Photography is essentially a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional scene. That presents photographers with a lot of challenges. How do you show depth and dimension in two dimensions? Lighting, overlapping subjects, focal length, depth of field, perspective, and camera angle all play a role:
Camera angle is one of the most definitive ways to create depth and dimension in a photograph.
By default, the majority of images are shot from the eye level. That’s okay—it’s a natural thing to do. But photos taken at eye level aren’t always as effective as the low camera angle for creating a sense of three dimensionality.
As Ted Forbes explains, photography, drawing, and painting share this technique.
When you’re learning to draw, one of the first things you’re taught is to create the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional plane. Usually you’re taught to use a horizon line and one or more vanishing points. Diagonal lines that seemingly converge at a vanishing point are what creates this essence of depth and dimension.
Shooting at a low angle ensures that the subject appears larger than life. Historical, religious, or spiritual figures, for example, are an excellent example.
Size and scale is also best emphasized when you shoot at a low angle and particularly when you have people in the frame as a point of reference.
Low angles can sometimes capture emotion in a way which that’s impossible to capture any other way. For example, in this image, which is part of a series by Abelardo Morell, toys have been shot from a low angle to depict childhood.
This wouldn’t have had the same effect had these been shot from an adult’s eye-level.
The same low angle sometimes creates interesting perspectives for street photography. For example, in the above image by Irving Penn, the low angle of the frame produces an interesting image, which again, wouldn’t have been possible with an eye-level perspective.
The same goes for Elliott Erwitt’s series on dogs.
Portraits with low angles can be a powerful way to demonstrate authority or command.
But at the same time, if the photographer isn’t careful, the same low angle can create weird results, often accentuating features people are self-conscious about. It’s a fine line when you’are shooting portraits from a low angle.
Shooring from a low angle straight on often creates flat uninspiring images.
Combining a low angle and then rotating the subject / architecture (moving the camera slightly to left or right) can create a much more dynamic image.
The low angle Dutch-tilt combination also offers interesting perspectives resulting in great imagery. The Dutch angle or Dutch-tilt is a commonly used camera angle in cinemas. It’s a form of introducing concern or anxiety in a frame—though some say it’s overused.
Think about how you might use low angles to change the depth and mood of your photos. Try it out and show us your results!
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