Lesson 15: Vantage Point

Today, we’re going to go back to basics and talk about vantage point.

By this, I mean from where you’re viewing your subject.  Vantage point is one of the ways that you can take an average photo and make it really interesting.

Sometimes, the difference between standing and kneeling makes all the difference.  Sometimes, moving a few feet left to right makes the difference between whether your best friend has a statue growing out of her head or looks like a normal human being.  And, let’s not forget the difference getting close to your subject can make when it comes to filling the frame.

Let’s start with a simple example.  Since I don’t have a cooperative human model to work with and my dog is on strike, I’m going to choose a lamp.  Now, a lamp is not the most interesting subject, but we’re going to see what kind of difference the vantage point makes with a simple lamp.

I’ll start by standing back and taking a picture that’s what the average person who doesn’t read blogs about how to take better photos would take:


Not exactly profound.  Even if you imagine this is a person, you can probably guess that it wouldn’t look particularly interesting.  Now let’s try from the floor looking up at the lamp from a much closer position:


Notice how the lamp looks taller and skinnier?  Wouldn’t your friends love you if you made them look taller and skinnier?

But notice what’s behind the lamp.  It’s a pretty distracting background with all the stuff on the wall.  If I move around the lamp and shoot from the same angle but on the other side, I get a much cleaner background:

Notice how all you see is the lamp.  Now, let’s try getting very high and shooting down at the lamp.  I had to use a step ladder since I have the lamp sitting on a stool.  Notice how the lamp looks distorted with the area closest to the camera looking disproportionately large compared to the base?  This can be a really cool effect.  (Also notice what happens to the chins of human subjects.)

One of the fantastic things about digital photography is that you can try as many angles as you can think of without having to worry about wasting film or prints.  Just remember to delete what you don’t like.  If you have 20 photos of the same thing and 2 or 3 really stand out for you, those other 17 are just going to waste your time and energy if you keep them.

You’re assignment:  Pick a patient subject that will hold still.  This may be an inanimate object like a lamp or a person who lives to please you.  A dog may not be a good choice for this assignment.

  1. Pull up your favorite app for shooting (I used Camera Awesome), stand back, and take a picture pretty much square to the subject.
  2. Take a few steps closer, get down on the floor and try taking a photo angled upwards (note:  human subjects really do not like to have their nose hair or double-chins revealed in photos, so be careful about how close and upwards you’re shooting.)
  3. Take a look at what’s in the background–is it distracting?  The eye is drawn to bright areas, sharply focused areas, and bright colors. Any of those things will make the background distracting.
  4. Look at the photo one more time–is there anything directly behind your subject that looks odd?  Any strange lines in the scene?
  5. Move around the subject and watch the background.  When you get a really clean background, try shooting again (turn your subject around as appropriate first).
  6. Now try getting up high and shooting downwards on your subject (for people, have your subject look up at you).

Which angles do you like best?

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