Perspective and POV: Change Mine By Changing Yours.

In Most Popular, The Craft, Thoughts & Theory, Tutorials &Technique by David28 Comments

I talk to myself when I am making photographs—mostly mumbling, and it’s always questions. Questions like the ones I addressed in the last email I sent you about time, including “Could I leave and find something else? Could I wait a little longer?” Questions about light as well: “Could I be more creative about this, perhaps by underexposing?” And there are of course the endless questions prompted by the gear, such as, “Could I use a tighter aperture and gain deeper focus? Could I use a wider lens, or perhaps go longer and try to isolate some particular detail?”

My queries are almost endless, but they all seek to answer the bigger question of “What are the possibilities here?”

That’s the value in taking more time in a place and really milking it. There are going to be more possibilities, both in the place and the moment itself, and in your openness to see it. It’s the value in at least being open to different kinds of gear, too. That’s where gear matters: in the possibilities. Longer lenses allow you to create different compositions than wider lenses and vice versa. Fast cameras, faster focus, larger file sizes, and larger sensors all introduce new (or different) possibilities. And that can translate into photographs you might otherwise not be able to make. So too with filters and tripods and all the many light modifiers and strobes. Possibilities.

But not all possibilities cost anything more than trying something new, and since it’s been a while since I have written about this, I want to remind you of the incredible possibilities created when you move the camera and change your POV (or point of view).

When you change your POV, almost everything changes in your compositions.

You can make foreground elements larger and background elements smaller.

You can move elements (in terms of their relationship to each other within the frame) closer or further from each other.

You can make static lines dynamic or change front light to sidelight to backlight and back again.

By lying down, you can shoot along the ground rather than down at it, forcing elements to break the line of the horizon to create clearer compositions or new implications about that now taller-seeming element. Or in the case of the image at the top of this post, you can place yourself (and those of us that experience your photograph) at eye-level with children or wildlife.

By moving slightly in one direction or another, you can reveal elements in the scene, conceal them behind others, or exclude them entirely from the scene.

See, when you, as the photographer, change your perspective, you have the ability to change my perspective as the one experiencing your photograph. 

To move me with your photograph, the best technique is often to move the camera first because that POV puts me right there into the scene. It’s your chance to say, “Here—look at things from this angle.” It’s your chance to better tell the story, to eliminate distractions, to add or remove depth from the scene as you turn that three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional photograph.  Once you’ve pressed the shutter, it all gets flattened and forever frozen.

So if you’re ever standing beside me and we’ve got cameras to our faces, please forgive the mumbling and the constant shuffling around. There’s a good chance I’ll be on my belly the next time you look over. It’s OK; I probably meant to do that. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear me asking questions that start not with, “What should I do here?” but rather, “What could I do?” or “What’s possible here, and do any of those possibilities help me make a photograph I might not have created otherwise?” And I hope when I look over at you, perhaps to say, “Wow, do you see that?” you won’t be there. You’ll be halfway up a tree or on the other side of the street, pointing your camera at the sky, quietly mumbling to yourself and chasing the possibilities.

For the Love of the Photograph,
David

PS – Want more like this? I send these articles out every two weeks to photographers around the world who want to improve their craft and explore their creativity and I’d love to include you. Tell me where to send it and I’ll send you a copy of my best-selling eBook Make Better Photographs, as well bi-weekly articles, first-glimpse monographs of my new work, and very occasional news of resources to help you keep moving forward in this craft we love.

“Each and every one of your emails inspire and motivate me to want to jump right out of my chair away from my computer and shoot for the love of it . Thank you David.” – Millie Brown

Comments

  1. I Hope that you can give me a Little Push in the Right direction.
    For Wildlife Photography, it isn‘t Always possible to move around, because of the Risk of absconding. I don‘t want the animals to Motive me.
    For me, it is a Real challenge to know the direction of the Wind plus choosing the Right spot. Before the shoot i Always visit the local Förster? To get permission and to ask everything i get to know about the animals.
    How do you find the Right spot? And do you move While animals are nearby?

