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Height helps


If it's flat, rise above it.


At beach level, this would have been a jumbled mass of people, but raising the viewpoint a few feet made all the difference
At beach level, this would have been a jumbled mass of people, but raising the viewpoint a few feet made all the difference

A flat landscape or seascape can turn out boring unless you can find a way of shooting it from a height. Often just a few feet will make a world of difference to this kind of shot. Photographing a large group of people or a herd of animals on a flat surface can be problematic, especially when it's important for individuals to be seen.

Shooting angle is always an important consideration for a photographer, but many don't think of raising themselves above the scene they are photographing to improve the shot.

There are many situations where a high angle of view can make or break a picture. Some solutions to gain a high shooting angle, such as aerial photography from an airplane, balloon or helicopter, or using a shooting platform that can be mechanically raised, are obvious, but impractical for most of us. Others include:

1. Climbing a hill is another obvious solution, but nature does not always provide one near by. You may need to use a long lens (a telephoto) if the hill is relatively far away from your subject.

2. Climbing a tree, getting into the back of a pickup truck or standing on the hood or roof of your vehicle may provide just the right added height.

3. Getting onto a wharf or a bridge over a stream, canal or river will provide you with plenty of height to photograph anything beneath you on the water's surface.

4. You can even set up a step-ladder or use a sturdy box as a platform to gain the helpful height advantage. (See our Step right up tip on using a mini-stepladder.)

5. Large groups of people need to be photographed so that every individual can be seen, and getting above them is often the best answer. Do you perhaps have a group photograph to take, and need the extra height to ensure everyone will be seen? Take them outdoors to an open area, like a parking lot, where you can shoot down from a rooftop or an upper story.

6. Sometimes, a friendly home-owner will let you enter their home to shoot from an upper balcony. You may also be able to obtain permission to enter an office tower or apartment building to photograph a street scene below, such as a parade or political gathering. Parking decks can be ideal when one is close at hand.

7. When you can't get above the scene or your view is blocked by a crowd in front, you may be able to get a higher shot by holding your camera over your head with your arms straight out, aiming it towards the subject. Be warned that aiming is quite difficult. This is a hit-or-miss technique that takes some practice before you can execute it well. It is made much easier if your camera is equipped with a moveable viewscreen that can be angled so that you can see it from below.

8. You may be photographing an outdoors event (a rodeo, for example, or a race or sports activity) in an arena or ballpark, and your ground level shots don't capture enough of the overall scene or you just can't see activities properly. You need extra height. If you can locate yourself higher in the grandstands, do so. You may need the approval of the event's organizers to move into areas that are higher, and should seek it as much in advance as possible. You may even be able to get into the announcer's booth if you play your cards right and don't disrupt their activities while you are there.

If this scene had not been shot from atop a small hill, the trail's bumps and dips would not be seen.
If this scene had not been shot from atop a small hill, the trail's bumps and dips would not be seen.

A group of visiting firemen was too large for an interior shot. An obliging hotel owner saved the day by giving the photographer roof access.
A group of visiting firemen was too large for an interior shot. An obliging hotel owner saved the day by giving the photographer roof access.

This scene would not have the same sense of depth if it had been shot at water level.
This scene would not have the same sense of depth if it had been shot at water level.

The back of a pickup truck provided sufficient height for this picture.
The back of a pickup truck provided sufficient height for this picture.

 
Further information...
Aerial photography tips & techniques
Related topics...

Step right up