One of the (many) things I love about photography is that it’s a dance between control and letting go. The more you control, the more you can let go and respond to the scene unfolding in front of you. This sounds a bit counterintuitive but it’s how I approach photography.
There are many moving parts when you’re making a photograph. And one of them is your point of view, the place where you stand. Up to a point, it’s one of the aspects you have control over.
“A Good Photograph is Knowing Where to Stand.”
– Ansel Adams
All Things Being Equal
Imagine two people standing next to each other. They’re both photographing the same scene with the same camera and lens, using the exact same settings and releasing the shutter at the same moment. Are their pictures gonna be the same?
When they’re standing next to each other looking at the scene without a camera there’s no difference between what they see. But the two photos are definitely gonna be different. Why’s that?
The way our eyes see the world is fundamentally different from the way a camera ‘sees’ the world. Let me explain.
It Is Not The Same
When our eyes are looking at the world they’re always moving. Try it out for yourself. It’s difficult to keep looking at the same thing for a longer period. They go from left to right, they go up and down, far in the background and close to the foreground.
Our eyes are jumping through a scene. They wander from one point to the other in an unsystematic and dynamic manner. A camera doesn’t look at the world like us. It has a systematic and static way of ‘seeing’ the world.
Another thing our eyes do is filtering. It’s like when you’re at a party. You can only hear the person close to you but it’s impossible to hear every conversation in the room. Our eyes work the same. We may think we see everything but we don’t.
The camera is not able to filter, it records everything. Whatever is within the viewfinder will be within the frame.
And because we have two eyes creating a composite view of the world we are able to see depth.
The camera doesn’t. It has one ‘eye’ that eliminates depth and flattens the scene.
These differences are the reason why the slightest change in point of view can make a big difference how a picture turns out.
Because a camera has a static view, it records everything and it flattens the world. Humans have a dynamic view, we filter and we see depth.
Luckily, we have a ton of tools in our photographer’s toolbox to compensate for the way a camera sees. The composition and therefore your point of view are major tools in accomplishing that.
Small Shift, Big Difference
Take a look at the photos below. They were both taken from the same place, I didn’t move my feet.
But I took the one on the left from a low point of view and the one on the right from a high point of view.
It’s the difference between crouching and standing up straight. That’s not even that much of a difference in point of view. But the outcome is very different.
Go here for the Essential Principles of Composition in Photography.
When we look closely we’re more drawn to the image on the right. It’s more balanced and there appears to be more depth in the picture. Also the contrast between small human versus big nature is more present. Why is that?
Because by photographing from a higher point of view the water surrounds the subject making it stand out. And the higher point of view makes the subject appear smaller emphasizing the contrast between the small human figure and the big world.
In the image from the low point of view, the mountain surrounds the head of the subject. Because the head and the mountain are not separated the mountain moves to the front in a way. It seems they’re on the same level which results in a loss of depth. Also, the size of the lake in relation to the subject is less balanced.
Big Shift, Different Photo
Let’s look at two more photos. I encountered this scene when I was walking around Porto in Portugal. A couple of guys and 1 girl were jumping off the bridge into the river. It was a bit of a tourist scam because there was another guy walking around the public to get people to give money for the jumpers.
The photo on the left doesn’t give us a clear story of what’s going on. We can hardly see the guys standing on the bridge railing. They dissolve in the background. The background and the foreground are equally important because everything is in focus. This picture doesn’t do anything for me.
So I walked around, stepped onto the bridge and took the photo on the right. This photo is much more interesting.
Because of the different point of view now the emphasis is on the guys on the bridge railing ready to jump. And because the sun was in front of me I underexposed to create silhouettes. The larger part of the background is the sky and the lower part of the background is behind the bridge and slightly underexposed. Both are not distracting from the main subject.
These 2 photos were taken of the exact same scene but from different points of view. Making the effort to walk a few hundred meters created a completely different photo.
Move That Ass
So when you’re photographing try out different points of view. Move that ass. Dance around your subject, get down on your knees and climb on top of things.
It is one of the reasons it’s so important to dive into your subject and not be satisfied with your first picture. Because you can always go deeper. There’s always another angle to make your subject stand out more.
How about you? Do you try out different points of view when you’re photographing?