Shooting from a low angle is a challenging yet very rewarding technique. Playing with extreme perspectives can flatter your subjects in a variety of ways – or end up ruining the proportions of your shot if misused.
In order to get the results you’re looking for, it is crucial to understand how low angle photography works and how to apply it. Without a thorough basis in the theory of the technique, you might be left fumbling for the execution.
That’s what today’s guide is for: providing a grounding in low-angle photography to make you ready for further exploration in the medium.
We will be focusing on the topic of low angle composition techniques and a few tricks that you need to know to achieve success in their use. We are going to cover all the fundamentals you need to become proficient at using low-angle framing, so be ready to take some notes and read below for the whole guide!
Why Use a Low Angle for Your Shots?
The very first thing you should ask yourself before committing to any particular kind of composition is, ‘Can my shot really benefit from using this technique?’.
Every scene and every shoot is unique, of course. Your personal perspective and your preferences fundamentally shape your photography – this also applies to your choice of angles.
Oftentimes, there are specific reasons why you might want to go for a low-angle shot. These have to do both with basic compositional theory as well as the laws of framing and perspective that apply to all genres of photography to varying degrees.
Below, let’s go over some of these potential reasons. In doing so, you’ll see how to make the decision of employing different angles in your work.
Expressing Power through Low Angle Photography
Shooting from a low camera angle exaggerates certain proportions, particularly along the vertical axis. You can easily make use of a lower angle, pointing upward with your camera lens to create the illusion of a surrealistically large main subject.
With care and attention, this can express a sense of power and dominance. That’s something especially highly valued in architecture and landscape photography, for instance. In these kinds of genres especially, exaggerating scale can contribute to a sense of awe among the viewer.
But even in portraiture as above, playing with a sense of power and scale among your subjects can be very useful depending on what emotions you aim to excite within the viewer.
Playing with Perceived Sizes and Heights of Subjects
Especially with groups of human subjects, you can utilize this effect to draw attention to physical differences. With a low angle, lying by the subject’s feet, you can capture the differences in bodily proportions between the people you’re framing.
There is a related phenomenon sometimes dubbed the ‘Superman effect’ where different perspectives of the same subject may create entirely different perceptions of their personality.
At eye level, you may have a subject that doesn’t stand out from most common angles.
But with a choice of acute low angle, you can capture the very same person in a totally new character. That change, which often manifests itself in a change of power and other dominant energies, is the transformation between a ‘Clark Kent’-like subject and a ‘Superman’!
Putting a New Spin on Your Background
A low angle inherently affects the perceived height of your subject, as you have learned.
But capturing other elements, including your background also becomes a totally different ball game when shooting from a different perspective.
In a photo where the subject’s prominence is the main focus, a distracting background only hurts the frame’s visual impact. In such cases, you can use that same prominence to your advantage through low angle photography.
By exaggerating and ‘growing’ your subject, you can create a scene where the world literally revolves around them. This allows the less desirable elements of your picture to fade away.
Shooting from low angles with the camera close to the ground can also put a new spin on your background in a more straightforward way.
If shooting outside, a low-angle shot is one of the few ways you can combine a mostly terrestrial, close-up composition of your subject with a full view of the sky. Especially in urban scenes, this can make a much bigger aesthetic statement than you may think!
The complete absence of distracting background elements forces the viewer’s eye to approach the world portrayed in your photo differently.
It Offers a Unique Perspective!
Sometimes, it might be worth thinking about how low angle photography could give your shots a fresh look simply out of sheer novelty. An extreme low angle perspective is rare enough that it offers the viewer an unfamiliar frame to look at.
Oftentimes, it is this sense of freshness that is enough to make the work stand out and visually more interesting.
This is not to say that you should neglect any of the other important aspects of your photography, of course! Nobody can create a perfect shot without the right composition, the right camera and lens, or the right artistic vision.
But if you haven’t already, think of how a different perspective could positively alter the way your photography appeals to the viewer’s eye.
Taking Low Angle Pictures in Candid Environments
In candid photography, your object is to capture a slice of life in an often rapid and unpredictable shoot. Subjects may only linger in your viewfinder or LCD screen for a fraction of a moment before disappearing forever. That leaves little time for conscious debate over composition or other creative choices.
To teach yourself to shoot blindly is one discipline that can completely alter the rules of the game in candid photography. But another thing you can try to do is to shoot from a low-angle perspective by the subject’s feet! This unusual approach can work wonders in many ways at once.
On the one hand, your subject will likely be completely unaware of the unusual low-angle shot you are capturing.
You can indeed practice candid low-angle photography without using your incognito edge.
