Learn how the low angle shot helps to overcome boring habits.
As photographers, we are wandering around the world, carrying our camera either around our neck or in our hands. Whenever we see something interesting, we compose the image and shoot.
The easiest way to do this is by just standing still and pointing the camera towards our subject. So most of our images are shot from our eye level. This is the easiest way of photographing and doesn’t require any effort. But did You notice that all of Your images are shot from the same level and feel that they could need some change?
Shooting from a low angle has many benefits and it does help the composition tremendously. If You find that Your pictures are not interesting enough, then changing the perspective and going low will help, without the subject needing to become more interesting.
Here are my tips for the low angle shot and the reasons You should try it.
What is the low angle shot?
Normally, most of the images we take and see are shot from the eye-level. As I already explained in the beginning, it is easier and effortless for us, to just stand still and photograph from a normal standing position.
As with most things, the easiest way is not always the best.
With a low angle shot, the photographer changes his usual perspective. Instead of shooting at a normal height of an adult, he gets down low and shoots from the bottom looking upwards.
One could also call the low angle shot the “frog” perspective. In contrast to this style is the birds-view, which describes a viewpoint that is way above the usual perspective.
When describing the low angle shot, I am not talking about a little lower-than-usual level, for example by shooting from the hip, but I mean that You should crouch down and shoot from the ground.
You can either lay Your camera on the ground and photograph using a tilt-screen, should blindly with a camera without a tilt-screen, or You could just lay on the floor and frame the image using the viewfinder. Whichever You prefer is up to You and Your technical possibilities, but I hope You realize now that the low angle shot does require some more effort. In return though, You get some really unique perspectives that others aren’t getting.
The low angle shot is also accompanied with a wide angle lens. A long lens would destroy the purpose of getting low and wouldn’t have the same effect. So anything below 50mm does put an emphasis on this change of perspective.
How does the Low angle shot help?
Shooting from a low angle can be a bit more tiring and it does require You to put some more work in how You photograph. So is this extra energy that You invest in these pictures really worth it?
There are a lot of reasons why You should try out the low angle shot yourself and here are the ways how it helps Your photographs.
The Low angle creates interestingness
Most of the pictures we see are shot from the same eye-level. That’s not to say that those pictures are automatically boring. There can be good reasons to just shoot from that level. But if You change it up a little bit, just the different perspective can be more interesting in itself.
It lets us see the world from a different level. How often do You get low and see the world from such a low angle normally?
You probably never do that and having the camera do that for You lets You see new perspectives, that You saw the last time when You were a child.
With that change alone, it is like You are seeing a different dimension and the world appears totally new for us. As adults, it is simply interesting for us, to witness this perspective again. In our normal life, we wouldn’t really have the opportunity to see from such a low angle and through photographs we discover how the world looks like, from a different perspective.
Not only from a viewer’s mind the low angle shot has some advantages. Also from a more technical point of view, the low angle does benefit the picture very well.
As Street Photographers, we often are facing the problem that the background isn’t really great, especially when shooting in cities. There are so many objects that simply draw the attention away from the subject and create an unpleasant image.
Other people could be in the background, cars could be driving, or the walls of the house just don’t fit with the subject.
There are some tricks to create a better background, for example, we can always walk and shoot against the walls, creating a narrower space, which lets us control the background a little bit better.
Or we can just shoot from a very low angle and can use the sky as our natural backdrop. In cities, this has the advantage that we ignore our natural surrounding. This means, no matter how chaotic the environment is that You are photographing in, You will always find a pleasant backdrop in a simple sky.
There are a lot of compositional elements that You can use to lead the eye of the viewer and leading lines are one of them.
By going down low, You can use leading lines in a very different way and in case that You have suitable elements, that lead to the subject, going down low can even increase this effect.
Although it is kind of an overused topic, shots from an escalator show exactly this. You are standing on a lower level, while the person is somewhere above You and the handrails are leading to the subject.
This is a simple example of how a low angle shot is even better when You have the suitable leading lines.
Reactions from people
If You are out on the street and don’t really find interesting subjects, You can just provoke some reactions by getting down low.
People are quite curious why You are basically crouching down and working with Your camera. Most people can not imagine what You are doing there and this can create some funny interaction.
Looking at Your pictures after this experiment, You will probably find a lot of people that are walking by, that have a very stern look. You may not even notice them when You are just crouching down, but from my experience, there are a lot of people that walk by and have a very unique look.
Low Angle Shots in Street Photography
In Street Photography, there are a few different ways You can make use of the low angle shot. Although I was very hesitant at first too, because it may raise a little more attention, I got quite confident and want to show You, how it is done by examples on the street.
The bend over
You don’t need to stop fully and crouch down to get a low angle shot. You can also move along and when You see an interesting subject, You can get close and just bend down and maybe a little sidewards too.
The advantage is, that You are very mobile with this technique. Instead of having to wait for the subject to enter, You are able to move and search for interesting situations.