    Thanks a lot.
    Stefan

  2. Hi David,

    I wanted to congratulate you on your wonderful monograph North. The wildlife photos are incredible and it sure looks cold, but I love the snowy photo 19 and how the frost has set on one side of the grass in photo 20. They really caught my eye.

    I have been following you and your writings for a good few years now but this article on POV really takes me to the heart of making photographs. It’s not the equipment that’s important but rather how you see things and all the questions/mumblings that one should ask oneself. A very timely article. Thank you so much! May I take this momento to wish you all the best for the season, a very Happy Christmas and I’m looking forward as ever to your next articles.

    Bernard.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Bernard! I’m so honoured to write and photograph for people like you. A very happy Christmas to you and yours!

  3. ‘North’ is just beautiful David, and thank you for giving us the opportunity of seeing these photographs. The bears and foxes’ expressions are wonderful. How lovely to be able to fly to somewhere like that and photograph bears in the wild. I think I (almost!) envy you. Here in the UK it’s rather different, although there are plenty of opportunities to also see beautiful native animals in the wild. Thank you for also for all your posts, which I have been enjoying greatly over the last year or so.

    1. Author

      Thanks so very much, Jane. I don’t take it for granted that we live somewhere so wild, though it has taken me some time to get more intentional about photographing it. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photographs!

  4. Good morning, David, you were generous enough to offer me both compassion & encouragement, when I wrote about my grief around vision loss & my love for photography earlier this year. I should start with thank you, because I’ve kept the email you sent & reread it when I need to rekindle belief in a future that I want to keep walking toward… And I’ve continued to read your newsletters, because wisdom about art is also and always wisdom about life. After reading this yesterday, I thought about point of view & perspective, my own… how it’s changed… And I found myself putting a long lens on my camera, and going outside to wander around & see what I could see… I walked out with a spirit of curiosity, letting go of the kind of pictures that I used to make, and asking myself, I wonder what I can do here and now. As you said: “What could I do?” or “What’s possible here, and do any of those possibilities help me make a photograph I might not have created otherwise?” I ended up with one photo that I love: Girls, Gravel, Sky. I can’t see all colors true, any more. My vision is like looking through somewhat foggy glass. But I can see forms, contrast, and there is so much expressed through the forms. And while I can’t see the details at any distance in life, I know they’re there, and the camera sees them. I don’t know what place photography will hold in my life as my vision continues to change, but I will always have a point of view, perceptions, and one way or another, the ability to reflect back the life that I see.

    1. Author

      Good evening, Kathy. It thrills me to read this – thank you! I remember our exchange and have wondered how you are getting along. Hearing that you’re finding some joy with your camera is so wonderful!

  5. Oh David your monograph is so beautiful, my favourite is the image of the red fox and the image of the two polar bears in the snow with one lifting his head up with eyes closed as if he is loving that snow. Thank you for going back to Churchill, thank you for sharing your beautiful work and writing with me.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Moira. What a thrill to make photographs for people that are this enthusiastic! 🙂 Thank you for being here.

  6. thanks for the stimulation you provide in my inbox – and also the invite to share a response, and my response is an articulation of what I find myself doing now. For me the key is to be engaged with the subject. And when I do that, the restriction of lens choice has already been made by the lens already on the camera. Amongst the other decisions, (is it a decision?) I find myself (trying?) to let the subconscious work – letting it bring to the fore the stored memory of images gleaned, not from Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or any of the other online catalogs available, but from photobooks and galleries – to guide my way of interacting with the subject. To my brain at least, having the physical print in front of me lends to a prolonged gaze. As does viewing works in galleries. And this gaze is important to fuel vision. If I let the stillness emerge then the decisions of POV and camera craft are just a response to the subject.

    1. Author

      Hi Max! I think engagement with the subject is absolutely key, yes. And holding prints, or experiencing them in real life – amazing how we’ve lost that in one short generation!

  7. Another one of your posts that hits me right between the eyes. Thanks for keeping us on our toes and thinking. Such simple advice can change the whole photograph.

    Thanks,
    bunches,
    Bev

    1. Author

      Thank you, Bev. It’s such a privilege to teach and create for such wonderful, and receptive, people. I don’t have the largest audience in the world but I’m convinced I have the best audience. 🙂 Thank you for being part of this.

