If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit an iconic building like the US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. or the Vatican Museum in Rome (home of the Sistine Chapel), you probably looked up and admired both the workmanship and beauty above you. That same feeling can be conveyed in photographs, and these tips are designed to help you take home photos that you can proudly hang on your walls (or ceilings!)
1. Lie Down and Look Up
Everyone has seen iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower from straight on. But if you get very close and very low to the ground, you can create very different and often very dramatic looks. I took the above photo of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on a Summer evening just after midnight. To get the shot, I was flat on my back.
Once you are in position, shoot both horizontal and vertical images, and twist the camera a few degrees (like the way a clock moves) for some variation. Also experiment with different zoom levels and lenses. My favorite lenses for most of these types of photos are wide-angle lenses. As a general rule, more depth of field will look more interesting, so consider using higher f/stops such as f/11 and f/16. To get longer exposures without a tripod, you can use your head as a stabilization tool by resting your head on the ground using something like a t-shirt or towel. Then shoot using the continuous shooting mode to help increase your chances of getting sharp images, or enable the 2-3 second time exposure function found on many cameras. If your camera or lens has a vibration reduction/image stabilization mode, I recommend enabling it.
This technique can also be used when photographing people. Just lie on your back, aim your camera up and ask everyone to carefully huddle around you. Using flash (especially off-camera flash) in this instance can add detail to the faces without blowing out the sky or other background. You will probably need to pre-focus on one of the faces and recompose since the center of the image will probably be the sky or a ceiling. Wide-angle lenses will almost definitely be the best choice with these types of shots.
Please note: This tip may not be appropriate or even legal in some places, so always check before you undertake these types of photos. It’s also a very good idea to have a buddy nearby to direct traffic around you!
2. Use technology to help you look up
Some digital cameras have both a live view, as well as an articulating screen (similar to those found on many camcorders). That means if the camera is on the ground, on a table, or on a tripod, you can compose an image without looking from behind the viewfinder. The same tips apply as in Tip 1 regarding the use of the 2-3 second time exposure function and shooting in both the horizontal and vertical orientation. Since the camera will probably be perfectly still, check your camera’s manual to see whether vibration reduction/image stabilization should be enabled.
Even if your camera does not have an articulating screen, digital cameras allow you to see your photos right after you shoot them, so shoot away, then check the LCD to see the results.
There other remote control options, such as a pretty amazing iPhone/iPod Touch app from onOne Software called DSLR Camera Remote. This app allows you to look at your viewfinder remotely, as long as the software supports your camera, and as long as you can connect your camera to a WiFi enabled computer. You can even control some camera settings wirelessly, including shutter-speed, aperture and white-balance.
3. Get yourself in the shot
By placing your camera on the ground, on a table, or on a tripod near the ground, there are many opportunities for creating interesting self-portraits. Experiment first with autofocus and time exposures, and also consider using a cable release (there are many remote shutter release options out there). Once you know the plane of focus you want, consider switching to manual focus, which will allow you to be off-center in the frame. Or, if your camera allows it, you can set a focus point right or left, place yourself there, and then shoot in autofocus mode.