Story and photography by Don Komarechka
The perspective of the world we see every day is ordinary. The world through our own eyes can be familiar, average, and uninteresting – even when viewed through a camera. When you first start experimenting with photography, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming the world is five-and-a-half-feet tall.
Shooting at eye level can have its advantages, but creativity abounds when you decide to move the camera lower than your average perspective. Not only can you play around with different compositions, but sometimes those compositions offer unexpected surprises. So, what are the advantages?
Landscape photographers often try to include something in the foreground of an image, offering more depth to the scene and allowing the viewer to navigate the image easier. Many foreground elements are found closer to the ground: small trees and plants, rocks, shells and even the surface of water or ice can add that missing piece of the composition. Even when I’m overlooking a cliffside from a higher altitude (Devil’s Rock, near New Liskeard, ON), placing the front of the ledge I’m standing on in the frame helps balance things out, and helps tell the story of the landscape.
Landscape shooters can take advantage of wide-angle lenses for this purpose. A wider lens will increase the perceived distance between objects, making foreground elements appear larger. Even the smallest pebbles can make a dramatic addition to a photograph if the angle is low and the lens is wide.
A tripod with a removable centre column can be an asset here, allowing you to get the clearest shot low to the ground in the dimmest light. If your tripod can’t get this low, a Gorillapod (or similar) can help, and in a pinch you can rest your camera on your camera bag and use a two-second timer to keep things somewhat stable.
Eye-level with your subject
We can meet at eye level easily with a moose, but few creatures are the same height as us. It helps when you can see eye-to-eye with your subject, and getting down to your subject’s level can make them seem like a more important part of the image. It also helps to see the world through their eyes, like this muskrat swimming through a forest-covered wetland. From my ordinary perspective, I might not see its whiskers or its reflection in the water’s surface.
If the angle of the camera had been higher, the reflections on the surface of the water would not have contained the green reflections either, based on the location of the trees. Changing your angle will always change the reflections that you see in an image, so this technique can be useful whenever water is involved. This image is also shot with a super-telephoto lens to minimize distracting elements.
The world beneath your feet
The world of insects and flowers can’t be photographed easily from our perspective, and getting down into the dirt with your camera is sometimes a requirement to take your best shot of the subject. When you get a foot off the ground or lower, new possibilities for composition appear. The secret life of bugs and the most common flowers are fodder for great images, and there are stories to be told.
You might consider even shooting with your camera on the ground, pointing up. Many plants and flowers are reaching up to gather sunlight, and you can capture their efforts with a much stronger connection to the sun from underneath. Daisies grow with tall stems, which made it easier for me to place the camera underneath and align the sun behind one of the flowers. Shooting like this takes patience, as you might not be able to see through the viewfinder if the camera is so close to ground level. This image was one of a few dozen in my attempt to get the best framing without seeing the results beforehand. I’ve known some photographers to pack knee pads for their work at this level – an idea that’s growing increasingly appealing after many hot summer days crawling around in the garden.
Practice different perspectives of potential subjects even when your camera isn’t with you. Look underneath flowers, down at water’s edge or underneath a dock and you’ll be surprised at what you can see. Your friends and family might find this a bit odd, but it’s all in the name of a good image and trying to see the world differently.
To read more great how-to tips from our columnists, please pick up the October 2013 issue of OPC today!