Perspective is one thing that can make or break your image. Finding the right or a unique perspective can help take your photography to the next level.
Imagine yourself walking down a path or street, camera in hand on a fine sunny day. Suddenly, something peaks your photographic interest ahead. What do you do? If you are a keen photographer, you stop dead in your tracks, stealthily raising the camera to your eye. Your finger depresses the shutter button a few times and you inspect the LCD monitor for exposure. Satisfied, you continue on your way, keeping an eye out for the next photographic opportunity. This same routine makes up the majority of your photographic practice, and it has for quite some time.
Later, while revising your photographs, you have a sudden realization – all your recent images look eerily similar. In fact, flicking through your catalog, you notice the same thing in each photograph – they are all taken from the exact same eye-level perspective. Your camera settings were perfect, true, your exposure was dead on. But viewed across a body of photographs, your work comes off tiresome, repetitive, dispassionate even. And it all comes down to perspective.
Like many things in life, photography can become habitual. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut without realizing it. Our first foray into photography begins with camera operation – focus, shutter speed, aperture and ISO – and once we have a handle on that, we then move on to the ins and outs of photographic composition. Yet, although we retain the basics of operating a camera, it’s the composition theory that often gets left to the wayside. This is why many photographers’ work suffers from repetitivity, even though perspective is one of they easiest and most effective ways of switching up your photographic composition.
Perspective involves training your eye to recognize unique opportunities and to emphasize them by positioning your camera. Climbing up trees, laying on your belly, poking your lens through holes in fences – perspective means getting physical with your photographic practice. Of course, there are circumstances where the average camera angle shot is going to work just fine. But keep in mind that the perspective of a photograph is always a choice – don’t waste the chance to create a unique photograph by deferring to the traditional eye-level shot.
Drop it like it’s hot
Often photography is about finding that unique point of view and investigating a subject from a creative angle. Physically altering the positioning of the camera is a great way to get you thinking about perspective, and low angle photography can yield amazing results. The lower the camera, the more dramatic the effect, so don’t be afraid to experiment with the positioning of your camera. It may seem counterintuitive to place an expensive camera on the ground, but as one of my favorite perspective techniques, sometimes getting a little dirty is worth it.
Set your camera to auto or to a suitable manual exposure suitable for the subject. A great advantage of this type of photography is that the ground makes for a lovely, steady tripod, so be sure to experiment with slow shutter speeds. Place the camera down on the ground – remember the lower the camera, the more dramatic the effect. You can use a plastic bag beneath the camera to protect it if you want. To avoid more editing later, placing the camera on a level surface is a good idea too.
How to see what you’re shooting
One of the tricky aspects of ground-level photography is the awkward angle of the viewfinder. Unless you are laying on the ground, or have a swivel screen, seeing what you are photographing can be difficult. Blind shooting or working without the viewfinder lends a refreshing opportunity to think creatively without holding the reigns too tightly. A trial and error approach is ideal. Check the LCD monitor after every few photographs to make sure you are getting the images you want. Set your aperture, shutter speed and ISO in line with the results yielded by the monitor.
An ant’s eye view
Photographing from such a low point of view isn’t just fun for the photographer. Unusual perspectives impact the experience of the viewer or audience too. From the low perspective, the ground and the horizon either intersect or sandwich the subject material, creating emphasis and guiding the eye around the image. When these planes come together abruptly, they also draw attention to the composition of the environment.
The unusual perspective of ground-level photography also makes objects in the foreground appear larger compared to the background, mirroring our own perception. By enhancing the depth of the image, the image appeals to the human eye because it is both familiar and unusual at the same time.
By investigating perspective, the photograph tells a story in greater detail, creating a more resolved photograph.
Playing with perspective is a really simple way of making your images more dynamic. In fact, it’s a little addictive!
As soon as you get a handle for ground-level photography, you’ll start to notice other unique photographic opportunities around you. There aren’t many people who get the chance to investigate a scene from the ground up. But as photographers, we have the tools and the know-how to photograph unusual perspectives and share them with the world. Don’t be afraid to get physical with the environment around you to get that master shot. And don’t be (too) afraid to put your camera on the ground once in a while.