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Categorized | Articles, Viktoria Haack

Beginner Basics — Changing Your Perspective (full story)

Story and photography by Viktoria Haack

How often does a scene catch our eye and we almost immediately start shooting? I know I’m guilty of this, and sometimes there’s a danger that you will miss a shot altogether if you don’t start to shoot immediately, especially if the light is changing or an animal or person is behaving in a particular way. But if there is time, try changing your viewpoint and quickly discover how an average image can become a lot more interesting!


Most of us see the world from a standing position, so an eye-level view is our instinctual way to capture a scene. I know a few years ago when I started photographing weddings, I would set up a shot with the bride and groom, talking to them and organizing them as well as taking shots. Meanwhile, my second photographer was finding creative angles as they were more able to move around the subject, get higher, get lower, shoot through foliage and change the position of the light behind the subject as they moved. Invariably they would end up with way more creative shots than the images I had been able to capture. I have since learned that taking a moment to assess my subject before I begin to shoot will ultimately allow me to capture fewer images and come away with way more pleasing and memorable results.

©Viktoria Haack
I chose a low angle for this shot and pulled further back to make full use of the compression of my 70-200 lens and to allow some of the environment to be captured in the shot.
Gear/Settings: Nikon D4, NIkkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, ƒ8@1/250 sec., ISO 1000

Shooting with this thought in mind can apply to every genre of photography — human, wildlife, landscape, etc. As I approach the scene my first thought is, ‘What is the subject?’ Once I’ve established the most important element, I then try to piece my composition together around the subject like a jigsaw puzzle so that everything fits together with nothing overlapping where it shouldn’t (e.g., no trees sticking out the tops of heads if it’s a person or wildlife subject, no elements pointing the eye out of the frame like a pathway leading out of the shot).

Once you’re clear on your focal point, then try to change your elevation. You might want to move higher to reveal depth in a scene — perhaps you’re shooting a landscape with a foreground element, then a body of water behind and perhaps a sunset or mountain behind that. If you move too low, then you might lose that watery middle ground if your foreground element is a large plant, so adjusting your tripod to a higher position or standing on a rock may give you a better vantage point to include all the necessary elements to your shot. If you are shooting people, then a higher viewpoint may hide a double chin or make eyes appear more prominent.

©Viktoria Haack
Vermillion Lakes. I chose to extend my tripod to a tall standing position for this image as the reeds in the foreground were very tall and I didn’t want them to overlap into the reflection of the mountains in the lake.
Gear/Settings: Nikon D800, Nikkor 17-35mm lens shot at 20mm, ƒ11@3 sec., ISO 100

Getting down low can create a dramatic foreground. Use a wide-angle lens and suddenly a seemingly inconsequential flower can become a very strong foreground element that anchors the scene and leads the eye inwards and towards our focal point. Shooting from a low angle can create drama and a sense of power. This can also be the case for portraits and wildlife subjects.

©Viktoria Haack
Mount Robson with flowers in foreground.
I set my tripod very close to the ground for this shot to take advantage of the small yellow flowers. I moved in close to the flowers so that they would create a strong foreground interest. The portrait orientation of the lens allowed me to capture more foreground and accentuate the size of the mountain.
Gear/Settings: Nikon D800, Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8 lens, ƒ11@1/13 sec., ISO 200

Changing the distance from a subject is another great way to add a different dynamic to a shot. Move in closer to subjects (generally best with a zoom lens for wildlife) to isolate elements of a scene, and possibly crop in to create something a little more abstract, or to just fill the frame and deeply connect with your subject. Move out from a subject and further away to allow the inclusion of additional elements that can add to the story of an image. Being further away can enable you to shoot through foliage, etc. to create a soft bokeh in portrait and nature shots.

I frequently use Live View mode on my camera to help me quickly assess the best elevation, angle and distance for my shots. It allows me to “fly” my camera around the scene before committing to a position or mounting my camera to my tripod and saves a lot of unnecessary grazed knees as I strain to look through the camera viewfinder when trying to compose. If you’re not familiar with the Live View function on your camera then do take a moment to check it out. It basically allows you to look at the screen on the back of the camera rather than through the viewfinder and means you don’t have to hold the camera directly to your eye.

Consider your light source location. If you want rim light on your subject, perhaps you need to move them or yourself to allow the light to gently highlight hair or catch the edges of clothing to create a soft, ethereal look. Is your body blocking light falling onto rocks in the foreground of your landscape composition, meaning you need to move to allow that light to be captured in the shot? Watch for your shadow and that of your tripod falling into the image.

As you move around a subject, you will notice a change in the way objects interact with and juxtapose with each other. Watch how foreground and background elements intersect. Look for possible ways to frame your subject. Doorways, windows, tree branches, foliage and other naturally occurring objects can all create a frame for us to set our primary subject inside. As I mentioned above, look for a way to include leading lines that lead into, rather than out of the image.

When we challenge the normal human viewpoint, we initiate a greater engagement level from our viewers as our different perspective forces their brains to slow down and attempt to understand the visual story we’re giving them.

So take some time to think, look and consider before you start pressing the shutter button on yourcamera. Move around your subject and consider “flying” your camera around the scene before setting up for the shot. You may find that you end up taking fewer photos. Instead, your brain will mentally take them for you as you put it to work piecing your composition together like a jigsaw puzzle before ever pressing the shutter button.

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Article by Viktoria Haack

Viktoria Haack is a regular contributor to Outdoor Photography Canada. Her column "Beginner Basics" covers the topics that every new photographer should consider. She believes in ‘treading lightly’ with her assignments, observing light, weather conditions and, when shooting people, finding the subtle visual story.

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