutes at the spa.

  • Katie McEnaney

    Nice! Definitely makes the viewer want to come relax with you.

  • NadiL820

    thanks Katie

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