Les Picker is a professional landscape, wildlife and award-winning travel photographer, and a Moab Master photographer for Moab Fine Art Papers. Picker frequently contributes photography tips and tricks to the Fracture blog, and today he speaks on the importance of perspective.
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 horizontal 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 snapshots rather than exciting, dramatic images.
If you are 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 dynamic photographs, try this technique of the pros; Shoot High and Shoot Low.
1. Change Your Perspective
The 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 laying down. Alternately, try shooting up.
I took the photo above from below. I liked the old Maine truck and the lobster pots, but to my eyes the license plate tied the image together. I felt the down-low perspective helped in that it created a larger-than-life perspective on the truck.
In a similar vein, I was in South Africa and a herd of elephants was grazing in the area. Three cars stopped and each person would bring the camera up to their eye and shoot the very same image. There’s nothing wrong with that, since you’ve captured that memory forever. But with large animals, in particular, shooting from below the animal maximizes their perceived power. I simply crouched and took the shot.
I travel to Canada’s amazing Yukon Territory every year leading a small group of photographers. One day, we were all photographing the flaming yellow leaves on some aspens, when I looked down and saw these mushrooms. I got down on my knees to capture this image.
2. Sometimes, shooting down actually helps
In this image taken in Italy, I was photographing in an old church. It was a miserable, cold, rainy day and while everyone else was huddled inside listening to the tour guide, I peaked over the edge of the building and noticed the tiled courtyard. It was only a matter of time (patience, grasshopper!) before a woman walked by with that blue umbrella. In post-processing it was simply a matter of removing the color from the rest of the scene top make the shot work for me.
3. Emphasize the angles and textures
On a photo trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I saw people photographing this famous church on the square. What drew me were the steeples. So, I shot high. This emphasized the angles and textures. In post-processing I darkened the sky to isolate these elements.
4. When photographing kids, get down to their level
I took this shot of a boy playing marbles in Luxor, Egypt 30 years ago on assignment for National Geographic. Had I stood up and shot eye level, the shot would have been lost. By crouching down and pointing my camera up at the boy, I got a marble-ous perspective on the game (ok, that was bad!).
So, next time you’re out photographing, be bold, be adventurous. Shoot High-Shoot Low. Heck, just shoot. I think you’ll be happier with your results.