Choosing the best Viewpoint
Selecting your viewpoint, the position from which you photograph the subject, is a very important part of composition and one that some people pay very little attention to. When taking a photo of a group of friends, how often do you move around the group looking for the best angle?
The first, most obvious difference between one viewpoint and another is the background. If you are photographing a subject that cannot easily be moved, the only way to change what is in the background is to choose a different viewpoint.
The subject itself can look quite different viewed from different angles. Photos can be made to take on a whole new dynamic by selecting an extreme angle of view. I shoot a lot of pictures, especially sports shots, laying down, getting the camera as close to the ground as possible.
Also the perspective can change quite drastically, especially with wider angled lenses. If you photograph a person full length with a wide angle lens from a standing position, their head will be too big in proportion to the rest of their body. If, on the other hand, you kneel down and shoot the same picture from waist height, you will see that the whole picture is better proportioned.
When shooting outdoors, the viewpoint you choose also affects how the light from the sun falls on your subject. This is a whole new can of worms which is fully discussed under lighting.
Here are a couple of examples exploring the effects of high and low angle viewpoints.
Two full length shots from fairly extreme angles. A moderately wide angle lens gives a certain amount of perspective distortion, the first shot in particular makes her feet look very big in proportion to her head. This distortion enhances the effect of the flared jeans and the big shoes, whereas in the second shot the distortion of the shooting angle is working against the effect of the big shoes and flares balancing the picture. If we use a wider angled lens and shot from even closer, the distorted effect would be even more pronounced. In both cases you can see that the choice of angle has given us a nice plain background as a bonus.
These two shots were taken from more or less the same position as the first shot but, as we zoom in, the effect of the low angle is lessened. Less distortion but a pleasing angle giving us a slightly 'larger than life' feel to the picture.
When shooting against a bright sky like this you need to pay careful attention to the exposure, the automatic metering system will render the face too dark so you need to compensate for this. Take a few shots with the exposure compensation at different settings or, better still, meter manually taking a reading from close in to the face. The shot on the right metered correctly because the face fills the frame more and is lit by the sun.
These two shots were taken from the same position as the top right and show the same lessening of distortion as we zoom in. What I didn't bargain for until I saw these two pictures side by side was that the apparent height of the camera changes with the angle of the head. I think you'll agree that the picture on the left appears to have been taken from a greater height than the one on the right. Weird!
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Other tutorials in this section
An introduction to composition, explaining the 'rule of thirds' and the use of diagonals.
Watch out for those ugly dustbins!
The most important rule of composition.
How to fill your frame with your subject.
Another important aspect of composition.
What it is and how to use it creatively.
How to use Motion Blur, and a discussion on when it's appropriate.