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Composition: viewpoint

Your viewpoint is your perspective on the world you’re photographing. Your choice of viewpoint when composing an image forms part of the story you’re telling in your photograph.

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 shoot the same subject is that it completely changes the viewers interaction with the image. When we see an image from a viewpoint that is different from our normal height, it immediately becomes more interesting.

Alter your viewpoint and you’ll impact your viewer’s perspective too.Click To Tweet

1. Worm’s eye viewpoint

What makes a worm’s eye view so interesting is that it is 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 viewpoint really emphasises this unusual view 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 colours.

Things to photograph from a worm’s perspective:

  1. wild flowers
  2. people
  3. buildings
Low viewpoint in photography composition Of course, you don't need to be on your belly, lying on your back also gives the worm's eye view.

2. The child’s eye view

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 is 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:

  1. young kids at eye level
  2. racing cyclists
  3. dogs
Eye level viewpoint composition with young children
Composing from a low viewpoint for creative composition   Eye level viewpoint photography composition
The first image, with low viewpoint photography composition, puts the subject above the viewer in a position of strength. The second image, at almost eye level, establishes equality between subject and viewer.

3. Selfie eye view

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 eye view 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 eye view 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 festivals, street scenes, parties. Wherever you get a crowd of people.

When I photographed weddings I often did this at the back of the “guestarazzi” gathered to get a photo of the bride and groom. 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):

  1. concerts
  2. marathons
  3. crowded streets

4. Bird’s eye view

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 of plates of food, cups of coffee and neatly arranged stationery I’ve seen online.

(Other) Things to photograph from a bird’s perspective (with your feet on the ground):

  1. your kids
  2. rockpools
  3. still life arrangements
Photography viewpoint composition showing bird's eye view

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!

If you have any questions, suggestions or wins to share about photography viewpoint composition, let us know in the comments.


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