One of the biggest mistakes I think most novice photographers make is settling for the obvious composition, and the most significant part of that “settling” is to simply position oneself at the most convenient spot to take the picture. The problem is that the most convenient spot isn’t always the best spot.
Perspective is a huge part of photography. It may be the most fundamental element to conveying your unique vision to viewers of your images. For our purposes, perspective can be thought of as the physical relationship between you and your equipment and the elements of your photograph. There is only one practical way to alter perspective: move. That’s right, you have to change your position. Forward or back, right or left, up or down…all three of the physical dimensions are in play. And, of course, you can alter two or all three dimensions.
In the era of zoom photography, a fallacy has developed. Some photographers believe that perspective can be altered by simply zooming the lens. Not true. All zooming does is change the field of view of the image. You’re including more or less of a scene, but you’re not altering your perspective one iota if you stand in place and zoom in and out. No, to change perspective you simply must pick yourself up and move.
I discussed this at some length on my own blog about a year ago, but I think it bears repeating: there’s a tendency for photographers (including experienced ones in many cases), when using a tripod, to simply arrive at a scene and, by rote, set the tripod up at eye level and fall into the trap of shooting everything from that position. It’s not that there’s never a good time to do this; sometimes this is absolutely the right thing to do. But the point is that it’s not always the right thing to do.
Using the example of photographing landscapes, I recommend putting the tripod aside, and assessing the scene while handholding your camera. Look at the scene through the viewfinder. (It’s easier to do this with an optical viewfinder, but the principle can be extended to an electronic viewfinder.) And don’t restrict your position. Move around—up and back, right and left…and, by all means, don’t neglect up and down. If you’re used to shooting everything at your natural eye level, I think you’ll be surprised how often a more interesting, more pleasing perspective is found somewhere else. Once you’ve found the perspective that you feel works, make a mental note of the approximate location, retrieve the tripod and set it up at the appropriate spot…and height. Then fine tune the composition with the camera mounted on the tripod.
Eye level perspectives often fall flat with viewers precisely because they mimic what people are used to seeing with their own eyes. Altering that commonly held viewpoint often leads to something fresh and dynamic simply because you’re giving viewers a look they’re unaccustomed to.
So, the next time you’re out photographing, slow down and investigate different perspectives. See if they don’t introduce an entirely new dimension to your photography (pardon the pun).
Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday. To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog: Lightscapes Nature Photography.