  8. Most of my life I couldn’t afford a real camera. Like Trish, above, I safely hold the images I shot then in a safe place, my mind and heart, indelible. After several decades I am lucky to shoot with an R6, RF 100-500. Like Andre, above, I have to believe that somehow photography is a language, else how could those earlier indelible images exist, eh? Which summons time. I was downtown shooting the large bronze monument of William McKinley with my real camera. And I mumbled first about time. Take it. Take all you need. Statue’s not going anywhere. Then, POV. Wore my sneakers out. But, David, it took both time and POV. Can I ever thank you enough for being my mentor? No. Mumble mumble, eh?

  9. David,

    It is a joy following your vlog, and Within the Frame, which I am finalizing reading, has proven to be a solid introduction to the art of photography for me. I also wanted to share some perspectives which may probably nudge you to bring new insights into your discourse about photography.

    I spent some time in my past life as a scholar in comparative linguistics and human cognition. I had always felt that photography is another complex language, and until recently was reluctant to learn it because it is so different compared to natural or artificial (e.g. programming) languages. But primarily photography is a quest of knowledge. Just like science. And just like any art, it complements human rational, scholarly learning in some very important and fundamental ways. Photography is a re-discovery of the Universe: master photographers re-visit the allegedly known and lay hard evidence that there is so much more to learn and re-learn. I have always known something about Venice, Tibetan monks or the Ganges river. As many people do. But with your discoveries, I have expanded and enriched my knowledge; very rarely photography is about objects completely new.

    Just like science, photography has to prove the validity of its findings. And just like other arts, the findings are validated instantaneously when presented by being self-evident and emotionally compelling. What science does through rigorous and methodical review of countless material facts and logical progression from a hypothesis to a solid theory, photography accomplishes with direct and “simple” graphic account of undeniable truths.

    Just like science, these photographed truths need to be reported, communicated to the educated and curious audience. And this is where photography reveals itself as a language used by the photographer to explore and report, and by the viewer to interpret, comprehend and learn. Photographs are only and always statements; they may become stories, if presented in a coherent series only. As statements, they are maxims, declarations of the human condition and the world we live in.

    Vision is better because it is truth not yet recognized by science and common sense.

    Thank you for your art and passion!

    Andre

  10. In North: A First Glimpse Monograph, you’ve really outdone yourself! The series of images is fresh and inviting, showing us things we’ve never seen before. Each shot has beautiful light & colors & composition, but it goes much farther- to me it seems as though we can get a sense of what each animal, tree, and rock was “thinking!”
    The sequencing of the pictures forms a virtual journey, from “our” first glimpse of animals amidst the evergreen trees, to watching their reactions and their interactions, to saying goodbye as the animals go off into the sunset!
    I hope you don’t mind, here are a few more of my comments:
    Pg 5- The polar bear looks very comfortable on the rock, and she takes the time to check out the conditions around her. She looks like she is enjoying the ambiance, the weather… and the photographer-as-audience.
    Pg 6- Wow! The plane looks like a part of the rocky landscape, but yet part of the patterns seen in the sky as well. We can tell it’s a plane, but it looks like it totally needs to be “there”, to complete the story of the land and the aurora borealis.
    Pg 7- WOW! The colors and patterns of the rocks and the trees, are repeated in the sky! It looks like nature is playing and riffing with the same themes in the physical objects and the lighting
    On Pgs 8, 9, 10, the animals are waking up, and we wonder how the photographer was “there” to capture that moment!! Pg 11- We can guess what the polar bear is thinking: that she is happy to see the sunlight at the beginning of a new day! Pg 12 & 13: so cool! The newly-awakened animals are totally surprised to find a photographer stretched out on the ground in front of them, cameras at hand!
    Pg 14 and 15: a mini-story, as the fox is thinking about catching something for breakfast, and then discovering that he is the “prey” for the photographer’s camera. He pretends to be part of the rocks and snow, hoping to confuse the photographer until he figures out what you are doing there.
    Pg 16 and 17- We see the powerful bears carefully deciding where to go next, which route to pursue, exercising a little due diligence and not just charging forward (as we might imagine they would do).
    Pg 18- A stunning group of northern trees, bathed in light
    Pg 19- The pattern of grasses is even more beautiful with the addition of the large fluffy ice crystals.
    Pg 20- The image of the bear’s fur is brilliant! Even though no one has ever shown us this angle before, we know exactly what it is…and know we would never have had the courage to take that shot ourselves!
    Pg 21 ++- The curve of the bear’s back is repeated in the gray rocks surrounding him. The bear pauses for a moment to check out the progress of the impending storm. The next few shots show how the bears react to the changes in their surrounding: their focus in moving ahead, then enjoying their snowy surroundings, and sharing the good times with their friends.
    Pg 27- The finale, as “we” say goodbye, the bear goes off to happily explore its ever-changing homeland, and the photographer goes home, no doubt exhilarated by this fantastic trip!

