I don’t mean to be sarcastic… no, I take that back. I do mean to be sarcastic. Here goes. There is no rule that says you must hold your camera at eye level, in a standing position, with the camera in landscape orientation every time. There, I said it!
As a professional photographer and former editor, I figure that about 98% of all photos taken by amateurs are in landscape orientation. That, in itself, would not be so bad. But when you couple that with the dreaded eye-level perspective, the results are often dull and uninteresting, true snapshots rather than exciting photographs.
If you’re primarily into snapshots, that’s fine. There’s nothing like a snapshot of the Pyramids (if you can get one without shops and hawkers that encroach ever closer every year) or the husband standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon (“Go ahead, Honey, keep backing up… a few more steps…”). But to get truly unique images, to move beyond snapshots to true photographs, try this technique of the pros; Shoot High and Shoot Low.
Change Your PerspectiveThe main take-away to this tip is to move away from what I call the plane of conformity. Since most people take a picture standing up, try photographing from a crouched position or from your knees. I took the photo below on Navajo land in Utah. While others stood around photographing this interesting tree, I laid on my stomach and shot this from root level. Maybe the shot works for you and maybe it doesn’t. Art, after all, is subjective. But the image is not the typical one you would see associated with this particular view. To my eyes the image benefits from the down-low perspective.
In a similar vein, my wife and I were hiking Hawaii’s spectacular Napali Coast on the island of Kauai. At an overpass, everyone else on the trail took a photo of one particular scenic view. Each person would approach the lookout, bring the camera up to their eye and shoot the very same shot. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, since you’ve captured that memory forever. But, whenever I see people taking the same exact photo, I turn around and look the other way. I look up, I look down. In this case, I spotted the sun backlighting these philodendron leaves, high above my head.
Get Down!For this close-up of sea lion pups playing in the Galapagos, I laid down in the sand for twenty minutes, shooting away while the pups frolicked. Sure my elbows and clothes got wet, but I came away with a series of shots I wanted.
A similar thing happened with this shot of marsh grasses. I had to lay down on the boardwalk of a nature center at sunrise to capture this image.
Here’s another Shoot High-Shoot Low tip. When photographing kids, get down to their level. I took this shot of a boy playing marbles in Luxor, Egypt. Had I stood up and shot eye level, the shot would have lost out. By crouching down and pointing my camera up at the boy, I got a marble-ous perspective on the game (ok, I never said I was an expert punner).
So, next time you’re out photographing, be bold, be adventurous. Shoot High-Shoot Low. Heck, just shoot. I think you’ll be happy with your results.
Lester Picker is a professional photographer living in Maryland. He welcomes questions about photography addressed to his blog. Les also gives one-on-one and small group workshops for aspiring and intermediate photographers. Visit Les’ website at: www.lesterpickerphoto.com