Of all of the photography related things I have written about on these pages, and taught in workshops, none are more likely to change you as a photographer, to allow you to put your personal signature on each and every composition you select, than perspective. Where you put your camera in relationship to your subject(s), and what focal length or lens you choose, from wide to telephoto, is the essence of whether your images are personally crafted, or just snapshots left to luck.
Perspective, or point of view, defines more than just your basic composition. It alters mood, changes how the varied light of high contrast scenes is divided up within the picture frame, and can change the information that a picture provides for anyone who will view the photo after its creation.
The images below are excellent, and please feel free to visit the links I have provided to the sites of each photographer. I selected these images randomly long before I decided on today’s theme. Perspective is a dominate force in every photo created and I think the use of random images is actually a plus in the way I think about and write about this subject. It is true, that if I used my own images I could tell you the exact lens choice I made and why I did what I did throughout the making of the picture, but with imagery made by others I am free of my personal biases concerning the pictures. I am viewing them in terms of perspective, based entirely on the information I get from the picture itself.
This first image by Ian Plant seems to be a wide-angle shot. The camera position is very close to the rock, but from above. I think running water, slick rock and autumn leaves are bound to make a nice image, but the choices he made, make it a special image. I think it was key in this photo to stretch the depth of field to cover the entire image in sharpness. A wide-angle lens helps to make that possible. His (our) point of view here takes us right up that stream of water and on into the distance. It doesn’t carry you infinitely into the nether lands because we all know intellectually, that the rock and water have to end somewhere. It certainly does however, make the most of that rock and the water.
Tony Sweet made this beautiful shot on a California beach and the use of leading lines ( via perspective) once again take this picture from the ordinary to the special. In this picture those lines take you somewhere specific and do so in an obvious way. The lines created by the cast shadows of the pylons, take us straight to those pylons which then lead our eyes upward to the building. His careful selection of a camera position once again leave us with a perspective that is interesting, and it makes this picture very good.
Camera, or better said photographer/viewer position, is no less significant when we photograph wildlife. Charles Glatzer made this image of a Pine Marten in B.C. Canada and I am glad he did. Charles was close to eye level when he made the shot, which always imparts to the viewer a closeness and understanding for the subject. When the subject is an animal and on our level, we can relate to that subject. His composition via his camera location and choice of focal length, also lets us see the world or habitat of the Marten. Some of this is due to the fact that Charles could not pose his subject, but I know his work well enough to know that this is also a careful composition. He puts our furry friend to the right of the picture frame as well, leaving us with a balanced comp that leaves some room in front of the Marten instead of in back. One swivel of the tripod head makes for a brand new perspective.
Geoff Whalan captured this great picture of a perched Cormorant in a nice pose. We are once again almost at eye level. I am guessing the lens used was at least 400mm, more likely 500 or 600. I am also betting that this is a pretty significant crop. I say those things because using a super telephoto, and backing off from your subject, flattens your perspective. There’s that word again. You don’t have to be 50 feet in the air with your subject, when you are armed with knowledge that almost leaves viewers with the same feeling. Perspective, or point of view, is not a frivolous decision.
I love this dewy plant and insect picture from Tom Kruissink. I do not know what equipment he used but he used it well, and chose the position from which to pull the trigger wisely. He has kept the insect and the plant on a perfect parallel. That means he could use less depth of field, or a wider (5.6,8,11 etc.) aperture and therefore render his background soft and unobtrusive. I am guessing that his lens choice was at least 100mm or higher, which allowed him to narrow the background to the least “busy” location in back of the insect. Depth of field, lens choice and camera position choice, are all valuable tools that allow for a thoughtful control of the perspective that future viewers will enjoy.
Hakoar proves with this picture of Cholla Cactus in Saguaro National Monument in Arizona, that “almost” filling your picture frame with a subject, from only inches away, with a wide angled lens, does not preclude a photographer from including enough well-ordered background, to make the image as much about natural history as art. The Cholla, rests firmly in its proper environment. With great use of perspective, we can be both inspired and educated at the same time. Notice he only includes a kiss of sky. That “kiss” balances the image nicely and does so without adding too much uninteresting sky.
I have no idea if any of these photographers had the word perspective in their minds when they made these pictures. I do know that with the careful choice of camera position, lens choice, depth of field, and tripod height, they were in fact practicing the art of perspective control.
There is a time to point and shoot and let your inner person run wild, and there is a time to stop and think, and let the craft of image making guide you. They are both valuable, but I think I can safely promise you, that your more successful images will be born out of the latter rather than the former.
Happy trails, Wayne