The majority of the world’s photos are captured from approximately 4-5 feet off the ground. Considering how everyone seems to have a camera these days, you may be wondering how to create something really different. Thankfully, the trick is not a new lens or a camera. In fact, the biggest impact can actually be made by simply adjusting where you stand. By finding a raised vantage point to shoot from, you immediately give yourself a unique point of view. Try adding this to your photo repertoire and your image making skills will reach new heights.
From above, the distractions that plague typical compositions are no longer an issue. Instead of people walking in front of your camera, they become an interesting part of the landscape. Unsightly power wires that often interrupt a beautiful sky, now blend into the foliage below. Best of all, the expansive beauty of your scene opens up before your lens. This enables one to explore a nearly endless variety of compositions.
From these raised perspectives a major metropolitan city can appear quiet and beautiful. Instead of focusing on the details, you are essentially looking at the big picture. How well do the man made aspects of the city fit into the overall geography of the area? These types of questions challenge your viewers to study the images. This rarely scene bird’s eye view forces us to look back at the way we live together.
You don’t necessarily need to shoot from a helicopter or plane to reach great heights. At Yosemite National Park for example, scores of bus tourists photograph the Valley from the parking lot. The view is not bad, but it’s partially obscured by hedges and trees. To further complicate matters, this area is always teeming with tourists in a rush. If only they would just turn around, they would see a raised vantage point that’s far less crowded. Rather than trying to jostle for position, they could watch the sunset from here. It’s this kind of awareness that can make all the difference between a routine snapshot, and a work of art.
When you are positioned above a large landscape, it’s important to follow a few technical guidelines to keep everything sharp. First, if you are hand holding the camera, use a shutter speed of at least 1/125th of a second. This will prevent camera shake, and also freeze the motion of most slower moving subjects. Then, in order to achieve great depth of field, you’ll want to use a smaller aperture opening around f8 or f11. Based on these settings and the existing light, you may also need to raise the ISO.
Technical details aside, this is a fun way to immediately improve your photography. If you find an exciting subject, don’t settle for the first scene that presents itself. Take it a step further, and look for a raised perch to shoot from.