How a Low Angle Shot Can Drastically Improve Your Photo Composition

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How a Low Angle Shot Can Drastically Improve Your Photo Composition

Whether you use a high-quality DSLR camera or your handy cell phone to take photos of your everyday life, you’ll want to know this one tip!  A low-angle shot will drastically improve your photo composition.  No joke!  The truth is, it’s not always natural to think about the angle in photography when you are learning.  Even some experienced photographers forget to remember this little rule.

Brothers shooting at target with bb gun in One Small Photo Tip

Everyone loves to get a fancy new camera.  At today’s camera prices, it is easier than ever to snag a DSLR that will give you high-quality photos.  But there are still many of us who use our cellphone for everyday events.  True confession – I have the fancy DSLR camera, and I still find myself pulling out the iPhone for average routine shots.  The truth is that the basics of photo composition are the same, no matter what tool you use to capture your images!

The Angle in Photography has nothing to do with the camera

You might be surprised to find that it is not which camera you use that will make the most significant difference in your photos. Instead, what you do while standing behind the camera will improve your photos.

We’ve all been there.  You buy a fancy new DSLR camera so you can take lovely photos.  Or even better, someone you love has presented you with a shiny new camera for the latest event.  You rip that new camera out of the box and are so excited to give it a whirl!  You charge up the battery, put in the shiny new memory card, and are ready to go!  You get into your best stance and wait for the kids to do something adorable!  Excitedly, you press the shutter button.  At last, you turn the camera around to get a look at what you got.

Wait!?  What!?  This picture is no more interesting than the one you took with your phone camera just a few days ago!  What a disappointment.  Now that you have that fantastic new camera, your photos should be ten times better than your phone photos, right!?

Wrong.  Here’s the secret.  It’s not the camera that makes the most significant difference;  It’s the person behind it.

Meme with goofy guy with camera around his neck and the words, "wow - your camera takes great pictures." "Thanks I taught it everything I know."

I know.  It is a bit disheartening to realize that the brand-new camera that costs hundreds of dollars just isn’t giving you the results you hoped it would.  But wait!  Don’t lose hope just yet.  Using a low-angle shot is one straightforward thing you can do that will make a significant difference in your photos, no matter the camera you’re using.  Don’t worry if you don’t automatically think about the angle in photography as a first rule, you can make it a habit, no matter what camera you use.

A Low Angle Shot Can Tell a Better Story

One thing you can do immediately to improve your photo and tell a better story is to change your perspective.  Rather than standing near your subjects and waiting for them to move around you, it is time for you to get moving.  Try walking around.  How does your composition change when you stand above your subject?  See if you can stand under your subject.  What happens now?  Try standing close and try standing far away.  You might be shocked at how much a difference it makes to change the angle from which you’re shooting.

Take this example.  At my in-laws’ family cottage a couple of years ago, my 10-year-old son was learning how to shoot his new BB Gun.  My 20-year-old son was with us for the evening, reveling in his role as teacher and coach.  I’m a stickler for BB gun safety, so I enjoyed listening to my older son sharing his knowledge of gun safety and how to set up the target and aim at it with his little brother.  They even spent time sighting in the gun.

A Mom/Grandma Side Note Not Related to Low Angle Photography!

This mom’s heart is always so happy to see my boys bonding.  I have five kids total, four grown and launched from the nest and one who came along ten years after the youngest.  Whenever they spend time together bonding, my mom’s heart swells.  I often worry about my youngest being lonely.  He loves hanging with the big siblings and remembers very well when all the kids were still living at home.  So when we have moments like this one, he’s happy, and so am I.  I have been surprised over and over at how hard it has been to launch those big kids into the world, so when I get them home for a minute, it’s a very happy minute!  If you’re interested in more of my thoughts about parenting adults, check out 5 Things they don’t tell you about Parenting grown children.

Change Your Perspective and Try a Low Angle Shot

From Above image for One Small Photo Tip

Now back to my original point about using low angles in photography.  I was enjoying the warm and fuzzy moment from the deck right behind the boys.  Naturally, it was the perfect time to capture the memory.  So out came the big camera.  I snapped the first picture from standing right behind them.  I wanted to see what the boys were aiming at, so it was important to me that I included the target in the shot.

When I peeked at the LCD on the back of the camera (called chimping), I saw that it was a nice shot.  You could see that they were having a good time, completely oblivious to me standing behind them.  Unfortunately, it seems a bit more like a picture of the grass than a picture of the boys (also, I’m pretty sure the grass is much prettier than this in person).  I knew I could do better.

Foolproof Tips for How to Get An Awesome Low Angle Shot

I took a moment to reconsider my options and moved my camera just a bit. I set it on the edge of the deck at my feet.  It was not directly on the ground but about 18 inches higher than the grass where the boys were sitting.  As an option, I could have chosen to squat down or lay on the ground behind them.  But if you’re a hip grandma like me, then you understand why sometimes squatting or laying down creates a fear of getting back up.  If you don’t have a deck ledge or lower area to set your camera, you can use your tripod set low to get a similar result.

I currently shoot with a Canon EOS R.  At the time I took these shots, I was using a Canon 70D.  Both of these camera bodies have a fully articulating LCD screen on the back.  This screen is a huge selling point because it allows me to do photographic acrobatics like this.  See, I can twist my screen around to a convenient backward angle and see what I’m photographing even when the camera is low to the ground, on a tripod, or a deck rail.

Full disclosure:  Although I much prefer using the LCD to laying down when I am in the comfort of my own home and feeling adventurous, I have also crawled around on my hands and knees on the floor to get just the right angle.  You can ask my husband.  It’s quite a show, but you do what you must do to get the shot, right?  But I digress.

Low Angle Shots Can Make an AH-Mazing Difference!

The proof is in the pudding, right?  You can see from the shot below what a tremendous difference it makes to change your camera angle.  Both images are shot in RAW and are straight out of the camera (SOOC), meaning they have had no editing whatsoever.  The second shot tells a better story of what is happening.  I love the framing provided by the trees at the top of the frame.  Also, the boys and the target are now the main subjects of the image instead of the grass.

No editing on this shot of boys with a bb gun

Here is a side-by-side comparison so you can see the difference!

From Above image for One Small Photo Tip
Before
No editing on this shot of boys with a bb gun
After

And here is one more example I pulled from my archives.

a low angle shot of a bulldozer reflected in a puddle

This low angle shot of a bulldozer parked not far from my home was taken with my iPhone 6.  I couldn’t resist the reflection in the puddle below.  This is a perfect example of how an ordinary image can turn into an amazing image by only changing the angle.  I challenge you to go find a puddle (or heck – make one) and see what happens when you get that camera low!

How to Practice Using a Low Angle in Photography

I want to point out one last detail.  Whether you use a fancy DSLR camera or a simple cell phone to capture your everyday events, you should get into the habit of practicing your angles.  One of the best digital photography features is that you aren’t limited to 24 or 36 exposures like you were in the film days. Now you can take as many photos as you like while you practice seeing what angles work best for your composition.

With a simple click in Lightroom, or on your cellphone, you can eliminate the shots that didn’t work.  So get moving – take pictures from every angle and see what happens.  I bet you’ll be amazed at the difference one small change can make.

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