Getting High (up) For Photos

Once you’ve learned about the insurance shot, then you should practice different angles.

I’m going to start with getting high up when photographing.

A professional photographer with awards behind his belt once told a newspaper panel that the most boring height for photographs is 4 feet 9 inches (actually I don’t recall the precise height, but that isn’t important). He was saying that everyone sees everything basically from eye level, so photographing with the camera at eye level produces photos which are mundane due to angle.

Adding height to a photo can be about utility. It can also be about pure style. The good thing is that today with cameras that allow you a live view using a screen, getting higher up shots is actually easy and does not need to add any cost to your photography.

I have done photo shoots at large events with a camera that was not equipped with live view. That made up high shots difficult, but not impossible. Because the camera would not take photos while live view was on, I had to master one of two tricks.

On, off, shoot: If your camera has the capability to turn live view on and off, but not the capability of taking photos in live view, this is the best option for you. You start by turning on your live view, usually a little button next to the viewfinder.

Once you have ensured you can see through live view and you have the right settings, you lift your camera above your head at arms length. Be sure to have one finger on the shutter, and another on the live view button.

Once you have the photo you want, turn off the live view with one finger and take your shots.

If your subject is moving, such as on a stage, you might have to practice following them around the stage without actually knowing if they are still in frame. This is similar to the next method.

Shooting blind: If your camera doesn’t have a live view, you are in for a very tricky proposition. You need to be good at predicting things.

First, turn your camera on server mode.

Find your subject in the viewfinder and put them in focus. Depress the shutter to lock on the focus.

Carefully and slowly, raise the camera above your head at arms length, imagine a straight line extending from the lens to your subject and tilt the camera as if that straight line is a real connection, keeping your subject in frame.

Shoot when you are at the right height. If you are lucky, you tilted and pivoted the camera properly, and everything is still in the shot and in focus. This is easier with a stationery subject, but it can be very difficult.

Live view shooting eliminates this difficulty, and even opens up your possibility for using more remote camera accessories and settings.

Arm extenders: That’s just a name I would give to a monopod, tripod or selfie stick. You use it to give your camera an even higher point of view. If 4 feet 9 inches is common and six feet is less so, 9 feet is going to really give your photos some oomph! These items allow you to get your camera higher than your arms would allow. Price for arm extenders varies. Personally, I favor a hiking monopod with a hanger bolt screwed down into the top. If you use an acorn nut, you can tighten the bolt down to the perfect height for a camera tripod mount. Hold any of these at the very bottom to get your highest perspective.

Cable release: A cable release with a long cable is a good tool to invest in if you are going to use an arm extender. This allows you to have precise control of the shutter button even when the camera is out of hand. You are, however, limited to the length of the cable, which is often shorter than your tripod. These accessories are cheap. You can spend a couple bucks on a generic one online and it will work just fine. Steer clear of the IR remotes, however, as they require you to be standing in front of the camera, not under it.

Self timer: Lacking a cable release, or just one with a long enough cable. You enable the self timer (I recommend setting it to take four shots in a row), frame the subject and depress the button. Quickly grab your arm extender by it’s lowest point and raise it above your head. In high wind, clutch the bottom against your chest to limit movement. Use live view to keep the subject in frame. If you do this quick enough, you will have at least one of four shots that will turn out as you expect. More likely, you will have four good shots.

High ground: Sometimes even nine feet isn’t high enough (especially for tall buildings). At those times, you might need something tall to stand on. If you planned ahead for your photo shoot appropriately, you might have a ladder in your vehicle, or you might have chosen a place where you can climb a fence or something taller. The roof of my pickup truck has shoe prints from me taking photos of tall buildings. Even mundane photos can be transformed with the right height.

Of course, these are the methods, but then there are questions about when and why you would want to take high up shots. Sometimes it is just stylistic. You get up high because it is a less common point of view. Sometimes, however, the higher perspective can have utilitarian uses.

