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Photography Angles

Updated on May 7, 2010

The orthodox way of photographing people or things is to point the camera at the subject from a viewpoint at eye level, with the back of the camera vertical and parallel to the principal plane of the subject, e.g: the front of a building. This approach avoids distortion of perspective and makes it easier to focus the important part of the subject

When the camera is pointed at an angle to the subject, particularly from a close viewpoint, proportions tend to look distorted, parallel lines begin to converge more and more steeply, and it becomes more difficult to bring the whole depth of the subject into focus.

Sometimes distortion of perspective is introduced into photographs intentionally to achieve certain effects, but it is generally desirable to avoid it. This can be done either by holding the camera parallel to the plane which is to remain undistorted, or by using camera movements, as on technical cameras.

High Angle demonstration by Svilen Milev
High Angle demonstration by Svilen Milev
Low Angle demonstration by Svilen Milev
Low Angle demonstration by Svilen Milev

Pictorially, the extremes of angle shots are high and low angle shots.

A high angle shot is one taken from such a height that the subject is seen against the background of the ground itself or in which the horizon runs close to the top of the picture. Such a view tends to dwarf the subject and make it look top-heavy. This is because the vertical lines are foreshortened and the top of the subject, being much nearer to the camera than the bottom, looks so much bigger in proportion. In addition, the subject tends to become lost in a mass of surrounding detail of the same tone. High angle shots are only resorted to where the resulting distortion is sought deliberately- as in a portrait of a sitter with a heavy jaw which must be played down. They should not be used if the tones of the subject are much the same as those of its surroundings.

A low angle shot is one taken with the camera held as low as possible- generally with the photographer kneeling or even lying prone on the ground. Shooting from this angle has the advantage of showing the subject against a background either of the sky, or of objects so far away that they do not compete in tone with the subject itself and do not surround it with fussy detail. So a low angle simplifies the composition and isolates the subject.

Just as the high angle shot makes the subject look top heavy, the low angle shot emphasizes the width of the base. And by giving the subject a broad base and making the verticals taper towards the top of the picture, it imparts both stability and grace to the proportions. This treatment often improves pictures of tall slender buildings and of the human figure. But it is rarely a happy choice for portraiture because it makes the lower jaw and the fleshy part of the nose bulge unpleasantly. Where the lower part of the face needs emphasis, however, a low angle may be chosen deliberately.

Angle shots belong essentially to the field of the miniature because the small camera can be used at angles which would be practically impossible with a more cumbersome instrument. And when used at an extreme angle, e.g: looking up the front of a building- the miniature can still show everything in sharp focus from the brickwork a few feet away to the television aerial on the roof. This is possible because of the camera's short focal length lens, and the depth of field this allows. With a technical camera the same overall depth is achieved by the use of the tilting camera front.

Even so, absolute sharpness is not always necessary or desirable for certain effects.

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