12 December 2015

Low angle photography

Photos taken from a low viewpoint can be dramatic and can grab the attention of the viewer simply because we don’t normally see the world from low down.  "Low angle" or “low level” is usually taken to mean "low to the ground” and can include images taken with the camera at ground level giving a viewpoint along the ground, or it can include photos taken with the camera at a low level, pointing upwards. 

In the case of photos taken with a viewpoint along the ground, the use of a small aperture (big f-number) to create maximum depth of field is usually most effective, resulting in sharp detail from immediately in front of the camera to the far distance.  If the subject or scene will result in a very good photograph, I am inclined to sacrifice some loss of image quality to lens refraction effects and use the smallest aperture possible under the circumstances.  My photo above, taken at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, is a case in point.  I set the camera mode to "A" for "Aperture Priority", the ISO to 200, the aperture to f/22 and, using manual focus, I set the focus on the bollards which were about one-third of the distance into the scene before the most distant point at which I wanted sharp detail which was the distant buildings.  Resting the camera on my shoulder bag, I lay full length to be able to see through the viewfinder, to the amusement of the gendarmerie standing nearby.  Yes, an articulated LCD screen can be very useful indeed but my Pentax K10D didn't have one and I didn't have my right angle finder. (I think this was the occasion that resulted in my best beloved giving me one for Christmas.)  I did thank Pentax for the auto levelling feature though.

I have cropped a very small amount from the foreground, and removed some of the sky before resizing for the web and applying a touch of unsharp mask and saving the image that you see here as a Jpg.

For the monochrome image above of an alleyway in Cape Town's District Six, taken in 1968, I have taken advantage of the steep slope of the hill and positioned myself half way down some steps, so that my viewpoint was almost at ground level.  I have set the focus so that the bollards in the foreground are just out of focus, otherwise they would over-power the scene.  This image was taken with a Nikon F with a Nikkor H 50mm f2 lens on Agfa 400 ASA film rated at ASA (ISO) 1600 and processed in Acufine developer.  Exposure was 1/1000th at f/16 with a Y2 (yellow) filter. 

This image was made by my wife using a Nikon D3100 with the standard VR 18-55mm kit lens set at 18mm.  ISO 400, f16,  1/4sec.  She focussed on the little green leaf in the centre foreground (if you can find it) while lying on her tummy and resting the camera on her camera bag.

I took this shot “from the hip” of a lion, mother and daughter sharing the same vantage point to watch the activity in Trafalgar Square.  I didn’t use the viewfinder, so composition was a little off but I have cropped the image to correct this.  Camera was a Nikon D7000 with a 17-85mm f3,5/4.5 VR zoom set to 28mm.

This is another of my wife’s shots.  She calls it “Silver Boardwalk”.  The camera was resting on the lower foot rail below the handrail.  Taken with a Minolta Dynax 5 film camera with a Sigma 28-85mm f3.5/4.5 lens set at 28mm.  200 iso Fuji colour negative film, f11 at 1/60th.

I took this shot in Southend-on-Sea while walking down the high street.  I placed the camera on the ground, set the lens to 18mm, aperture to f16.  iso was 200.  Shutter speed was on auto, about 1/125th.  It was a dull, grey day, I couldn’t see through the viewfinder but the result turned out just fine.

You can obtain equally arresting pictures from a simple point & shoot camera.  If it has selectable modes, try the landscape mode in bright sunlight.  Focus on something about five or six meters away.   This should give you sufficient depth of focus to get the background reasonably sharp.  If you wish to emphasise a particular subject in the foreground, and have the background out of focus or blurred, try the “portrait” mode.  (Don’t try this technique with flash unless your subject is a child or a pet.  Landscapes and street scenes don’t work with flash, and don’t confuse “portrait” mode with “P” if your camera also has P A S M modes.  In this case “P” means “Program” mode.  “Portrait” mode is normally indicated by a little symbol representing a human head.)

Now it's your turn - go out there, get that camera down on the ground and  Have Fun!

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