Composition: Changing Your Camera Angle

By Geoff Harris

One of the simplest ways to improve an image is to change the camera angle.

By cropping out unwanted distractions from your backgrounds you can create more dynamic, contemporary images with more punch and drama.

Changing your camera angle can also add variety to a set of images based on a similar theme for example, when shooting travel portraiture or a documentary theme.

All it takes is small shifts in your viewpoint up or down, left or right to make a big difference. Not only does this allow the photographer to eliminate distracting backgrounds, but it can also lead to some unexpected compositions.

Watch your horizons

Try and avoid placing the horizon centrally in the frame. It can lead to empty space in the sky or boring foregrounds with little or no interest. It is natural to want some sky and foreground, but this can be a distraction in itself.

Try shooting higher up and minimising the sky or even eliminating it all together.

Try and place your horizon either 1/3rd from the bottom or 1/3rd from the top of your image using the rule of thirds. This decision will be based on how much interest there is in either the foreground or the sky. If there is a fantastic cloud pattern, then shoot for the sky.

If there is more foreground interest, such as this boat's reflection, then shoot the foreground.

Unusual Angles for Extra Impact

Shooting a birds-eye view or even a worms eye view, can dramatically affect people’s emotional reactions to an image.

If you want to block out an ugly building in the background consider getting higher and cropping out the skyline.

Conversely; get down low to shoot portraits, and give the viewer an exaggerated perspective of the person you’re photographing.

Shooting Straight Up

This worm’s eye view gives a very different slant to a woodland composition and one that is guaranteed to give impact to your images.

This unusual shot was taken from a standing position looking up at the giraffe. It creates a very unusual look but tilting the camera at 45 degrees bringing the neck in from the bottom corner has added a comical feel to the image. Use a right angle view finder to help you compose your worms eye images.

Tilting Your Camera

Sometimes tilting the camera, when you would not normally expect to see a leaning image, can add drama and impact to an image. In this photo, you see the man looking at the art and can image him almost seeing his own reflection.

Exaggerate Perspective

Shooting a portrait using a wide angle lens can dramatically distort the facial features and give a rather comical, amusing slant to a holiday snap or party photo.

Getting Down to Their Level

99% of our photography is taken standing up, but one of the most important rules of composition is to get down to the same height as your subject.

This works really well with pet photos - not only to avoid unsightly shadows but to make contact with your subject and see the world the way they see it.

Avoid looking down onto your subject unless you deliberately want to create the impression of smallness and insignificance. Better to be on the same eye level, and in doing so, obtain a stronger relationship with your subject.

Achieve a Balanced Composition

Balanced images make powerful pictures If composition is about the arrangement of elements within an image, then balance is about the placement of those elements.

Focus Points

The aim of any image is to capture and draw the attention of the view, both to the image and to specific elements within it. Focus points are areas where these centres of attention appear and there are some useful rules of thumb to help you compose your images.

Whenever you place an element within a photograph, it creates a sense of tension and energy.

By adding more than one element, you increase the number of lines of tension.

By placing elements at focal points or in focal areas, (see rule of thirds) in principle you strengthen the composition. However there is a risk that these elements may compete with each other and their placement therefore has to be in balance within the composition.

Balancing Light

It is as important to balance light and shade in a scene, as it is to balance compositional features. The contrast between light and shade will make or break an image.

Paying close attention to the two extremes when composing and framing your picture will result in better photographs. To balance a scene you need both light areas and dark areas.

Highlight or bright areas are referred to as light (as in weight) and dark area described as heavy.

Try placing these dark and light areas according to the rule of thirds.

Odd Numbers Work Best

In almost every aspect of design, from architecture to art, odd numbers appear more pleasing to the eye. One reason for this is that the human brain likes to visually divide things in half, so by using odd numbers we prevent this.

If you want to shoot better photos, try reducing your subject matter down to three. Three colours, three people or three focal points.

Harmony has been achieved by shooting three grain silos, allowing the eye to focus on the central silo giving the image a central focus.

Odd numbers work well because they fit better in a frame that is symmetrical and has four sides. By using odd numbers, it leaves you one central figure on which to focus with a balanced composition on both sides.

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Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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