Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Camera Angles

Peaceful Lamb (c) John AshleyLet's say that you're peddling down the road when you notice your neighborhood Unicorn laying in the grass, nuzzling her newborn Unicorn-let. You jump off and, standing beside your bicycle, raise your all-auto-everything camera and press the shutter. You have just "taken" a picture -- and a boring one at that. You happened upon a scene and recorded it, from a standing position, exactly as you found it. Unfortunately, this is what most camera owners do. Fortunately, you are the rare exception.

You don't want to "take pictures," you want to "create photographs." By using your imagination to pre-visualize the image, you look for ways to change how you record the scene to create a more interesting photograph -- unless the Unicorn runs away before you finish thinking it through.

There are literally thousands of different ways to change your Unicorn image, but the idea I want you to ponder today is camera angle. How far your camera is above or below your subject's eyes will affect how the viewer responds to your photograph. This is especially true of images of children and other wild animals.

Boiled down to basics, photographing people and animals from above makes them look relatively smaller and weaker. Photographing from below makes the very same subject look bigger and stronger. It's all in our perception. For example, a grown man photographed from high above can look quite sheepish, while a grinning little boy photographed from below can look like a Tasmanian Devil.

Those are the two extremes, and you can use them quite effectively to create a feeling of strength or weakness. But most of the time you won't want that kind of feeling. Instead, you'll want to create a feeling of intimacy. And for this, you'll want to photograph wild animals (and people) right at eye level.

Viewers will most often feel a connection when they are looking at your subject eye-to-eye. So waddle with your dog, crawl with your kids -- and avoid "taking pictures" from a standing position. (For that matter, it's more fun just playing with dogs and kids when you're down at their level.)

Unfortunately, every Unicorn I've seen has run away while I was still crawling around in the grass. But I did get create this intimate photograph of a ewe and her lamb (sepia tone above) by crawling around in some interesting-smelling straw. How boring would it look if I'd photographed the very same scene from a standing position? Now you're starting to see...