The Importance Of Perspective For Better Photos

The Importance Of Perspective For Better Photos

Harness the power of camera position and angle of view for more interesting perspectives

By William Sawalich
Digital Photo Tip Of The Week

One of the most powerful compositional tips is the one that I think people are quickest to overlook. It’s the suggestion to change your viewpoint to anything but eye level. Get low or get high: either way, you’re sure to make a more interesting photograph. This is really only the tip of the iceberg, though. Lens choice and positioning also have a huge impact on how perspective affects your photos. Here’s what you need to know to squeeze all of the power out of this simple compositional advice.
– Camera Position
Position your camera to accentuate stature and enhance shape. Want to make someone look like a hero? Simply lower your camera angle and look up at them. Simple, right? To make someone look like someone you want to look up to… look up to them. It works with products, as well. Anything you want to look like a hero, position your camera so that you’re shooting upward at it. The reverse is also true, of course. If you’d like to make a subject appear meek or inconsequential like the little guy, well, simply position your camera above eye level and look down upon them. The simple change in perspective carries a lot of subconscious weight; we see things we look down upon as less important than those things we look up to. Care to make a model look taller, or a train track look longer or a building look wider? Position your camera carefully—and close to the subject—to let perspective do the storytelling work.

– Angle of View And Distortion
Consider the effect of the lens you’re using on the perspective and the resulting overall shape of the subject. For instance, to really exaggerate the “hero” perspective, get up close to the subject from below while composing with a wide-angle lens. A telephoto lens isn’t practical from up close, but from a distance, it will mask some of that upward-looking hero perspective. A wide-angle lens with its inherent distortion, however, will definitely exaggerate the perspective. This is true in general, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish with a particular viewpoint. Combine a wider lens and closer camera position, though, and you’ll really enhance distortion and make for a more exaggerated “interesting perspective” effect.

– Compression Vs. Expansion
The other way a lens focal length impacts perspective is a question of compression versus expansion. A wide-angle lens expands a scene, visually moving elements farther apart, while a telephoto lens compresses a scene and appears to move elements closer together. So if you want to make a foreground subject appear far from a distant background, use a wide-angle lens with the subject placed close to the camera and slightly farther from the background. To make them appear to be standing up close to that distant background element, back up and use a telephoto lens to compress the scene.

Remember, in the end, that part of the reason the “plain old eye level” perspective isn’t particularly exciting is because it’s something we’re all readily familiar with; we see things from this perspective all day long. So if you’re looking to harness an interesting perspective to make your pictures more interesting, simply consider anything abnormal to be a bonus: camera height (low or high), angle of view from the focal length of the lens, and compression or expansion that lens will create. All of these things are more unique than our plain old eye-level normal view, so any alterations to that are bound to make for more interesting images.

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