Photography viewpoint composition
Your viewpoint in photography is your perspective on the world you’re photographing. Your choice of photography viewpoint when composing an image forms part of the story you’re telling in your photograph.
Viewpoint photography is one of the essential 19 photography composition tips covered in our free cheatsheet (get your copy further down the page).
We’ve all heard of a bird’s eye view – looking at the world from above. Have you heard of a worm’s eye view? This is looking at the world from the viewpoint of a worm.
The fascinating thing about using different viewpoints to photograph the same subject is that it completely changes the viewer’s interaction with the image.
When we see an image from a point of view in photography that’s different from our normal height, it immediately becomes more interesting.
Alter your viewpoint and you’ll impact your viewer’s perspective too.
1. Worm’s eye photography viewpoint
What makes a worm’s eye view so interesting is that it’s uncommon for us to look at the world from this angle. Our view of the world tends to vary from sitting down to standing up only.
When you get on your belly to view the world you see things very differently. What’s more, getting your camera down to such a low point of view really emphasizes this unusual perspective of the world.
The worm’s eye viewpoint is another really good reason why photographers so often wear black. Mud, puddles and grass stains. We don’t look quite as grubby going home from a shoot when we’re dressed head to toe in dark colors.
Things to photograph from a worm’s perspective:
- Wild flowers
Photographing from a low perspective is also a great way to isolate your subject, which is another really useful photography composition technique to have in the bag.
Further reading: 4 ways to use isolation in photography composition
Of course, you don’t need to be on your belly for low perspective photography, lying on your back also gives the worm’s eye view.
2. The child’s eye photography viewpoint
This one is quite self explanatory. We’re moving up from our bellies to our knees, so that our view of the world is at the level of a young child.
A child’s eye view does not necessarily mean that we’re viewing the world through a child’s eyes, with a childlike fascination and lack of self-awareness. Although, to get a different perspective on life, that’s a brilliant way to photograph the world.
When you drop to your knees and photograph from the viewpoint of a child, you have the opportunity to capture really interesting angles and perspectives. Not to mention being able to photograph young children on their level.
Things to photograph from a child’s perspective:
- Young kids at eye level
- Racing cyclists
Further reading: 7 portrait photography tips for better people pics
The photo above has a low point of view and puts the subject above the viewer in a position of strength. The photo below, at almost eye level, establishes equality between subject and viewer.
3. Selfie point of view in photography
We’ve all done this one. Maybe not with a DSLR, which would require strong and flexible wrists, but we’ve done it with our phones.
Back in ancient times, when Myspace was a place to hang out, people started taking selfies. With that, what I like to think of as the selfie point of view in photography first became popular. People very quickly figured out that if they held their mobile at arm’s length above their heads, angled down, the resulting photo would be more flattering than if they held it at shoulder height.
With the advent of Facebook, and social media in general, the selfie viewpoint has become so common that even non-photographers automatically use it.
Give a crowdie a go
What if you held your DSLR at that angle? Not to take a selfie, but to take what I call a “crowdie”.
Instead of aiming the camera back at yourself, aim it forward. Think:
- Street scenes
- Wherever you get a crowd of people
When I photographed weddings I often did this at the back of the “guestarazzi” as they gathered to get a photo of the bride and groom at key moments. It made for an interesting angle and a different shot of a wedding.
I’d position the bride and groom, take a few photos and then invite the crowd gathered behind me to take a few shots. I’d then go to the back of the crowd and do a “crowdie”.
Granted, it was a bit guessworky and didn’t always work out, but when it did the shots were great. It takes a bit of practice.
The added advantage of doing this was that it satisfied the guests’ desire to get a nice photo and I could then take the bride and groom away from their guests for a short time to take their wedding portraits in private.
How to shoot the (non-selfie) selfie viewpoint:
- Wrap your camera strap around your wrist
- Get a good grip on your camera, stretch your arm up
- Tilt your wrist down slightly and start shooting
Things to photograph from a selfie perspective (aside from the obvious):
- Crowded streets
4. Bird’s eye photography viewpoint
I kept this one for last, because we all know what a bird’s eye view is. And just for clarity, we’re talking about a flying bird, not a bird walking about on the ground!
If you’re in any doubt as to how much viewpoint impacts photography and draws attention, just think about the rise in popularity of vertigo photography – top down photographs taken from a high, very high, vantage point.
The internet can’t get enough of these photos. So much so that photographers are dying to take them. Literally. In December 2017 a well known Chinese “rooftopper” fell to his death from the top of a 62-story skyscraper.
So, while I don’t agree with rooftopping, it certainly highlights the impact of a different viewpoint. If your stomach can handle it, just Google “vertigo photography” and you’ll see a fascinating view of the world. A bird’s viewpoint.
On a more sane level, you don’t need to take to the skies or scale skyscrapers or clifftops to photograph from above. If nothing else, Instagram has taught us about photographing down from a high viewpoint.
I can’t count the number of top down views I’ve seen online of:
- Plates of food
- Cups of coffee
- Neatly arranged stationery
(Other) Things to photograph from a bird’s perspective (with your feet on the ground):
- Your kids
- Still life arrangements
So, when you’re out and about looking for something to photograph, or you want to take different, more dramatic photographs of your kids, try changing your viewpoint. The world is so much more interesting than square on.
You’ll love what this small change can do for your photography!
Now you’re ready to develop your photographer’s eye using viewpoint with perspective in photography.
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