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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!