As a wildlife photographer, I’m always amazed at the number of people who simply walk up to a scene and start shooting. One thing the majority of these situations share is that the photographer is standing tall shooting down on their subject. This automatically limits the potential of an image.
First of all, it is very difficult to portray any emotional interaction when you’re not shooting at eye level. Also, if you’re shooting down on a subject there’s a strong possibility your background will be the area directly under or behind the subject. This causes a lack of separation and control. How do you fix this? Get low.
It’s a pretty easy concept to grasp, but one that can completely transform an image. Personally, I probably shoot more than fifty percent of images completely prone on the ground. Yes, it’s dirty. Yes, it’s itchy. Yes, it can look funny. No, none of that matters, because it’s all about the result…and the result is good.
Getting low offers a few key advantages. Primarily, your subject comes to life. No matter how small or large your subject, this perspective will give it power in the frame. The eyes will be visible, most-likely with flattering catchlights, and the body will be high on the horizon, creating power and separation.
Perhaps as important, getting low allows for a clean, organized frame in regards to foreground and background control. Instead of shooting the ground directly surrounding your subject, you will be searching for a background far back from the subject, and a foreground directly in front of your lens. Generally you want to find the background with the most pleasing design, or lack of design, as far as highlights and shadows are concerned. I generally pursue monotone backgrounds that are more-or-less flat in the histogram. This keeps all the attention on the subject so your eye isn’t fighting itself within the frame. As far as foreground is concerned, if your camera is laying on the ground, there’s a good chance your foreground is within the minimum focal length of your lens. This means there will be a nice creamy blur; accenting the depth of field, and again keeping the attention on the subject.
From a practical standpoint, shooting from the ground can be very stable and limit the camera shake often seen from handholding while standing. It gives your arms a rest, your lens a stronghold, and in low light this can be very important. Of course, if you’re using a tripod this doesn’t really apply.
Each scene offers it’s own challenges and advantages, but by keeping the option to get low in the forefront of your mind when shooting, you’re taking a big step forward in the creative and practical potential of your images.