Getting Dirty For Better Photos

Our next photo tip is to wear clothes that can survive a little time in the dirt, because if you are really dedicated to a good shot, you have no reason not to roll around on the ground every now again.

The low shot is in some ways better than the high shot. First and foremost, you can do the low shot with any camera and with absolutely no equipment. All you need to do is get down on your belly and shoot from there.

In spite of this simple option, newer cameras with live view can help you to avoid having to crawl around on your belly for certain photos. Because your camera allows you to see what it is pointing at, with live view you can simply hold your camera literally on the ground and angle it upward.

Note that this method of cheating is not as controllable as actually crawling on the ground with the camera to your eye, but it has its advantages:

  1. Cheating with live view makes it so your clothing doesn’t rub on concrete, asphalt and hard ground, hence you don’t wear out your knees as much. The same goes for stains.
  2. Cheating with live view allows you to take photos in a more movement ready position. If you are taking photos of something or someone that is moving around or changing, you can stand up and follow the action in an instant. Being on your stomach will slow you down.
  3. Cheating with live view can also prevent soreness for old joints.

Just like the high shot, there are several reasons why you might want to take a low shot. The first is simply that the low shot is just as out of sorts as the high shot, compared to eye level photos. So, as far as utility:

•Low shots can be used to enhance size of a subject. Taking a photo from floor level can make even a regular sized human being seem larger than life.

Admittedly, this chair is big in real life, but taking a photo from a point of view where you are looking up at it enhances its size and allows the viewer to feel it.
Admittedly, this chair is big in real life, but taking a photo from a point of view where you are looking up at it enhances its size and allows the viewer to feel it.

•Low shots can give you more foreground. If you have something small in the foreground of a shot, on the ground, you can take a photo from floor level up close to that item in order to get more foreground detail in a shot. Behind that item you can then find an interesting feature or person.

This photo gives you reflection, but also a spinning coin. If I took this at eye level, the penny would be lost.

This photo gives you reflection, but also a spinning coin. If I took this at eye level, the penny would be lost.

I didn't end up using this photo, but you can see that taking it down low (in addition to exposing my camera to water spray) could allow the viewer to get close to the action of the shot. If I had a waterproof housing I could have gotten low, and gotten the spray even closer.
I didn’t end up using this photo, but you can see that taking it down low (in addition to exposing my camera to water spray) could allow the viewer to get close to the action of the shot. If I had a waterproof housing I could have gotten low, and gotten the spray even closer.

•I feel like this fits in with item number 2. With reflections cast in shiny floors or puddles of water, taking a photo from ground level can stretch out that reflection and eliminate distortion. This effect has been used very effectively by some wedding photographers.

•Low shots make the photographer less conspicuous. I photograph prom and homecoming events regularly. I kneel the entire time, and though it hurts my knees, it makes me just a small shape in the dark of the gymnasium. Hopefully I am less distracting to the rest of the audience than if I were standing tall and holding my camera on a monopod. Furthermore, this low down position allows better full body shots that the girls likely appreciate. After all, they likely spent lots of time and money to find the perfect dress.

•If your subject is doing something that makes them look down, low shots are a good tool. You want faces in your photos, not the backs of people’s heads.

I didn't use this photo either, but notice that all the faces in the photo are visible. This is very valuable for a newspaper. You still also get the folding ceremony, which gives this photo its 1,000 words.
I didn’t use this photo either, but notice that all the faces in the photo are visible. This is very valuable for a newspaper. You still also get the folding ceremony, which gives this photo its 1,000 words.

Something worth noting about high shots versus low shots. High shots of people in a group tend to work to set someone apart from the group. As in last week’s photo lesson (actually not the best example) the DNR officer and the people in front of him are somehow granted more focus than the rest of the crowd. A ground shot will actually eliminate that distinction. A group photo taken from ground level has the tendency to eliminate a specific focus for that photo. This is good for group photos, but not so good for focusing on individuals.

Even though one person is in front, this is still a pure group shot. Everyone is so small that you can't really say any one person is the focus.
Even though one person is in front, this is still a pure group shot. Everyone is so small that you can’t really say any one person is the focus.

Some cautions, Low down photos are not the first shot you might think about for portraits, for a variety of reasons:

• Some low shots allow you to see up your subject’s nose. This might not be flattering, but in some cases you might need to run that risk to make sure your subject is big enough in your photo, but you can still get something above and behind them in focus as well. Your other option would be to back up until everything is significantly smaller.

Though this shot is not preferred for profile shots, here it worked. You can see up her nose a bit, but she isn't looking down on me so it isn't too unflattering. Furthermore, you can get her business' banner in the background, which was important for this situation.
Though this shot is not preferred for profile shots, here it worked. You can see up her nose a bit, but she isn’t looking down on me so it isn’t too unflattering. Furthermore, you can get her business’ banner in the background, which was important for this situation.

• If your subject looks down at you, it will cause the skin in their neck to fold and compress, making them look heavier than they necessarily want to. This will add to the fact that their lower body is closer to the lens and will also look bigger.

• Because their face will be so far from the lens, a ground up shot could make their face less of a focal point. They blend in with their surroundings more, especially with other people around.

It is also good to note that “low” is a relative term. It doesn’t always mean shooting from the ground up. Sometimes it is from belly height, or even just from tabletop height, if your subject is looking down at a product on a table. The point is, you are shooting from a position lower than standard eye level.

This table level shot is still below eye level, but the effect works great here. Everyone is looking down, but we got their faces.
This table level shot is still below eye level, but the effect works great here. Everyone is looking down, but we got their faces.

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