As you might imagine, making the effort to explore a new position or viewpoint (other than your default of camera at eye level) is a very useful skill to have if you’re a human who deals with other humans on a regular basis. But in addition to being a valuable tool for diplomacy, when taken literally, changing your viewpoint can open up entirely new possibilities for compelling photographic compositions. Composition is a key skill for every photographer. Our continuing series contains excerpts from “The Enthusiast’s Guide to Composition” by Khara Plicanic published by Rocky Nook. See all of the great photographic skills books from Rocky Nook.

Low viewpoints and background clutter

A low angle solve cluttered background problems.
Captured in a park in downtown Miami, this photo owes its entire existence to an altered point of view.

 On the day we were shooting, there happened to be some sort of safety fair taking place in the vast parking lot surrounding us in the park; it was complete with fire trucks and crowds of people milling about. Looking around, I saw some grass, a few decently sized rocks, and a whole lot of background interference. While standing (our most common default camera position) and surveying the scene, it was quite clear to me that getting a clean shot without a background filled with strangers would take some doing.

Or would it?

I looked around to find the highest ground, which conveniently was flanked by a pair of good-sized rocks. By putting my subject on top of the rocks, and lying with my back on the ground (changing my viewpoint), I was able to shoot upward (rather than straight across) at my subject. This got rid of the fire trucks and crowds in the background and instead left us with a nice clean sky. As an added bonus, I was able to shoot at such an angle that the ground was not included in the frame, creating the illusion that the subject is a young daredevil, bravely leaping from rock to rock at unknown heights. The reality, of course, is that he was only about three feet off the ground.

Looking down from above

Part restaurant, part nightclub, and part museum, this unique eatery, tucked into a quiet corner of a Moroccan casbah, boasts an international celebrity guest list, stunning decor and light designs and a collection of international historical artifacts that would make the Smithsonian drool. Naturally, it was a photographer’s paradise, but long as you don’t try to shoot from the bench! Captured from above, this scene reveals texture and pattern that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Looking down on a Moroccan restaurant located in a casbah.
In addition to simplifying an otherwise busy scene, changing your viewpoint can also reveal exciting new elements that weren’t visible before.

It wasn’t until I climbed up to the second level and looked down at what had otherwise been just another extravagant dining room that the repetitive pattern of the tables came together with the red light and the dynamic movement of one of the servers. Surprisingly, it became my favorite shot of the whole restaurant.

Zoom or move?

Some people think a zoom lens will give them a pass on having to be actively involved, but if you stay on the bench, all a zoom lens does is give you a more close-up photo taken from the same bad angle.

So bring your favorite fitness tracker and make a serious dent in your daily calorie goal by moving around the space alongside your subject.

A kid’s eye view

When photographing kids, neighborhood playgrounds make it easy to capture natural expressions and colorful compositions. Follow them up the slide (or get down in front of them first), jump on the merry-go-round and climb up the climb-y thing to see what interesting scenes you might find.

A high angle makes a dynamic photo of a child climbing a spiral ladder.
Climbing up this ladder on the playground enabled me to capture the subject from above

 I raced to the top of the playground equipment so I could photograph the subject from above as she climbed the ring ladder. Not only did this angle allow the rings to morph into a repeating pattern, but they also became a natural framing device. Can you imagine getting something this interesting while shooting from the bench?