Sometimes I find myself stuck in a bit of a photographic rut, and it seems like no matter what I do I just can’t quite find interesting subjects to take pictures of or compelling scenes to capture. Even worse, when I do think I’ve stumbled across something that would make a good picture, I’ll start clicking away only to be disappointed with the results.
One trick I’ve learned over the years to dig myself out of these pits is to change my perspective. By looking at familiar subjects from a different angle, or under a different light, I often find myself seeing it almost for the first time. It’s a fun exercise and doesn’t involve much effort. It can transform even the most boring scene or bland subject into something worth photographing and framing.
There is any number of ways you can change your perspective on things to get a good photo. I’m going to examine four of my favorite techniques and show you an example of each one. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas to try out on your own and start turning the mundane into something magical.
Look at the lighting
Not long ago I was walking around a pond near my work with my Fuji X100F when I stumbled across the following scene. As you can see, it really wasn’t much to look at whatsoever. I noticed two brown leaves among a sea of dull green leaves, but nothing stood out to me as photo-worthy.
A few minutes later the sun poked out from behind the clouds. I decided to take a look at this same scene from a slightly different perspective, and with a bit of a change in lighting as well.
Instead of shooting from above with the sun behind me, I shot from below with the sun behind my subject.
That simple change made a massive difference.
The result is one of my favorite leaf photos I have ever taken.
One morning in May, I used the same technique to get this shot of a butterfly.
I put myself in such a position that the sun would be behind this particular butterfly. It not only gave an incredible glow to its wings but made the dew on the grass glow and sparkle in a way that makes the scene seem almost magical.
Normally, I incline to take pictures like this with the sun behind me, not behind my subject. However, this was a good reminder that sometimes creative lighting choices yield amazing results.
You cannot overstate the effect that lighting has on your photos. Even the word photograph itself means to draw with light. Even so, I often think of lighting in terms of formal portraits or other contrived situations. It doesn’t immediately cross my mind to alter the lighting when I’m trying to capture casual shots in an interesting manner.
The next time you feel a bit of a slump coming on, try looking at everyday items and situations from a different perspective. A perspective where the light is altered, and see how it changes everything right before your eyes.
Another tip is to try creating your own lighting, like in the shot below. It is nothing more than a jar of pasta in my kitchen that I set on top of a flashlight. However, the result was something interesting and unexpected that brought a big smile to my face.
On a similar note, this purple vortex was shot using pretty much the same principle. It might look like something out of a movie or painting, but it’s just a plastic bottle with some purple water that I lit with a flashlight.
The original setup is far less dramatic and quite boring – not the type of scene that seems ideal for an interesting photo. However, with a bit of light manipulation, even scenes like this can result in a magical picture.
When I first started taking pictures, I didn’t realize how much I could change the impact of my images by moving myself around a bit. Sometimes I would end up moving to shoot a subject or a scene from a different angle. However, the proverbial light bulb really lit up when I realized how moving closer to my subjects could have resulted in such a dramatically different outcome. This has come in to play when taking pictures for clients – such as this one that I shot at 190mm with an aperture of f/4.
The picture is fine on its own. However, when I moved closer, I found the resulting image more intimate and personal. It was almost like I had caught the two in a bit of a private moment. I shot this image at 150mm with an f/4 aperture. While the focal length was shorter, the image feels more comfortable and natural because I was physically closer to the couple.
I didn’t zoom in to get this shot – I zoomed out. But, I moved a lot closer to them. Not only did this give me a more personal picture, but it also helped the couple feel more comfortable with me. Instead of being remote and distant, I was now able to talk and joke with them. This enabled them to let down their guard and smile a bit more naturally.
Of course, the converse of this is true as well. Sometimes you might find that moving farther away can give you a better shot. The point is that a simple change in perspective can profoundly impact your pictures. Also, if you are working with people, it can change the entire mood and tone of the photo session as well.
Re-frame your subject
When you don’t want to move back and forth but you want to kick your pictures up a notch or two, try moving your subject around. Such that they are in a slightly different spot with slightly different surroundings. Take this photo from a maternity session as an example. The expectant mother is in a garden leaning against a brick outcropping.
Like the couple in the earlier example, this picture is fine on its own, but it feels like it’s missing something. By moving my subject to a nearby flower bed and shooting a similar photo, we were able to add an entirely different dimension to the photo. As a result, I captured an image that feels much more personal and intimate despite a similar pose and expression.
A simple re-framing of the subject, and even adding foreground and background elements, can have a huge impact on the resulting images and the story you want to tell or emotions you are trying to convey. This works with more than just people too, such as this image of the moon. It’s not bad. The subject is sharp and in focus. However, the picture isn’t all that compelling. It’s just a big white circle against a black background. As a result, the image is somewhat lifeless and uninteresting.
Now contrast that image with another one that I captured months later just after sunset. This time I composed my shot so there would be some tree branches in the foreground. This simple compositional decision made the final image far more compelling than just a shot of the moon in the sky with nothing else around it.
Above and below
There is one final tip that can help make your pictures a lot more interesting (or just more fun to look at). Examine your subject or the scene from a vantage point that’s either much higher or lower than you might be accustomed. That may involve climbing up on a ladder or crouching down to the ground. The more creative you can get, the more compelling your results can be.
These two shots are the same sleeping infant. However, I took one from a very low angle and the other from directly above. Neither one is better or worse than the other, and that’s not the point. Instead, both pictures showcase the same subject in different ways. Thus, they convey different meanings to the viewer.
The same scene from a different angle feels more personal and intimate, even though almost nothing about the baby has changed.
On a similar note, I did a family photo session for some clients recently where they wanted a picture of all their hands together. After discussing some ways to accomplish this, we decided to shoot the hands from above. It involved a tall ladder, and all the family members crowded around a tree stump. They were thrilled with the result.
It all came about because I shifted my vantage point to directly above instead of my normal inclination to take photographs from my eye level.
Finally, one more example involves nothing more than a washing machine that my father had rigged to run with the lid open. I held my camera directly above to get this picture of the spin cycle in action.
While it may not be as special as an infant or three generations of hands together, it’s an interesting image of a familiar situation made possible by shifting perspectives.
Hopefully, these images give you a sense of what’s possible by changing a few simple things with your photography. You don’t need expensive gear or fancy studio setups to accomplish some interesting results. Often you just need to adjust your viewpoint or find ways to use the light differently.
I’d love to see some of your examples and read your tips on this same idea. If you have any thoughts or images about this, please share them in the comments below!