On my recent guest blog post about Composition, I talked about two elements I want to combine here, focussing on the eyes and BEING at eye level with your subject. This is very important with bird and wildlife photography when the creature is often much smaller than you, and usually at ground level.
When I started with my camera this was something that it took me a while to learn so I made lots of shots that looked like this:
See how my camera is angled down towards the subject, or they are looking up at it, so you can see that I am at a greater height. In the case of the otters, there was a fence in the way, so this was the only angle I could shoot at.
For the ducklings I was trying to capture all of them in the shot, so doing it from a higher angle was how I managed it.
But it loses the direct connection and intimacy that you get when you are down at the subjects level
This particular image was my personal ‘eureka’ moment. A family of Paradise Ducks had made a stretch of river close to where my work office was home, so one evening I headed out with my camera to shoot the ducklings (yes I have a thing for them 🙂
I took this shot stretched out flat on the grass (in my work clothes) in the dirt (and other things) as this brave little fellow explored his world in a patch of late afternoon sunlight. It has many compositional elements, side lighting, catchlight in the eye and I am down at his level giving a direct connection to him.
This is a foal only a few days old at a breeder show, and he is very concerned at my presence, having one ear fixed on mum a short distance away. I am crouched down on my knees for several reasons, not to scare him further, shooting between fence rails and again being down at his level.
Can you tell I also have a thing for otters 🙂 This is the group of 5 boys at Orana Park, and they gathered at the concrete edge of their pool and thankfully were about my height. Contrast this to the other otter image above to see the different feel in the connection with them.
At feeding time the otters are trained to jump up onto these stumps to receive a fishy treat, happily elevating them to a level I could take a direct shot of, making you feel right there, watching the action close up. Its not quite as engaging because he is not looking at the camera, which also shows the importance of getting the “look” to fully engage with the subject.
This is a great “look” – to me this image has a different feel, like he is sizing me up as a tasty snack. This is a goanna that is a good 6-7 feet long and HUGE claws.
Sometimes it just isn’t possible or more importantly SAFE to be at eye level with your subject, therefore do the best you can with what you have 🙂
Hope that these examples of the good and the bad help explain why it makes a difference to change your shooting height and be at eye level with the subject, focussing on the eye, and getting that important catchlight.
Very inspiring! I am going to Florida soon and will try it with crocodiles. 😉
Oh Im not so sure thats a good idea but its a great way to get an awesome shot!
Thanks for the post! I’ll use your recs.
The photo of the 5 boys is so darn cute! Yes, I have been practicing flat down to get pictures of my cats. Mostly I capture cat noses, but I am trying! This was great showing the difference because I loved the first few shots (and still do !), but then you showed the animals again from a different angle. Aha! Lightbulb went off. Thanks so much for this.
No problem, it helps me make sense of things visually if I can see all the possible options myself, so it only makes sense that other people might cope the same way. Glad to assist!
I have a lot of cat noses too 🙂
Awww the otters 😉 i love them they are so adorable!
Me too, I want to be reincarnated as an otter 🙂