There are many rules, guidelines, suggestions, and ideas around what makes a good photographic composition. Every person has their own particular aesthetic and way of seeing, and it can be difficult to find your way through all the information to a concept that works for you.
However, there is one simple tip that may be the easiest and quickest way for you to improve your images. It’s free and doesn’t usually require you to buy anything. All you need to do is stop, think, and make a different choice. What is that choice? The choice of changing your point of view.
The vast majority of images are taken from a standing position, looking out at, or down onto the subject. So, instead of doing what everyone else does, why not try something different?
Change Your Point of View
#1 – Go Low
Get down on the ground as low as you can get (depending on your physical capabilities or what might be in the way). This can give you a much more intimate connection with any creature you might be shooting – being at eye level with the subject is always ideal.
Being on the same plane as a ground-based subject is unexpected. Too often we view the world from a standing position so this viewpoint challenges us.
2. Go High
Climb onto a fence, up some stairs, a tree, or a ladder and use that height to better effect. Looking straight down on your subject is a very alien view for most people. This is a big part of why drone photography is so popular, it allows us to see our world in an entirely different way.
3. See from a different angle
How many times do you point the camera straight or straight down? Most people rarely look immediately up above themselves, so that is quite a different image. If you combine adding height with looking down you can be very creative as it is unexpected by viewers who normally have their feet planted firmly on the ground.
4. Make a Different Lens Choice
Changing from your standard lens to a different one can also make a big difference.
Try using a macro lens, or an ultra wide-angle. Even better, don’t use them conservatively. Use the ultra-wide to take macro shots, and use the macro lens to take portraits.
Get a cheap vintage lens, one that has all sorts of interesting visual effects inside the glass (they usually need to be focused manually). Play with a Lensbaby or another specialty type lens. Don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, whats the worst that could happen?
5. Shoot Tight
Stick that lens right up close to your subject, get in tight. Fill the frame with the subject, as much as you can. Go completely abstract if you like, but push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get in as close as you can, and then go closer still.
6. Take Your Time
Long exposures can be a lot of fun and give you a very different image. Soft flowing water effects are nice, but what about a really long exposure where the water looks like smoke and mist? Night shots of fire dancers making patterns in the darkness? Playing with light painting? ICM or Intentional Camera Movement? Slowing down the action and capturing it can offer a lot of creative fun.
Low light or night time photography offers lots of opportunities for using long exposures in creative ways. Astrophotography is very popular at the moment and requires you to use a tripod and take often several long exposure frames. Light trails from traffic on busy city streets or a car climbing its way up a mountain road in the distance.
These kinds of images take time to make, which requires you to think about and plan it in advance. It can be frustrating to have to wait to achieve them but the pay off for creating an image under difficult conditions is very rewarding.
7. Be Abstract
Going really close to a subject or selecting just a part of it to include in the frame is a great way to bring abstract concepts into your work. You tease the viewer with just enough of the subject that they wonder what it is. This often makes them engage longer with the image as they think more about what it could be.
There is a fine line between enough and too abstract, depending on your subject. Of course, you may want to go all the way into very abstract which is perfectly valid, although might challenge your audience and lose engagement.
Putting some effort and thought into the way you use your camera gear is one of the most effective ways to improve your images in my opinion. Strong and eye-catching compositions can be achieved with any kind of camera provided you put some thought and time into making it.
Yes, for some kinds of shots you might need special gear, like a macro lens for those really good close-ups. In general, though, you can still see a noticeable improvement in your images by just taking the time to stop and think BEFORE you shoot. Ask yourself the following questions before you press the button:
- What is the obvious angle here?
- What other options could I use instead?
- Do I have time to experiment?
- Is there space and opportunity for me to physically move to a different viewpoint?
- Is it safe/legal?
- Will I do any damage to property or environment by changing position?
Learning to see in a different way was a critical step in my photography path. By expanding my options and developing new styles, my work was noticed and commented on much more. This prompted me to experiment even more and really challenge my own preconceived boundaries.
Having the ability to shoot in many different ways adds flexibility and depth to your skillset. Cold rainy day? Break out the macro lens and raid the pantry for something different to shoot. Pick a flower from the garden and bring it inside. Wander the city streets looking for the small interesting details and focus on them. Be abstract, tell a story from your point of view. Get shots of people’s feet crossing a zebra crossing or panning shots of a cyclist dodging traffic.
Take your time to look and see what is around you, then think about how you can frame it up. Be creative. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It might take a few goes to get the hang of it or you might fall in love with seeing the world around you in an entirely different way immediately.
Challenge yourself to grow and improve. And please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.