In relation to photography, ‘point of view’ refers to the position the camera is in when viewing a scene. Are you laying on the ground, looking up at your subject? Are you flying in a helicopter, looking down at the landscape below? Or are you simply standing and looking straight-on at your subject? Whether you’re looking up, down, or straight-on changes the scene dramatically, and changes the way that the viewer interprets the final photograph. Subjects can be dramatically distorted simply by where you place your camera. A blade of grass can look like a skyscraper, and a skyscraper can look like a tiny little house. It all depends on your point of view!
While a lot of beginners probably take the majority of their photographs straight-on, it can be a good idea to start looking at subjects from different angles. While you probably don’t want to be known as “the photographer who always takes photos while lying down on the ground”, switching up your position every once in a while can lead to very interesting results.
When photographing a subject from above, it is known as a “bird’s-eye view”. This could be taken from up in the sky, such as when flying in a plane, or could simply be taken by standing on a ladder, slightly above your subject. Photographing from this point of view can make viewers feel as though they are superior to the subject – such as a stern father looking down on his misbehaving child – or protective over the subject. If the subject is an inanimate object, it can sometimes make the viewer feel as though there is a separation between them and the subject.
Photographing from a bird’s-eye view can be especially effective if shooting landscapes from a helicopter (if you get so lucky). What seem as normal landscapes from the ground turn into beautiful, abstract works of art when seen from above.
This beautiful photograph, taken above the Grand Canyon, is a stunning abstract mix of textures, patterns, and shades of red and brown. While any photograph of the Grand Canyon tends to be beautiful, seeing it from above puts it in a whole new perspective.
Becoming the Subject
This point of view tends to be the most effective, especially when photographing human subjects. To use this technique, photograph your subject from the point of view of the person interacting with the subject. For instance, if you were to take a shot of someone making dinner, take a photograph of the food as if you were the chef – perhaps even including hands in the foreground for reference. These sort of images make the viewer feel as though they are experiencing the scene themselves, and makes it easy to put themselves in the photographer’s place. An image from this point of view can be captivating, heartwarming, or even slightly disturbing depending on the subjects you decide to photograph.
The beautiful photograph above shows a newborn baby holding someone’s hand. When looking at this photograph, you can feel the love and compassion that the older person feels toward this new life. Looking at those tiny hands grasping the finger, you can almost imagine how it feels to be in that room with the baby. If this photograph was taken from any other perspective, the viewer wouldn’t feel as connected with the subjects in the image.
This is the most common way to photograph a subject. After all, it is typically the way we regard most subjects in our day to day lives, especially other people. While photographing humans from eye level is fairly common, what would happen if you photographed other subjects from eye level, such as an animal? While we interact with people on the same level every day, we hardly get face-to-face with a fox, or a bird, or a snake. Since we often don’t interact with these sort of subjects at eye level, photographing them from this perspective allows viewers to feel more connected with them – especially if the subject is making direct eye contact with the camera. It evokes a sense of familiarity and empathy, even with animals that we would be frightened to find ourselves face-to-face with in real life.
Take for instance this photograph of a fox. Many photographs we see of foxes are out in the wild, where the photographer is obviously trying to keep his/her distance from the subject. By getting up close and personal with this fox, you feel more connected with it and almost want to reach out and touch it. Instead of seeing a predator, getting on eye level with this animal makes it seem more like a cuddly, friendly pet.
Photographing from below is sometimes referred to as “worm’s-eye view”, as if you were a worm looking up at the world around you. As you can imagine, this makes all subjects look very large, even if they are very small in reality. As opposed to images shot from above, subjects presented in this way look as though they hold power over the viewer, and can seem very intimidating. By photographing a subject from a worm’s eye view, you automatically make the viewer feel vulnerable, even if the subject itself isn’t frightening.
In the photograph of the flower, you really feel as though you are laying on the ground, looking up at monstrous plants. So this is what it feels like to be a bug! Getting down on the ground allows you to see scenes that you wouldn’t ordinarily experience in your everyday life.
If you’ve found yourself caught in the slump of always taking photographs from your own point of view, try to switch things up! Climb up on a ladder, lay down on the ground, or get eye-to-eye with subjects you don’t typically see from that angle. The possibilities are endless!
Ready to learn more about the intricacies of photography from professionals in LA? Check out this workshop that is based on hands-on learning.4 Points of View in Photography by Helen Kantilaftis