Shooting your subject from a higher or lower angle can help convey a unique perspective in your images
Photography has become so popular, a cookie-cutter look appears in the vast majority of published images. Ponder this scenario—50 photographers line up along one of the pullouts in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone in the fall. There stands a majestic bull elk in good light grazing on the golden grasses. Each one of the 50 photographers has a 500mm or 600mm lens attached to their camera body, and this setup is attached to a fully extended tripod set to eye level. Simultaneous clicks are heard each time the elk raises its head from the grass. The end result? Fifty extremely similar photos because no one sought out unique vantage points in photography.
The purpose of this week’s tip is to hopefully get you to think outside the box and not replicate everyone else. Do something different. The slogan I like to use is, “Exhaust all possibilities.” Seeking out unique vantage points in photography will help you create photographs from a new point of view. Think about getting to a higher or lower vantage point different from where you’d normally make the image and click the shutter when the composition falls into place. Will the photos necessarily be better than the ones made from eye level? Maybe not, but unless you try, you’ll never know. You’ll get some strange looks as you lay across the ground or try to climb to a higher elevation, but the important thing is to walk away with a successful photo that breaks the mold of what everyone else does.
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Making images from a higher perspective is more difficult than dropping to your knees or laying on your belly, so the opportunities to gain elevation are fewer. It behooves you to visually explore your surroundings and look for unique vantage points in photography. Scenic overlooks come to mind, especially in canyon and river valley areas. The key to finding more diverse opportunities is to keep an open mind and always have your eyes wide open when you encounter the right set of circumstances. The photo above was made from the back of a small ship. The primary subject is simply rudder wash that created a leading line pattern to the mountains and cloud-filled sky.
I try to keep a macro lens with me when I go out in the field. If I can’t, I bring a dual element close-up filter so if the opportunity presents itself to make images of something small, I can achieve my goal. I often look straight down when I walk around with my camera. More often than not, a good photo presents itself at the point where my feet come to rest. This is what happened in the photo of the lizard on the sandstone. Because he blended in so well, I almost missed a golden photo op. The lesson to be learned is to make sure your eyes are constantly on the move and when you find a cooperative subject, make the most of the situation.
When I make images from a low perspective, I refer to it as photographing from a worm’s-eye view. Worms rarely leave the ground, so they constantly have to be on guard looking to the skies for birds and other predators. So be like a worm and look up more often. If the subject is tame and cooperative, get underneath it. Chances are its curiosity will elicit a unique look. That is what occurred in the photo of the bighorn sheep—when I gazed toward it with my camera, it gazed down on me and provided a great expression.
I’m primarily a wildlife photographer, and I love it when one of my subjects is skylined so I can incorporate a neutral sky as the background. It provides a clean environment with no distractions. When I lead my safaris to the Serengeti, I’m on constant lookout for clean backgrounds, so I seek out subjects that perch on top of the kopjes or granite outcroppings. The animals like the higher vantage point to use as either a lookout position for prey or to watch for predators that hunt them. So, the next time you’re out in the field, seek out unique vantage points in photography to set your images apart.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.
Originally Published December 8, 2021