How-To: Getting the Professional Angle
How-To: Getting the Professional Angle
The Extra Perspective That Takes an Image From Amateur to Professional
Text and Photos by Lynne Eodice
By changing your camera’s viewpoint, you can create a powerful effect over the visual impact of your images. The same scene can appear very different depending on whether you choose to photograph it from above, below or at eye level. For a little variety, try climbing a few stairs or find an upper-level viewpoint to shoot down on a subject, or squat low or even lie down to angle your camera upward. And don’t think that you have to include the entire scene in your pictures.
Remember that an eye-level angle conveys realism and an everyday appearance of a subject — it’s the way we usually see the world. Most of us tend to spot and shoot subjects from an eye-level, straight ahead point of view. We look down at wildflowers, out at the ocean, and up at the sky. Sometimes, in order to create interesting, more original images, you’ll want to alter this viewpoint.
When a scene is photographed from above, the organization of elements in the picture becomes clearer, as with this scene of a garden photographed from a high vantage point. You can reveal patterns from a high angle of view, or emphasize a subject’s diminutive size. High angles are intriguing because in addition to revealing hidden design qualities in commonplace settings, they heighten the two-dimensional aspects of a scene.
It’s easy to locate high vantage points. Rooftops, bridges, upper-floor windows, and staircases are all good possibilities. When you point the camera down from a high angle, the horizon is near the top of the photo (if it’s visible at all), and the land seems to stretch away endlessly.
When you photograph a landscape from a low angle, the horizon in the photo moves downward, showing an expanse of sky, and emphasizing the expanse of the landscape. Low angles can exaggerate the height of tall subjects, like skyscrapers in a city, or even reveal overlooked features of low-lying objects.
This is especially true when you combine a close viewpoint and the reality-stretching effects of a wide-angle lens. If I had photographed this high-rise building in Downtown Los Angeles from a distance, or even from a somewhat higher vantage point, it might appear less interesting. But I moved up close to the base of a red metal sculpture in front of this building with a 20mm lens and shot straight up to emphasize the appearance of a soaring tower, and to accentuate the red, white and blue colors in this scene. A small aperture of f/11 gave me great depth of field.
Shooting an object through a framing element can give you an interesting perspective, as well as a very original point of view. For example, after photographing the typical views of the famous monument at Mount Rushmore, I took a short nature trail and discovered a rocky crevice from which I shot a more original view of this frequently photographed icon. This image has been published several times, including as an illustration in an airline magazine feature story about the attractions of South Dakota—all because it stood out from the rest.
Trees, a window, doorway, or even a rocky crevice can create a visual frame within the picture’s actual frame when positioned around an object. In addition to directing the viewer’s eye toward your subject, a framing element can serve to obscure distracting details in a scene. At the same time, a framing device can create a sense of depth in an image and help to identify its setting. It’s important to make sure your subject is in sharp focus when using a visual frame, and a small aperture of f/11 or smaller can ensure overall image sharpness.
Shoot Only a Portion of a Scene
Oftentimes we’re so intent on viewing only the whole object or the entire scene that we ignore design elements that make up the larger view. When looking for interesting angles from which to shoot, learn to simplify your images by identifying the designs hidden within them.
By shooting upwards from a low vantage point and including just a portion of this sign in the shape of a guitar, my goal was to capture the excitement of lights at night and the feeling of being in the midst of nightlife in Las Vegas. The red lights against the dark sky provide a dramatic contrast. To photograph this scene, I used a 24mm setting on my zoom lens and a small aperture of f/8 to give me great depth of field. A good way to spot the design possibilities within a scene is to isolate and frame them by zooming your lens until you find a pleasing composition. Once you uncover a photogenic design, study the arrangement of the key elements within the frame.
Even when you don’t have a camera handy, take the time to study a subject from a high or low angle, or even through a framing element. Try to notice single colors or dramatic contrasts, abstract shapes, patterns of texture, and interesting portions of a larger scene. By purposely looking at the world from a different perspective, you can take your images to the professional level!