Friday, May 4, 2012


Adding interest with a point of view

Point of view can have both a literal and conceptual  meaning.  Literally speaking,  where the camera is when it takes a picture establishes its " point of view".  From a conceptual standpoint, "point of view" indicates the photographers interpretation of a scene.  In fact, the two should go hand-in-hand.  

Typically, we all see life from a standing up or sitting perspective, our eyes always at a fixed height above the ground.  When we take up photography it is only natural to continue to record life from this eye position.  We are so accustomed to it that we rarely think to move ourselves to a completely different position in order to gain a different perspective on a scene -- a different point of view. 

Where the camera is placed when taking a photograph can enhance the meaning of a scene by providing an angle of view that has a specific meaning.  Most professional film makers and photographers are aware of this and use it for dramatic effect.  For instance, we mostly engage other people at eye level.  Looking down  or up at someone shifts the perspective and provides a different relationship to the person or thing being viewed. 

Two different camera positions were used in the photos of the boy below.  On the left, a high camera angle directly above the boy has him looking up as if he was looking into his parent's face.  On the right, where the boy is playing on the floor with his truck the camera was moved to his level and provides a more unobtrusive look at the boy at play.


These two shots of an iguana illustrate the importance of camera angle.  On the left the camera was a eye-level while standing.  On the right the camera angle is just above the sand at the level of the iguana's eye and lets us see him and his environment from the perspective of his own living space.
 
Fly on the wall

When I taught photography, I asked my students to think of themselves as having the agility of a fly, and imagine themselves flying about a scene looking for a spot to land that would give them a unique point of view, one that provided a more meaningful interpretation of the scene. What would the scene look like if shot from the ceiling, or from the floor?  How would it look if they landed on a table and took the photo from there?  If someone were opening a present, what would the scene look like if the camera were inside the box?  These exercises were meant to stretch the creative imagination.  In addition, thinking this way forces photographers to really understand what the scene means to them, and carefully selecting a meaningful point of view  enhances this understanding. 

This is a "fly's eye" view of the Brooklyn Bridge taken at dusk with 21mm lens on a full-frame camera.  The camera position is low, just above girder height, and suspended out over the roadway.  This adds substantially more drama than if the photo had been taken from eye level on the walkway on the right.
Here our imaginary fly landed on the chessboard.  This angle adds a greater sense of power to the scene and makes  the story more immediate by showing it from the position of the chess pieces.

 
Angles add relationships

Employing a dramatic angle can add substantial drama to a scene, but it can also be used to relate foreground and background elements to tell a story. 

Getting in very close to the bottom of these tall redwoods and looking directly up with a very wide angle lens emphasizes their immense size from a personal perspective, while at the same time providing a story-telling detail with the closeup of bark on the bottom of the trees.
By placing the camera at a very low ground level and using a wide angle lens the detail in the foreground pediments is juxtaposed with the entire building of the Library of Ephesus in the background.  Camera angle relates the subjects to tell a fuller story and provide more information about the scene.
Positioning the camera directly above the scene, we see the sleeping baby cupped in its mother's hands from the perspective of the mother herself.  Here camera angle serves to put us directly in the scene.
  
 
Practical reasons for angle selection

The position of the camera can also be useful  in clarifying a subject by making it stand out more in the scene.  The examples below illustrate this point.

A very low camera angle allowed the canon to be clearly outlined against the sky.  An eye level  view from a standing position would have placed most of the shape of the canon against the ground where its detail would have blended into the dark foreground and been lost.
For this view of the Coliseum in Rome the camera was placed on the sidewalk.   This raised the position of blurred lights from passing cars.  This higher placement of the blurs in the image frame places them directly over the building in the background and gives them far more compositional impact.
 
Angles for design and impact

Severe viewing angles can not only add dramatic impact to a scene, they can also add provide an interesting compositional design.

The camera was situated on the ground directly below the jump.  This angle placed the athlete against the sky where his form created a strong visual graphic that illustrates the grace of his form.
A camera angle from above shows the complete symmetry of the rower and his wake.  Keeping the subject perfectly aligned in the center of the frame further emphasizes this symmetry.
Placing the camera on the ground and having  the children lean over it creates a strong graphic that adds interest to a simple portrait.

 Conclusion
 
A photograph is a visual way of telling a story.  Understanding and controlling the point of view is a means of making that story clearer and more interesting.

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