  11. So David, I agree “up to a point.” But that “point” is important. It all depends upon the situation. I am a great promoter of “being ready.” That means knowing you equipment, especially your camera and having it set up to allow, what to me it truly important, “spontaneity.” Some of my best images, in my mind has to be taken in an instant, or they were gone forever. As an example, how long do you think I had to capture this image?https://www.tomkostesphotography.com/portfolio/G00000B3SplxAZaU/I00006UdeNPuhl6k

    Not long, I can assure you. That is true of many of my images. I feel it’s really, really important to be present at all moments, and to be able to respond in an instant, at least most of the time. It all depends upon the situation and subject…

    1. The North Monograph is inspiring. I appreciate your perspective on Point of View. I am still a beginner with my hand-me-down Canon Rebel Sxi, trying to compose better pictures. I still have trouble finding the right combination of Aperture and shutter speed to start experimenting with compositions.
      What is a good approach to taking a nighttime candle lighting outdoor photo?

      1. Author

        Michelle – Hi! If it’s nighttime then you need all the light you can get. So you probably want to start with your widest aperture – maybe f/1.8 or f/2.8 – then you want a shutter speed fast enough that things aren’t too blurry. Perhaps 1/100 if you’re confident you can hand-hold things at that speed and your subject isn’t too quick. And then you’ll want to put your ISO where it needs to be in order to expose the scene – probably 1600? That’s a starting place. This is a tough one to teach in the comments section! 🙂 Perhaps a Google or YouTube search for “exposing for candle-light” will get you a more thorough explanation.

    2. Author

      Agreed on all points, Tom. But I don’t see how your considerations above would cancel out choices of POV. If “being ready” is so important (as it is) then part of that is the consideration of composition and the placement of the camera, isn’t it? Of course it all depends on the situation but if composition matters then POV is likely a significant part of creating that composition.

      1. I don’t disagree about POV, I’m just saying that sometimes we don’t have a lot of time to decide on it, it’s more easily done with stationary, or slow moving subjects. Sometimes we have just a moment to capture the image and being ready can help us capture images that otherwise we would miss….

  12. Love your North monograph David. Thanks for sharing and all the great insights you provide. Wishing the best of the holidays to you and yours.

  13. Hi David, thanks for all you give us – inspiration mostly. If we have inspiration, we look at and ‘see’ things differently. But I beat you on this one. I thought of change my perspective (pov) years ago. Not too brag of course because I am much older than you, but not as worldly. I yearn to do what you do, mostly always have. But opportunity is a peculiar thing. It knocks, true, but sometimes when there is no opportunity to acknowledge it or take advantage of it. Take all your ‘opportunities’ and put them in a safe place – in your mind and in your heart. When you get my age, you will appreciate all of them in a different way – a different perspective (if you will) – remembering each from different POVs. Deeply thankful, Trish. PS: Enjoy the holidays, and do take one, you deserve holidays too.

    1. Author

      Thank you Trish. I’m younger than you but not so young that I don’t recognize wisdom when I hear it! I’ll take a good break, I promise. We’re planning a month in Kenya and much of that will be VERY relaxing. 🙂 Happy Holidays, Trish.

  14. Hi David,
    I love that one:
    “When you change your POV, almost everything changes in your compositions.”
    So clear, up to the point, nothing more to say. I will keep this in my mind next time I go out for making fotos.
    Thank you so much!
    Claudia

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