In this series on how to make good photos (in terms of composition) let us explore the benefits of shooting from a low angle:
Why photograph from a low angle?
First of all, the reason why photographing from a low angle makes for a more interesting photograph is that the perspective is more unique. We are used to seeing the world from eye-level. We rarely see photos shot from low angles, because only children and maybe ants see the world from that perspective.
What is ‘perspective’ in the first place– anyways?
According to Leonardo da Vinci, he says the following:
‘Perspective is nothing else than a thorough knowledge of the function of the eye.’
Therefore perspective is knowing how your eye works.
Perspective is the wisdom of the eye. Having a knowledge of perspective means you have a trained eye– just like how a musician has a trained ear to hear different tones, melodies, and notes. As a photographer and artist, knowing perspective– you know how to determine which things are further away, closer, and at what angle.
5 Benefits of Photographing From a Low Angle:
Going back to the idea of making photos from a low angle: what are the benefits?
1. The superman effect
The first benefit shooting from a low angle: you make your subjects look ‘larger than life’:
They also call this the ‘superman’ effect– you photograph your subject from a low angle, and they look taller than life.
For example, Tom Cruise is pretty short in real life. Yet they make him look taller and more grand, by photographing him from a low angle.
Not only that, but using a wide-angle lens accentuates this ‘superman’ effect.
So if you want to make your subjects look powerful, mighty, and grand– photograph them from a low angle.
It makes kids look bigger, people to look taller, and also works well to make people’s legs look longer (a common technique of model photographers).
2. Your viewer looks at your photograph longer
Another benefit of shooting from a low angle and perspective– because the viewer isn’t used to seeing the world from that perspective, it confuses them for a second. By confusing your viewer, it makes them dwell on your photograph a little longer– and forces them to try to make sense of your image.
Unfortunately in today’s world, we have a short attention span for images. We scroll through our social media feeds, and might look at a photograph for (half a second– at best). You want to make your viewer pause, reflect, and look at your image.
Any uncommon perspective or composition will force your viewer to pause, and actually look at your photograph.
3. Leading lines to direct your viewer’s eye to your subject
By shooting from a low angle, you also can integrate leading lines in the background to make your viewer look at the subject of your image.
The point of leading lines is to direct your viewer’s eye. The purpose of composition is to tell your subject what to look at. For example, if you’re driving a car in the streets, the road signs will tell you which direction you should drive. The same in photography and art– your composition tells the viewer what to look at.
So when you’re photographing from a low angle, look for leading lines in the background. Whether that be from skyscrapers, from store-fronts, or other elements in the back.
4. Things look more surreal
Also when you photograph things form a lower angle; they look more surreal. They don’t look normal.
By photographing from a low angle, you make the viewer look at something differently. When you photograph something from a low angle with a wide angle lens– it distorts the subject. Which makes it more interesting and unique to look at.
Therefore don’t worry that the photograph of your subject looks ‘real’ or not. Go for surrealism.
Photos are interesting when they challenge you to think or feel in a different way. You don’t want photos to look just like real life. That is boring.
5. Accentuate shapes
Photographing from a low angle with a wide-angle lens (let’s say 35mm, 28mm, and wider) changes the shapes of forms. It accentuates them. It makes them look more unique and interesting:
For example, when I am photographing shapes like curves, circles, or spirals– it makes the shapes look more poetic. Like they are dancing. It distorts, extends, and twists the shapes.
Four Ways How to Make Better Low-Angle Photos
It is pretty easy to shoot from lower angles. Here are some tips:
1. Use a camera with an LCD screen
It is often easier to shoot from a low angle when using your LCD screen — on your camera, or just using a smartphone camera.
2. Lie on the ground
Get dirty. Wear black clothes when you’re out making photos. Be like a kid — don’t be afraid to get your clothes dirty by lying on the ground to get a good low angle.
3. Put your camera on the ground
Even if your camera doesn’t have an LCD screen, put your camera on the ground, and experiment with different angles. Sometimes it is fun to shoot blind, without using your viewfinder or LCD screen.
4. Take a lot of photos
When shooting from low angles, learn how to ‘work the scene.’ Don’t settle with just 1-2 photos.
Photography is about making sense of the world; not about making photos.
Therefore, know that your photos don’t need to be a factual depiction of the world. Create your own reality. Make surreal images from different perspectives.
Ultimately the most important perspective is your own — how you see the world, what you find interesting, unique, or meaningful in life.
And above all, use photography as a tool to pay attention in life– to find beauty everywhere, and to find more happiness in life.
Take your composition to the next level:
- Composition by Eric Kim
- Dutch Angle
- Deep Depth
- Leading Lines
- Figure to Ground
- Fibonacci Spiral
Street Photography Composition 101
For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”
Further articles to improve your compositions in photography:
- Composition Lesson #1: Triangles
- Composition Lesson #2: Figure-to-ground
- Composition Lesson #3: Diagonals
- Composition Lesson #4: Leading Lines
- Composition Lesson #5: Depth
- Composition Lesson #6: Framing
- Composition Lesson #7: Perspective
- Composition Lesson #8: Curves
- Composition Lesson #9: Self-Portraits
- Composition Lesson #10: Urban Landscapes
- Composition Lesson #11: “Spot the not”
- Composition Lesson #12: Color Theory
- Composition Lesson #13: Multiple-Subjects
- Composition Lesson #14: Square Format
Learn compositional theory:
- Why is Composition Important?
- Don’t Think About Composition When You’re Shooting Street Photography
- How to Use Negative Space
- Street Photography Composition 101
- The Theory of Composition in Street Photography: 7 Lessons from Henri Cartier-Bresson