Every now and again, I’ll scroll through the Ready to Share album for nostalgia. At times, an idea or topic for a new blog post will pop up in my head when I see a particular image or group of images. That was the inspiration for this post. I saw a group of similar photos and the idea for this photo tip came to life. Just looking at the thumbnails illustrates the purpose of this post: You should always look for all the angles as you define your composition.
Back in 2015, I co-led a photography workshop in Death Valley National Park with my good friend James Brandon. Before the workshop began, we spent a few days scouting to make sure that we had a good idea of what the landscape conditions were. One day, a few hours before sunset, we went to scout the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail. I highly recommend checking that spot out, but please respect the boardwalk and don’t leave the trail. Don’t even put your tripod legs anywhere but the boardwalk.
As I made my way along the boardwalk, the first thing that jumped out at me was the number of compositional options that presented themselves. It seemed like a new photo popped up every few feet and, as you can see from the thumbnail image above, the options were unique and told their own stories. Now, looking at these five compositions, I’d wager that the one most photographers would opt for first would be the head-on shot, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, I’d say that this head-on variation is one of my favorites from the group. However, I do believe that our knee-jerk tendency is to frame up photos with the primary subject aligned head-on.
The thing is that, in many cases, even stronger compositions may be available by playing with the angles and leading lines of the scene. In the examples below, I positioned my camera at spots where the bulk of an angled portion of the boardwalk cut through the frame, thereby adding a stronger sense of depth and distance. In fact, there were several instances where the meandering boardwalk presented some truly interesting lines and directionality. The key is to look for them.
In addition to looking for unique angles, you should also remember to experiment with the height of your camera from the ground. Remember earlier when I wagered that most photographers’ initial instinct is to go for the head-on shot? I also suspect that many also opt for setting your camera at eye-level. Again, there isn’t anything wrong with that at all. What’s important is to remember that there are other opportunities available by either raising your camera high or, as is my preference, getting low to the ground. Look at this example of a photo I took with my tripod set at eye-level. While the photo itself is fine, I don’t find it very interesting, especially when juxtaposed to the other photos in this series. I believe it’s because the photo feels flat at eye-level.
By getting lower to the ground, you’re able to fill the frame with the subject. While this may introduce some distortion, especially at wider focal lengths, the results are often worth it. Let’s compare the previous eye-level shot with this one. As you can see, I got really low to the surface. I must have been about 1.5 feet above the boardwalk and I angled my camera downward, further filling the frame with it. I find this version far more striking because it gives the viewer a greater sense of depth, and filling the bulk of the frame with the boardwalk looks cooler.
So there you have it. The next time you’re on a shoot, remember this photo tip and try to find at least one other way to compose the photo you just took. Your alternatives are there, you just have to look for them. Don’t forget to let me know what you think of this photo tip in the comments below!