A great photo requires the right perspective.
There’s a recipe for a good picture, and certain ingredients are found in every great image (regardless of camera quality or subject matter). Indeed, an interesting subject alone is not enough to make a great photo; perspective is the key ingredient for a stunning image. This past week, I had several opportunities to capture images of the Great Blue Heron in Dauphin Island, Alabama. And the experience was a great reminder that perspective and viewing angle make a huge difference in the final image. My experimentation with perspective has been a huge part of my Journey In Photos.
Pay attention to the details.
We were lucky enough on our Dauphin Island vacation to have a beach house directly on the Gulf of Mexico. One lazy morning, I glance over from the porch to see the neighbor fishing from shore with a huge blue heron keeping him company. I grabbed my camera with the hope of capturing this amazing bird; but, in my haste, I tossed aside photography fundamentals and didn’t really pay attention to the surroundings. I ended up with several ho-hum images like these:
In these shots, you see trash, vehicles, and pilings in the background, distracting from the focus of the images. Also, the angles of these shots all come from above. This is almost never the best perspective for capturing a creature in his natural setting and, in general, getting parallel to or below your subject will almost always improve a photo.
Almost, but not quite.
After realizing this bird was more interested in a free meal (courtesy the fisherman) than avoiding the paparazzi (me), I settled down and took the time to compose my shots. The results were much improved as I began capturing the bird in the surf (thereby eliminating the background distractions of cars and trash cans). But the composition still wasn’t quite right.
The lesson here is all about viewing angle. In this shot, I continued photographing the bird from above which, as mentioned earlier, is almost never the best choice in this situation.
At long last, the heron’s patience is rewarded when the fisherman hauls in a catfish. (The presence of catfish in this part of the Gulf of Mexico is a topic for another post.) While the fisherman removes the fish from the hook, I move to make a final adjustment to the angle and composition for the shot with the goal of capturing both the bird in his natural habitat and his prey. (I use the term loosely here as we all know the heron didn’t actually work for this particular meal.) I position myself practically prone in the sand to ensure there is plenty of sky in the background and that the bird’s head is above the horizon. After the fisherman tosses the fish to the heron, I snap a few images of the bird as he ponders whether catfish makes a meal worthy of his consideration.
And, finally, the ideal shot.
After an interminable pause, the heron finally approaches his meal, and I capture the shot I’ve been waiting for. I’ve attained the best possible perspective, angle and composition, and the subject matter is fascinating. For years, I’ve sought to capture a Great Blue Heron with a fish. I wished for a more interesting sky, but perhaps that would’ve just been a distraction from the image’s focal point of a masterful bird and his prey.
Final Thoughts on Perspective
When your images leave you disappointed, try changing your perspective. Simple changes to the angle of your shot and consideration of items in the background and foreground will vastly improve your outcomes; and trial and error is sometimes the best teacher – get lower, move higher, shift to another side of your subject. These adjustments cost you nothing but a few moments of your time and are well worth the experimentation. A comparison of these heron images illustrate the difference a little change in perspective can make in your photos.