This is especially true if you use natural or architectural features to your advantage to maintain a low position – think footbridges, underpasses, and other elevated structures.
The Impact of Candid Camera Angles on the Audience
The viewer will also likely notice the aesthetic effect that low angle photos cause in this kind of candid environment. Pointing upward as you track your subject provokes not just an exaggerated, dramatic glimpse at the sky and other surroundings. It also shines a light on the subject’s character, lending the image a more intimately emotional vibe.
This is because, by physically inflating the amount of space within the frame that your subject takes up, you are implicitly inviting the viewer to take in more of their visible details and attributes.
From the fine patterns of their clothes to facial expressions – which in an extreme low angle shot can appear wonderfully, almost surrealistically distorted – to the gait of their walk and the gestures of their hands, everything about your subject is up for scrutiny in a low angle photo.
Just as that can make it risky, it can make the results absolutely fascinating to look at.
How to Perfectly Compose the Low Angle Shot
Now, you should have a solid idea about what low-angle shots do and when to employ them for best results. With that in mind, let’s talk about technique. Low-angle images fundamentally do not require any skills you will not have already practiced in your daily work.
However, the way you handle your camera angle and lens might be different from what you’re used to, which is why it pays off to practice some of the tricks and techniques below.
Using Leading Lines to Guide the Viewer’s Eye
Leading lines are an exceptionally useful technique in countless areas of photography. When composing a low-angle shot, you can use leading lines to make sure that the viewer won’t be overwhelmed by the likely unexpected perspective of the photo.
Carefully pick out linear (especially vertical) elements in your viewfinder. Try to use these to create arrow-like motifs that point towards key areas of interest in the frame. By doing so, you can gently create a so-called eye line for the viewer to trace and follow.
In conventional photography, lines mostly exist at eye level, close to the horizon. That is where they are naturally the most attention-grabbing and potent. However, a low-angle shot requires a different approach. As a consequence of the angle between the camera, the ground, the background, and of course your main foreground subjects, your most likely candidates for leading lines will instead come in the form of vertical or near-vertical diagonal elements reaching up towards the sky.
Feel Free to Experiment with Extreme Low Angles
There is no clearly defined line where a low-angle shot becomes ‘extreme’. However, most would agree that an extreme low-angle includes unconventional camera movements to create surreal, challenging images with a unique character.
Plenty of great directors have used an extreme low-angle shot to create a sense of unease, intoxication, or confusion.
As a photographer, you can make use of the same technique for these and countless other aims!
In simple terms, there is no concrete technique for transforming a low-angle image into an ‘extreme’ equivalent. Simply add up the factors that contributed to the low-angle perspective as is, such as your low position relative to the ground and the subject, and exaggerate them. Instead of crouching or kneeling, try lying on your stomach or back, for example!
It also helps to further enhance the effect by picking subjects with very prominent, exceptional physical features and dimensions in the first place.
Make sure that you pack a great wide-angle lens, though. At very acute angles and shooting close to the ground, a wide angle of view becomes practically a must. You might also want to consider the use of a compact mini-tripod with especially short legs.
Bringing Intentional Camera Movements (ICM) into Low Angle Photos
So-called ICM, short for Intentional Camera Movement, is an exciting discipline in the realm of experimental photography. It relies on creating unique photos through the use of deliberate camera angle and position changes during the exposure period. As you can imagine, this is best paired with long shutter speeds for stronger, more surreal effects.
Combining ICM techniques with unorthodox angles can create a truly unimitable scene. Try to anticipate and combine your camera movement with that of the subject. Rhythmical approaches often produce exceptional results, but some photographers also enjoy creating low-angle shots with completely random movements for a stronger sense of chaos and disorientation.
In the end, it’s all up to your creative desires!
Getting the Perfect Shot Through Low-Angle Photography Methods
The low-angle shot remains a tricky technique to master for plenty of photographers, amateurs and professionals alike. But with the right preparatory work, it doesn’t have to be.
The fundamentals that you need for better low-angle photos are simple: an element of height and depth to exploit in your frame and a way for you to do so ergonomically. Gear can help – as mentioned, a wide-angle lens can make a difference, as can a camera with a tilt screen. But at its core, a low-angle shot is a really basic affair that demands by far the most from your knowledge of composition above all else.
Getting the right results from low-angle photos, then, is mostly a matter of familiarizing yourself with compositional theory to the point where you have an intuitive sense of where to position yourself and your subjects for perfect results.
Remember what we discussed in this short guide – including important key factors such as the effects of changes in perceived height – and you’re on the way to becoming a master of the low-angle shot already!