As with most things in life, changing your perspective can make all the difference. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, as the proverbial advice suggests, broadens our understanding of the world around us. In photography, changing perspective is a powerful tool we can rely on to strengthen our artistic muscles.
After years of shooting pictures and art making, I still sometimes find myself walking around expecting pictures to make their way into my lens at my convenient, eye level, legs straight, non-tripod mounted, lazy way of shooting pictures. Many times, simply pointing and shooting will suffice. Often times, you have no choice in the matter. You have to shoot when something presents itself. What I am referring to are those moments when the subject matter is fantastic, but for some reason you can not capture it’s essence. Those spectacular round river rock are white flecked, the water is hitting them midway, and you know it’s a lovely sight, but your pictures are dull and uninspiring. Or, there’s is a wonderful repetition in the way some boulders are placed in a pond, but for some reason the pictures you take are boring. My advice? Get down low.
Shooting from a lower perspective adds overlap , an important visual cue, to more elements in your photograph that you wouldn’t get otherwise. It also gives your images drama by placing more objects in the foreground, strengthening the depth of the image. It also allows for more compositional possibilities, and for me this really gets my creative juices flowing. Suddenly, I tiny leaf becomes a focal point and a major compositional anchor. A tiny piece of root directs the eye towards the focal point. A leafy twig springs up in the foreground providing a strong sense of space in your photograph.
Here are some examples of how I positioned my camera real low, sometimes a few inches, to the ground in order to capture the essence of my environment. Thanks for reading and keep in touch!
When other compositional ideas are not working, find a way to direct the eye by including a path in your photograph.
Here is a shot I took on a neighborhood trail. A clear path takes the viewer up through the image and through the natural tunnel. O f course, you will not always have such a clear path to incorporate in your photograph.
Sometimes, you have to really hun for these paths. In the case of this next picture I took on the Oregon coast, I found the water path first and then moved around to direct it somewhere interesting in my image.
Here is a similar example I took on a snowy day. In on otherwise colorless and white-washed photo-shoot, I found a few of these breaks in the snow that created compositional tools in my pictures.
When you are struggling to come up with a pleasant composition, try making a path in your picture. Lead the eye to just about anything and your pictures will come alive. I believe a great photograph can make the mundane, magnificent.
Water is one of my favorite things to photograph, but like all things, to do it well you have to be willing to get a little uncomfortable. That means getting in! Being mindful of tides and the swiftness and depth of a river are real things you have to consider before jumping in. Keeping your camera secured around your neck is important too. Since my tripod is aluminum, I am not concerned with it rusting. The following are different examples of how I got wet to get my shot.
Unless there are several places for your eye to bounce along, photographing a river from the the side on a bank or beach places a static band across your page and can create a boring image. There are exceptions, but in general this kind of side to side composition doesn’t intrigue the viewer. When facing this very problem down at one of my favorite parks, I decided to step in. I found a great big mossy rock in the middle of this stream and set up my camera on a tripod with my 11-16 Tokina wide angle lens.
Never mistake good subject matter for a good photograph. With this next image, I struggled trying to get all the logs, foliage and flowing water to look as interesting as the idea of all these elements. I was shooting from a comfortable place along a bank and I was trying every angle I could, high, low, close and wide, but failed to capture an image that was worth keeping. Like my river shot, I decided to get in the water and try shooting from an angle that captured this scene downstream. The results were worth the extra five minutes removing my socks I think.
This one you want to be extra cautious with. Waterfall areas will often have barriers and restricted areas that you want to stick to for your safety. The next image is from a very popular and heavily photographed waterfall in my city. There is a bridge spanning the outflow of this falls and good places to take a photograph. I wanted to try placing more water in the foreground of my image. I found a path that went under the bridge that brought my angle closer to what I wanted. I tried a few shots along the pebble beach but I wasn’t quite getting what I wanted. The water was shallow enough that day and I was able to step in and get just the right angle that included water and a few rocks in my final photograph.
As always, make sure if you’re shooting wide not to let a leg of your tripod or remote cable get in the shot. Wear waterproof boots or go barefoot if you are certain it is safe to do so. Consider your angle and composition and try several exposures. Getting your feet wet can lead to some outstanding shots you wouldn’t achieve standing safely on dry land. With a little planning and caution, these small comfort risks will help your portfolio grow and shine.
Like many other photographers, I often get that “itch” to head outside and capture something amazing. Many of us have family and other responsibilities, so often we can’t just rush out as soon as the light is just right or other atmospheric conditions that would make an absolutely AMAZING picture. I get out and shoot when I can, and when I do, I often take with me those ideas I had worked out from the previous day when I conceived the perfect shot. The only problem is, it’s cloudy and windy and it was perfectly sunny yesterday! There are niche photographers that focus on this or that and that is great, but for the rest of us who are always seeking to improve the craft of photography, being adaptive is crucial to exercising our creative minds and being productive. Here are a few “non-ideal” weather conditions and a few things you can do with them:
Cloudy and Overcast:
Color! That’s right, color radiates in these conditions because there isn’t a harsh light source bouncing brightness around.
It’s anti-intuitive in a way, but bright sunlight washes color out of a lot of scenes. Longer exposures with a tripod is more effective in these conditions too!
Bright Mid-day Sun:
Painters and photographers alike have always praised the early morning and evening light for the color and the wonderful drama it can create. But, what if you can’t get out at this time and when you do get out, the sun is beating down creating hard shadows everywhere?
Black and White! While these conditions might not be best suited for lush and colorful landscapes, they can be perfect for creating striking black and white images with lots of rhythm
Windy, Rainy, Yucky:
Now might be a time to consider setting up a still life and doing an interior shot. There are many artists you can research online that have made careers out of doing incredible still lifes that are profoundly beautiful. Select items that either convey a theme with the objects themselves or share a color relationship. If you had your heart on going outside and facing the nasty weather anyway, make sure you have your camera protected and be mindful about all the things blowing around out there. Landscapes might be out of the question because trees, grass and other foliage will be moving around too much. This of course might also be a nice effect if there were a stationary object of interest nearby. City-scapes and architecture can be lovely in these conditions. Again, black and white photography could be a good choice for capturing moody street scenes. Try a faster exposure time to freeze a drop or two!(a painting I did recently, sorry couldn’t find a photoraphic still-life…but, you get the idea;)) Now, be adaptive and shoot! -Shawn Pagels