Low-angle photos give us a completely different view of the world.
Most of our lives are spent well above ground level – by the time we are teenagers, we rarely find ourselves crawling around on the floor. Yet there’s a whole other world down there, an alternative perspective that provides an eye-opening, even shocking, experience.
Therefore, when done well, low-angle photography can create genuinely striking shots. With a bit of low-angle compositional magic, you can show a boring, everyday scene in a new light.
But how can you capture beautiful images? In this article, I share my top seven tips for amazing results, starting with:
1. Use your rear LCD
When taking low-angle photos, it’s important that you start by acknowledging that you will not be able to look through your viewfinder most of the time. (A lot of the best shots are captured so low to the ground that only the smallest of frogs could take a peek!)
Instead, you’ll need to compose via your camera’s rear LCD screen. If possible, use a camera with a fully articulating or tilting screen; that way, you can frame each photo without needing to physically get down on your camera’s level. (If you’re serious about low-angle photography – that is, if you plan to do it regularly – and you don’t have a tilting screen, you may want to consider purchasing a camera that does. This feature makes a huge difference!)
Shooting without a tilting LCD is hard but not impossible. You’ll need to work partially by feel, but you can also do your best to get physically low to the ground and do approximate framing via the screen, even if you aren’t able to achieve a perfect viewing angle.
2. Use a wider lens
Wide-angle lenses facilitate perspective distortion, which causes scenes to appear more expansive (as opposed to compressed). And this effect looks amazing in most low-angle photography, in part because it specifically emphasizes the low-angle effect. Yes, you can capture low-angle shots with a telephoto lens, but the down-low perspective will be less obvious, and you’ll lose that sense of the scene rushing away from the viewer into the distance.
Here’s an example of a shot taken with a wide-angle lens:
So how wide is wide enough? If you’re using an APS-C camera, a lens in the 10-22mm range will work beautifully, though you can also get great results with an 18-55mm or 16-50mm kit lens. If you’re using a full-frame camera, a 24mm lens is a good choice, but for an even more extreme effect, try using a 16-35mm zoom or even a 12-24mm option.
3. Maintain a deep depth of field
Almost by definition, a low-angle shot will have elements in the near foreground and the distant background – and the best photos tend to keep all of these objects in sharp focus. In other words, it’s important that you maximize the depth of field in your photos so foreground and background objects are crisp and detailed.
One way to increase the depth of field is to back away from your foreground subject, but this is often counterproductive as it will destroy that breathtaking low-angle effect. So you’ll instead need to narrow your lens’s aperture.
Technically, you can just crank the aperture to f/22 (or whatever your lens allows), but this can actually decrease sharpness due to something called diffraction. The better move is to only narrow the aperture as much as you need; f/8 is a good starting point, and while you can stop down to f/11 or even f/16, watch out for diffraction. Ultra-narrow apertures such as f/16 also have another drawback: They require slow shutter speeds to keep the images well-exposed, so it’s difficult to shoot without a tripod.
My recommendation? Start with f/8 and see what you get. Even if the shots aren’t perfectly sharp from front to back, as long as the foreground and background objects are relatively clear, you’ll still end up with a usable shot. This next image isn’t perfectly sharp throughout, but the depth of field is large enough that the composition works well:
4. Make sure your camera is level
Whenever you set your camera low to the ground, don’t just compose and immediately fire your shutter. Instead, take an extra second to ensure your horizontal lines are perfectly straight.
A crooked horizon is one of the easiest ways to tell beginners from professionals, so believe me when I tell you that you should avoid a tilted frame at all costs.
Now, it’s true that you can straighten a crooked horizon in pretty much any editing program. But the straightening process will crop your image, which means you’ll lose information around the edges. This isn’t always a problem, but it can be, so it’s best to just get it right in the field.
Some mirrorless cameras actually offer electronic levels, but if this isn’t an option, you can always purchase a little bubble level that mounts on your camera’s hot shoe and makes leveling a quick and painless process.
5. Watch for blown-out skies
Because low-angle shots are, well, low, they often include a portion of the sky in the frame, like this:
After all, to capture the shot, you’re pointing your camera up from down low.
Including the sky isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and it can enhance your shots by adding interest or creating cool foreground silhouettes). But if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a white, detailless sky, which often doesn’t look so great.
You see, skies are generally far brighter than foregrounds, and because every camera has a limited dynamic range, it’s often difficult to include detail throughout the entire frame – dark foreground and bright sky. Because many low-angle shots include more foreground than sky, your camera will often automatically expose for the foreground and turn the sky bright white.
Fortunately, there are a handful of techniques you can use to deal with this problem:
- You can choose your exposure values extremely carefully so as to strike a perfect balance between foreground and sky. As long as your camera’s dynamic range is large enough and you choose your exposure values carefully enough, you can retain detail in both the sky and the foreground.
- You can shoot multiple bracketed frames, then blend the files together in an editing program. This process is time-consuming and works best if you shoot from a tripod, but you can also keep your framing consistent by placing your camera against the ground.
- You can accept the limits of the scene. In other words, you pick between underexposing the foreground or overexposing the background and roll with it. If the sky is highly interesting, underexpose to maintain cloud detail. If the foreground is incredible, overexpose and accept that the sky will be blown out.
Regardless of the approach you choose, make sure you pay careful attention to the sky. A well-rendered sky can be the difference between a great shot and a bland one!
6. Include a clear subject
While a low-angle perspective is very powerful, a shot that relies solely on the angle won’t really impress the viewer. It’s important to include a compositional point of focus in each image; that way, the viewer knows where to look!
Note that your point of focus can be anything: a rock, an apple, a bird, or a person. You don’t necessarily need to include a breathtakingly beautiful or especially interesting main subject. As long as you have some element to catch the viewer’s eye, your shot can work.
Note that a low perspective will often make small objects look huge – as if they’re towering over the camera. This can be a great way to impress the viewer and make them feel like a tiny insect surrounded by giants.
One tip: Make sure you position your subject carefully in the frame. If the main area of interest is right in the middle of the shot, the composition might feel a little static. Consider using the rule of thirds to add some dynamism!
7. Shoot, review, and repeat
This is where the digital photographic process can be wildly helpful. While I’m not a fan of reviewing every shot on a camera’s LCD, learning rapidly from your mistakes has never been easier. Take advantage of this technology!
As soon as you’ve taken a few shots, peek at the back of your camera and see what you think. How is the exposure? The composition? The sharpness? The lighting? Consider what you might change to make the image better, and reshoot until the image you want is captured. Over time, you’ll get better at nailing each and every photographic variable so you can get each shot right from the start, but when you’re just a beginner, your camera’s playback function will be invaluable.
Repeatedly reshooting a subject will result in quite a few duplicate images, so you’ll have your photo-organization work cut out for you. When you get back home, make sure you select the best shots and separate them from the rest. (If you like, you can delete all the failed shots, though you should be very careful; there’s always the possibility that you’ll change your mind about an image or two later on!)
You should also spend time reviewing your best images so you can understand precisely what made them so great. Thanks to this thoughtful analysis, you’ll become better and better at identifying opportunities for low-angle photos.
Low-angle photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to capture breathtaking photos from a low perspective.
So head out with your camera, get down in the dirt, and see what you can create. Photograph people, animals, trees, flowers, buildings, street scenes, and more. It’ll be a ton of fun – I guarantee it!
Now over to you:
What low-angle subjects do you plan to photograph? Do you have any tips that we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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