It may look a little odd and requires some boldness, but this is what Street Photography is all about. To get the extraordinary pictures, You need to be an extraordinary photographer Yourself and this means to overcome Your comfort zone and get closer.
Have a look at the work of Bruce Gilden, who has this technique ingrained in him like it is his second nature. He sees an interesting subject, gets close and then approaches to the side of the person and snaps a picture from a lower angle while bending over.
Crouching down and wait
Let’s say You have found a beautiful spot and, the background is great, the light is ideal and You just want a person to enter the frame. Maybe You just want to shoot a silhouette and the subject doesn’t even matter that much.
Then You can also take a slower approach by just crouching down on the street and wait. I know this may seem a little odd and it may cost some nerves in the beginning, because who the hell does just crouch down on an open street and does wait for something.
But in the end, it is about the photo and not about Yourself. Whenever I find myself to be uncomfortable, I just look through my viewfinder and I am able to completely forget my surroundings.
Whether I get curious, or even disturbing stares, it doesn’t matter for me because I am completely shut down from that environment. All I am focusing on now is the next picture and if You get it, You will know it is all worth it.
For this kind of photography, a camera with a tiltable screen can be helpful, so You can really put Your camera down on the floor. If You don’t have that kind of camera, then You can also shoot blindly with a wide-angle lens.
Sometimes, it can also be beneficial to just lay the camera on the ground and control it with some external app from Your mobile phone. This way, You don’t raise too much suspicion and can shoot more candidly.
In this clip You can see Thomas Leuthard at around 1:30 utilizing this technique, where he sees a beautiful light situation, frames the picture and just takes his time to wait for a suitable subject.
The Fish-Eye Perspective
You can also take the low angle shot to an extreme. Although I haven’t tried this discipline myself, You can be creative by using a fisheye lens Yourself for Street Photography.
The lens should be shorter than 8mm and then You can pretty much go down low and capture pictures, that are very extraordinary. With a heavy distortion, You can create either more abstract pictures or just look for subjects.
Whether You want to take the Bruce Gilden approach and want to be more mobile, or You want to wait for a little more is up to You.
My Street Photography friend Willem Jonkers from the Netherlands also has the great tip to take his dog for a walk.
Tips for Low Angle Photography
Do You want to create low angle shots Yourself now? Then have a look at the following tips that will improve Your success by far.
Not everytime You have a camera at Your hand that has a tiltable screen and even if You have such a camera, it would still be helpful if You can frame the image without looking through the viewfinder.
On the street, You have to be very quick and having to look through the viewfinder everytime can slow down Your photography process by a lot. If You are using the technique that also Bruce Gilden uses, then not having to look through the viewfinder is a great advantage.
Although You might not be comfortable to shoot like that at first, there are a few tips and tricks that make it a lot easier.
One easy tip is to always use a prime lens with the usual focal length, or just buy a camera with a fixed lens like the FujiX100F. After some experience, You will use the camera like it is the second nature.
Use a Wide Angle Lens
Another tip for the low angle shot would be to shoot with a wide angle lens. The wide angle lens has a few advantages compared to longer lenses. Therefore everything below 35mm should be Your lens of choice.
The wide angle increases the impression of the low angle shot. Every person will look more enormous, the picture will be a little more surreal and overall, the effect will be increased when using a shorter lens.
Another advantage is, that the framing with a shorter lens is easier. The 35mm is very close to our natural field of view and doesn’t require much time to get used to. This makes it easier to shoot blindly and from the ground without having to look through the viewfinder.
The third advantage of the wide angle is, that the depth of field is wider. This makes it easier to focus, which will be explained under the next topic.
If You want to create great low angle shots, the easiest way would be to shoot blindly. Without seeing through the viewfinder, it will be very hard to know if the auto-focus found the right spot.
Instead of having to rely on a bad auto-focus, which will miss most of the time, there is an easier more guaranteed way of getting a sharp image.
This would be by zone-focusing which You can also read more about in my guide.
To sum it up, You are using an aperture of f/8 or lower, a short lens and are focusing manually to a certain distance. Usually, the distance is at around 2 meters, but if You want to get as close as Bruce Gilden and shoot from a lower angle, then a distance of 1,5 meters or shorter should be enough.
The combination of the low aperture and shorter lens will give You a greater depth of field, which in return means that a lot more of the picture will be sharp. This will increase Your success rate and the focus won’t be a problem anymore.
Do You think You don’t have interesting subjects around You, or the background is not good enough?
Wake up the inner child and take a different perspective on life. Going down low and take the pictures from a completely different point of view. The low angle shot will help You a lot in creating pictures that are more interesting.
The composition is also a lot easier since You don’t have to fight against a background which can destroy Your pictures. Rather, find a position where You can shoot against the sky.
It may take some additional dedication and effort, but it is worth it. All You have to is either be quick and bend a little down or, crouch down and take the pictures from below.
You will notice quickly how this new angle will help to get out of the standard frame and is a lot more interesting.