Tall Buildings: When photographed from the ground, tall buildings keystone. Because you are angling upwards, the lens is at an angle, meaning the top of the building is farther from the lens than the bottom of the building. If the building is tall enough, it will look like the top is significantly smaller than the base. In this case, standing on a vehicle, climbing a tree or some unique methods of adding extra height can really improve the visual quality of your photographs. Your photos will look more like your eyes see the building, and that is good.

Big crowds: In a concert venue you are not guaranteed a front row spot for photography. In the case that you get put smack dab in the middle of a mob of heaving masses, taking photos from eye level will give you photos of the backs of people’s heads. Holding your camera at arms length above your head will result in actual photos of the band. Interestingly enough, these photos are more interesting than if you were standing eye level with the band too, because now your camera (in relation to the band) is low. We will talk more on that next week.

Here, you May notice that there is a head to the bottom left. This is when eye level photos are difficult.
Here, you May notice that there is a head to the bottom left. This is when eye level photos are difficult.
Photos like this are made possible by up high perspectives, where you get above the crowd.
Photos like this are made possible by up high perspectives, where you get above the crowd.

Furthermore, big crowds can make other events difficult. If you are crowded out of a space by people looking to interview, say an authority figure, then you might again get photos of people’s ears rather than the person you are after. Because the subject in question is at the same height as the crowd, and surrounded by them, your photos here could be even worse than the concert scenario. Raising the camera up high will not only show you their face, but if you get the crowd in the frame then you can lend to your viewer the feeling of claustrophobia that the subject might be feeling. This angle makes the photo feel very crowded. This is a powerful, though common shot, especially for people leaving a trial.

The media crowding made a photo from eye level virtually impossible, but up above, you got a really good idea of the exchange, and crowding.
The media crowding made a photo from eye level virtually impossible, but up above, you got a really good idea of the exchange, and crowding.

Flattering portraits: Portraits taken from eye height can make people very self conscious. While the newspaper is not n the business of flattering its photographic subjects, so long as you aren’t misrepresenting a person, it is good when they open up your paper and consider hanging their photo on the wall, rather than making disgusted faces.

A person with their chin down exaggerates the skin under their chin and their neck. Even if they don’t have what you would call a ‘double chin’, they might look like it in a photo if they are looking downward too much. Looking slightly upward is slimming for a person’s face.

Furthermore, if photos from eye level are boring, photos of people’s faces are even more difficult. If there is one thing you see from eye level all the time, it is human faces. Raising the perspective just a little bit can make a portrait really pop. In some cases, it is also useful in reducing red-eye.

Getting on their level: Sometimes you take photos of something that just won’t look good from the ground. Take for example an industrial lift doing construction. Photos of the lift, even with people on it, are lackluster from the ground. If you get up to the lift’s level, you can really give a unique perspective, especially to viewers who would never have been willing to get as high up as you might have to.

While climbing on a questionable support might not be the best idea...
While climbing on a questionable support might not be the best idea…
Your effort will certainly show through in your photos.
Your effort will certainly show through in your photos.

Artistic photos: These are less for the newspaper, and more for other purposes. If you were going to take photos of giant statues, a photo from the feet of the statue would make the viewer feel small and the statue big. Photographs from higher up would make the viewer feel either on level (if taken at the statue’s eye level) or even bigger (if taken from higher up than the statue’s height). This may go too far to be considered objective, since your perspective in this case is actually to affect the sensations felt by the viewer. However, for artistic purposes, this is an important consideration.

The great thing behind getting a higher up perspective is the affordability. It doesn’t take a lot of money. For $30 you can have a cable release and a homemade monopod. Then all it takes is creativity. A little bit of courage is also useful if you intend on climbing tall things.

Did I miss anything? I would be interested in hearing your perspective. Also, maybe tomorrow I will add some photos to this entry as examples, stay tuned next week for “Getting Low”, which is actually easier, so maybe it should have come out this week…

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