How low can you go...

Too often when I'm out in the field I see photographers at the edge of a pond or lake, or in the middle of a field and they are standing up right with their tripods extended looking basically down on their subjects. Sure their images are tack sharp but they always seem to lack something... to me..its that intimate perspective that you achieve when you are down at the subjects level.

Depth of Field is a key element in photography. When I first started wildlife photography there were a number of people in the industry that I aimed to be like... To capture images the way they did. One day I sat down and stared at their photos trying to figure out what it was that I liked about their images... What made them different? Then it hit me. It was the extreme low point of view that they had captured their images at. So that is what I set out to do. Whenever possible I would get as low to the ground as I could to get to the subjects level.

Getting low has many advantages. One of the main advantages is that the background will be at a great distance and in turn should create a more pleasing look. I put this illustration together to show what I mean. 

As you can see the angle that the photographer stand up is shooting at will create an image with the ground as the background. Since the subject to ground distance is very short it will in most cases cause an undesirable background and won't be as out of focus as we would like. Looking at the photographer laying down you can see that the background in his image will be the distant grassy patch. Since the depth of field is so great the background created will be much more desirable and pleasing to look at.

Here is an example from the field (funny enough I had a hard time finding a shot where I wasn't laying down at that low angle) and truthfully even the shot shown below wasn't shot standing completely up right either but I think it illustrates my point. 

These shots where taking last year in Terrenceville when I came upon a Killdeer (an uncommon species to the island) feeding on a grassy field down by the ocean. In the first image you can see I was not laying down low enough to create that distance between the subject and BG. 

In the second image you can clearly see I was able to get a lower which create a much more desirable BG.

Depending on the environment getting down to your subjects level isn't always possible. I often find using a tripod limits the ability to get the extreme low angle I desire. So 90% of the time I shot without one. When I do I use my Sirui R-3203 Carbon Fiber Tripod which has no center column allowing the tripod to get very low to the ground.

An advantage of not using the tripod is that it will allow you to get even lower and gives you the ability to create a beautiful out of focus foreground (if the elements are there to do so). In the two images below you can see that in the second image I lowered the camera even further into the surrounding grass to create this creamy smooth surrounding which helped make the subject stand out even more.

Depth of field is an interesting element to play with in photography as it can dramatically change how an image looks. I prefer the lowest angle/point of view possible but that role can change when certain elements are in play..for example water...tomorrow I will talk a little bit about how a slight adjustment in your angle or point of view can give you a different result in that type of situation...

I hope you find this information useful in your pursuit of that perfect image...