Perspective refers to the relationship of imaged objects in a photograph. Sounds exciting, right? Believe it or not it actually is! You probably do not give it much thought but every time you take a picture your camera is taking a three dimensional scene and creating a two dimensional image of it. Perspective is what gives a sense of depth and spatial relationships between the objects in your photograph. Just by putting a little thought and creativity into perspective you can dramatically improve the composition of your photos. Read on to discover what you can do as a photographer to try new perspectives in your composition and freshen up your photos.
The "Go To" Perspective
Picture yourself at a spectator event like a race finish line or a parade. All around you people have cameras and are snapping away taking pictures. What is their perspective? Most likely you are all shooting from the basic, default, eye level perspective. As you stand and take photos, you are likely capturing very similar images to all the other photographers around you. This ground level perspective is what you see in photos most often, and it is likely what makes up the bulk of your portfolio. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are often other perspectives that you could try and make more of a statement with your photos. Part of choosing a perspective is understanding what you are trying to portray in the composition. Is it an intimate setting? Do you want the sense of being an unknown observer? Do you want to feel right in the action? Read on for how to accomplish these different purposes.
Shooting High and Shooting Low
One of the most obvious things you can do to change perspective is to change the height of the camera with respect to the subject. Let's begin with a higher perspective. This requires you to get higher than your subject and shoot down on them. You may need to climb a ladder, climb a tree, scale a building in a single bound... whatever it takes. Interestingly, this is the perspective you often have when photographing children. Because they are usually smaller than us, we often point the camera down at them. Unfortunately, it conveys the smallness of the child.
What are the advantages of a higher perspective? Shooting a person from above is extremely flattering. It does wonders for double chins and other "not so slim" areas. If you are doing a maternity shoot for a self conscious mom, consider giving this a try. Another advantage is that as your subject looks up at you, there is light in their eyes. You can get that beautiful catch light in the eyes that may be difficult to capture otherwise. You can also greatly reduce background clutter by taking a close shot from above. If the background is distracting, a change of perspective may provide the clean shot you want.
Shooting from a low perspective creates a very different look. This is not a common perspective but is actually easy to accomplish. You just need to get down low and shoot up to your subject. This perspective conveys strength and power. Your subjects will appear larger than life. In fact, this technique is often used to create a forced perspective that we will discuss later in the article. Low perspective also helps to get rid of background clutter by placing the sky (or other background) behind your subjects. You can use this to avoid trees that appear to grow out of your subject's head or poles that give your husband the appearance of a unicorn. This is what you need to create a strong silhouette shot, and its also fun for any shot where your subjects are jumping because it gives the illusion that they are higher off the ground than they are in reality.
Notice how different this shot is with a low perspective. It is amazing how much your view of the world changes when you get out of the "stand and shoot" position. This picture has the sky as the backdrop so trees or other things that might detract from your subjects are not a problem from this vantage point. You have also made your subjects appear bigger and more powerful than they really are. This technique can also be used for shooting building facades or trees to give the appearance of tallness. The sky is the limit with this one.
This type of perspective creates the feel of intimacy. It appears that the photographer is unbeknownst to the subject. The photo at the top is a great example of hidden perspective. We are looking at the girl through the grass. This may seem creepy, but it can actually make for a very unique photo. It is great for a shot where you want a candid, lifestyle appearance. The challenge here is to find a way to create the hidden perspective. You will need something in the foreground of your picture to accomplish this. Choose a larger aperture (low f-stop number) to create a shallow depth of field. You want the foreground to be obscured with your subject in sharp focus behind it, so place your camera very close to the foreground object(s). You might try shooting through the slats of a fence, around a corner, or through tall grass in a field. Get creative!
This perspective is just what it sounds like. Place something in your composition to frame your subjects. This technique draws the eye to your subject and creates more visual interest in the photo. You may have seen family holiday photos where the subjects literally hold a picture frame around themselves - that is framing in the most obvious sense! That is one way to do it, but you can also find more subtle ways to frame your subjects and create a similar look.
Start viewing the world with an eye for frames, and you can dramatically change your photography. You can incorporate your subject's environment creatively into the photo. Whether indoors or out there are plenty of opportunities for framing. Architectural features like doors or windows make great frames. The great outdoors also provides frames. Look for tree branches, playground equipment, and other background elements with which to frame your subjects! Frames come in all shapes and sizes. In the image below you can see equal space on either side of the frame. The frame would not have the same visual impact if it were cut off on one side... simply placing your subject in front of a background is not framing.
Close Ups vs. Wide Angle
Think about the last photo shoot you did. It is likely that the majority were either close ups or from a wider angle. Photographers tend to be more comfortable with one or the other. I know personally I find myself constantly defaulting to the close up. I think I am more comfortable with my ability to get sharp focus when shooting a close up. There have been many times I have looked back through my images wishing I had more wide shots. Sometimes it is just helpful to show the big picture.
My recommendation is to take both close up and wide shots in every shoot you do. The close ups will provide detail and intimacy, so use it to highlight people's faces and eyes and to show emotion. The wide perspective will show the context of the picture and allow you to tell a story with your photo. You do need to be more careful with your composition when you are taking the entire scene in with your lens. The wide shot of the barn below tells the story of the former glory of this place, but it would also be visually interesting to take some close ups of a window or the doors. Each perspective serves a different purpose, and they should both be included in the shoot.
Lines and Vanishing Point
This uses linear perspective. Lines draw the eye to the subject, and you can use them in your compositions to boost the visual appeal. Look for leading lines in the world around you. They are in the obvious things like railroad tracks and roads, but they can also be found on the playground or in grocery store aisles. Vanishing point refers to the phenomenon that occurs when our eyes view two parallel lines moving into the distance. As the lines move further from us, they appear to vanish. Placing your subject at that vanishing point creates a dramatic, impactful photo. Looking for leading lines and photographing "down the line" makes what could otherwise be a very typical, boring photo look fresh and interesting.
Forced perspective involves taking some of the perspective we have discussed above to create images that trick the eye and boggle the mind. You will use the art of optical illusions to make things appear larger, smaller, farther, or closer than they actually are. Take a look at the work of MC Escher, and your brain will experience this kind of trickery. He makes impossible spatial relationships appear to be reality. Capturing this type of illusion in a photo takes a lot of creativity, some patience and setup, and great timing. You will need to employ scaled objects and choose the correct perspective or vantage point for the camera. The result is a unique photo that seems to defy the rules of nature.
A child as tall as the Eiffel tower. A woman blowing beautiful bokeh bubbles. A person reaching out and grabbing a cloud. A man juggling the sun like a soccer ball. It is all a matter of perspective and forced perspective artists have it mastered. This photographic genera is fun and definitely has wow factor when done right.
Welcome to Las Vegas Sign! by Flickr user CKoontz
Hopefully you are feeling energized and ready to get out and shoot. Try an entire shoot where you avoid the old stand and shoot perspective entirely. Challenge yourself to take a great photo using each of the perspectives described above. Without changing equipment or learning new camera techniques, you can dramatically improve your pictures today just by changing your vantage point. Look at the world around you. Do you see frames, lines? Do you want your subjects to look large and powerful? Smaller and slimmer? Decide what you are trying to convey in the photo, examine the environment, and compose a dynamic photo. You now have a variety of perspectives in your tool bag and the world is your workshop. Get to work today!
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