What do you think are the two least used, and probably most important, pieces of your photography gear? I’ll give you a hint: you can’t buy them at a camera store.
This is part two in a series of videos about composition tips based on assignments I give to Introduction to Photography students at Highline College. Click here to read the first tip, “Embrace Repetition.”
In my experience, the two least used pieces of photography gear are our arms and legs. It’s easy to stand in one spot and use the zoom. It’s easy to forget to look up or down. It’s easy to be satisfied with the first or second good enough photo and not create the fantastic photo that may be just a step or turn of the head away.
What’s so special about using our arms and legs to create interesting points of view for our cameras? Interesting perspectives provide us new and unique views of subjects that differ from the way we see the world at our normal standing height and head angle. Subjects look dramatically different from radical viewpoints above or below, and therefore can be transformed from ordinary into interesting. Using interesting perspectives on ordinary subjects is one of my favorite ways to take photos because I can create photos almost anywhere at almost any time, and not rely on light or location to build interest.
I really became aware of the power of interesting perspectives about 10 years ago. My son was completing his senior project in photography, and I noticed that he intuitively was laying down on the ground, kneeling, looking up vertically, and finding interesting places to place the camera in his compositions.
By doing this, he was creating interesting photos of ordinary subjects through the strength of the interest created by the camera point of view. I often remind students that the camera gives you permission to look at the world in ways you never would with your eye. One way to know you’re likely creating an interesting point of view is if you’re a little (or a lot) dirty, sweaty, or achy.
Below are some examples of interesting points of view to try.
- Look up
- Look down
- Get low – use your legs!
- Get above – use your arms. Or a ladder. Or a drone.
- Wide-angle (less than 18mm) – exaggerate sizes, shapes
- Telephoto (200mm+) – compress distance
- Get to the “eye-level” of your subject
- Basically, avoid the viewpoint of normal standing height (You can get away with this ordinary point of view when the subject and light are bringing most of the interest)
Assignments like this give a framework and a general direction to your photo session. They hopefully create just enough structure in which you can feel like you have a starting point for creating photos. Think of it like being given a topic for a short story, rather than “write about whatever you want.”
Here is the assignment:
- Over the next week, create photos using an interesting point of view
- Keep it simple, local so less excuses not to do it.
- Try to do 2-3 sessions of 15+ minutes each
- Select and edit 5-10 favorite photos
- Share to your favorite social channels
Think of these assignments as visual exercises and ways to develop your skills. And, when you’re creating interesting points of view, it can also be physical exercise. Just as an athlete trains for their sport, it will help us to exercise our eyes and minds around the process of creating photos. This means that some photo sessions will be more “productive” from a keeper photo perspective, but all of the photo sessions will have the benefit of time spent creating images and practicing this craft.
About the author: Michael Sladek teaches digital photography at Highline College near Seattle, Washington. He enjoys dad jokes, doughnuts, and helping others discover the fun of creating photos they love. Stay connected with Michael on his website, YouTube channel, and Instagram.