A lower angle, is it always best?

There seems to be a consensus among photographers that a lower angle is always best. I beg to differ slightly, even though I do use low angles often when I feel the image will benefit from it. But there are times when a slightly higher angle may be a better option, depending on what you are trying to show in your capture.

Reflections are a good example. When the water is crystal clear and clear of weeds and debris, a reflection may be a desirable element in the composition. If I have a tripod mounted telephoto lens, I can capture both my subject and the clean reflection if my tripod is extended to my height. If I were to lower my tripod to be at a lower angle, the change in perspective would change the mirror reflection into a blurry patch that I’d probably want to eliminate by cropping or going even lower. In this instance, lower is not necessarily better, unless you don’t want the reflection in the first place.

Another example of a time when you should use a higher perspective is when you have beautiful habitat behind the subject, such as shining golden sand or attractive vegetation that would be a beautiful backdrop in your image. A low angle would flatten your background and reduce it to a skinny, out of focus patch. And how about the cases where you need a slightly higher angle to show the action, as in the case of this confrontation between two gulls? Going lower in this case would not have shown the Herring gull biting the upperparts of the Laughing gull.

When photographing birds at the beach, sand mounds can be your enemy when you want to have a low angle yet still show the bird’s feet. For my personal taste, out of focus sand or vegetation covering parts of the subject is sometimes desirable. Again, this is a matter of taste. As in most disciplines, there is a trade off at times; a loss of one thing may result in a pleasing gain of something else.

As with any “rule, it is best to analyze your current options and make a conscious decision of what exactly it is you want to achieve. Don’t automatically go low “just because”. Think and evaluate the pros and cons of every angle available to you. Better still, capture a few images at every possible option and compare them later at your editing station with a clear head and a critical eye. You may be surprised!

Sometimes you are confronted with an extremely steep angle. Your subject may be up high in a tree or above you on a steep mountain slope. Images of birds taken from below at a steep angle are normally undesirable. However I personally must make an exception for the majestic Bald Eagle. Eagles photographed from below may seem more powerful and impressive in the resulting image. Photographing wildlife such as mountain goats that are high above you from a steep angle may help you illustrate their habitats and they way they live. The longer your telephoto, the less steep the angle will appear. Using a long lens and backing away from your subject will decrease the steepness of the angle.
Remember, guidelines are just that: guides that usually work well. They are not written in stone, but are flexible and forgiving. Sometimes, breaking the “rules” results in a better image offers a new perspective.

One thought on “A lower angle, is it always best?

  1. Very well written and well said as well. I guess the bottom line is that there are really no “rules”, just suggestions.

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