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Shoot Low Or Shoot High? It Depends.
A favorite angle from which I love to make photographs is above my subject looking down. A favorite angle from which I love to make photographs is from down low looking up or across. Wait…these concepts contradict each other! How can both be favorites if they’re opposites? What it boils down to is based on one of my favorite ways to answer any photo question I’m asked: It depends. Is soft light better than harsh light? It depends. Is a wide-open aperture better than a closed-down one? It depends. Should I use a wide or telephoto to make that image? It depends.
With regards to the elevated point from where I make a photo, the higher up I can get, the more unique the view as most images tend to be made while the photographer stands. Reflect upon many of the images you’ve made in the past. How were you positioned when you pressed the shutter? I’d wager a lot of money that the majority were made while you stood in front of your tripod. This being the case, if you could do something to apply a unique angle to a commonly photographed subject, the image will stand out. Let’s look at some of the variables that need to fall into place.
When you add a unique twist to your images, viewers will study them longer as they try to decipher what makes the photo different. The longer someone looks at an image, the more it’s remembered. There’s a greater chance the viewer wants to know more about it and how it was created. All this adds to the possibility of greater name recognition, a potential photo sale, a possible future job or another grand happening.
Get High On Your Photography
Just because a photographer gets to an elevated position, it doesn’t ensure a good photo. It may be made from a unique position, but does it work? When you get to an elevated position, don’t just start shooting. Study the terrain and surroundings. As this angle will be new to you, take a look at the nuances it provides and exploit the possibilities. Study how shadows and subjects play off each other and incorporate them into the composition. Look to see how the perspective changes and photograph what’s distinctive. Use the rule of thirds in composing your photos as you would if you were on the ground.
Regardless of the location from where you go to gain height, go back at different times of the day to see how the light changes. Use these different lighting conditions to your advantage. You’ll find that a specific time works out best based on light direction, angles, shadows, highlights and more. Although I predominately write about nature photography, if you do any street photography, make photos from a tall building and look down onto the street. Street scenes tend to work well using a high perspective. Climb a tree, photograph from a bridge or even climb a ladder. It’s not always a matter of how much elevation you gain, but how you use the elevation to your advantage.
Get Down And Into It
The primary reason I like to get low is to control the background. Look at the backgrounds in the reference photo of the side-by-side geese. In the image on the left, the background is close to the goose in that I was standing when I made that image, it remains partially in focus. In the photo on the right, because I’m on my belly, the background now falls much farther away from the goose, hence it becomes a blur of color that allows the subject to come forward in the image.
The second reason I love to get down and dirty when I photograph wildlife is I like to be at the subject’s eye level. When the viewer can see right into the eyes of the animal, there’s a stronger connection. It becomes more real and the viewer can identify with it more easily. The connotation of “not looking down on me” disappears and the animal takes on much greater significance. When people are engaged in conversation, it’s done at eye level. If one person stands, so does the other. If one person sits, so does the other. This occurs so both become equals in the conversation.
Ongoing, before you fully extend all three legs of your tripod, evaluate every situation. You may simply want to set the camera onto the tripod head, squat down low and sit in front of the rig. Make some photos from down low. After that, look around the environment. Is there something that provides an elevated position from where you can photograph? If so, go explore it. Think about all those options and ask yourself, will the image be better if I get low or go up high? If you answer, “It depends,” you’re doing your job!
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.