Angle and Viewpoint

Positioning your subject in a location is only one part of the puzzle – even in a studio environment, you need to consider where you will be positioned, as the photographer, and whether you will be holding the camera level or angled towards your subject. Even the choice of whether you stand or crouch can have a huge impact on the composition and connotations of the final shot. If you always take every photograph at the same angle, you will be missing out on a world of creativity. Instead, for each shot, consider and experiment with a range of different angles. With experience, you will instinctively know where to position yourself in order to achieve the kind of image you are planning for.

Perception of power

Changing your viewpoint affects the balance of power between the viewer and the subject. If the image is taken from a low viewpoint, angled up towards the subject, this implies strength, confidence, power and even arrogance of the subject. Conversely, taking an image from a high viewpoint and angling down towards the subject results in associations of the subject’s vulnerability, weakness and lack of power. To exaggerate this effect, stand on a chair or use steps to make your high-angle shots more extreme, while raising your subject or lying on the floor yourself will give you options for low-angle shots (however, watch out for double chins and unappealing nostrils!). A shot taken straight on to the subject’s eye-level has a neutral effect on the viewer’s perception of the subject’s power or lack of.

Angling the camera

As well as holding the camera in a portrait and a landscape orientation, you can also tilt it midway between the two. By angling your camera so that neither edge of the frame is parallel to the horizon, you can add a sense of drama and energy to a shot that might otherwise appear mundane or too static. It can also sometimes improve compositions that aren’t working well in either a portrait or landscape orientation.

Using the camera like this also gives you a longer axis to shoot along, so may enable you to fit in more than you could otherwise with a portrait or landscape, especially where you are just struggling to fit in the elements of your subject that you want to include in the frame.

When adding a diagonal tilt, it should be significant enough that it doesn’t look accidental, as a shot just a few degrees off being level with the horizon will feel like a mistake to the viewer. Also, use this technique sparingly – a whole set of images taken at extreme angles will reduce the impact of the effect and it quickly becomes tiring for the viewer. Also consider how the images will be used or displayed – would an angled shot work in that format? If in doubt, take additional shots in portrait and/or landscape formats too.

Flattering your subject

Often, your aim is to show your subject at their very best. One angle that works for almost everyone is to shoot from about 45 degrees above their eye level, with their body facing slightly away from the camera and their face turned back towards the lens. In general, bigger eyes are considered more beautiful. When we look up, our eyes are opened to their fullest, creating the illusion that they are bigger. In addition, it’s common for people to consider their eyes to be their most attractive feature. This angle – combined with a wide open aperture – places all the attention on the subject’s eyes, while body parts they may not be so keen on are either out of the shot completely, blurred in the background or just not the focus of the image.