A Matter of Perspective

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If you've ever flown over the Grand Canyon or Rocky mountains at 35,000 feet, you already know how humbling and enlightening this experience can be. Tall mountains appear small, almost flush to the plains leading up to them. The grandiosity of the Grand Canyon is equally diminished when viewed from high above.  The Rockies and Grand Canyon viewed from ground level appear immense and unconquerable, yet from high above these same geological wonders simply blend into the textures and patterns of the overall landscape. As with most things in life, how we see them is often a matter of perspective.

Over the course of the past few months I've been toying with the macro settings common to most all point-and-shoot (P&S) digicams. Because of the optical qualities of shorter focal length lenses (a typical 'normal' lens on a P&S digicam is usually in the neighborhood of 7-8mm), P&S cameras can focus closer than the normal lenses found on larger-format cameras. Shorter focal lengths also afford you greater depth-of-field, even at wider apertures. In my book this translates into new ways of photographing the same-old, same-old.

I first caught onto this perspective of shooting when writing the 'Splash-cams' article a few issues back in the B&H Photo Newsletter. I thought it was amazing how easy it was to capture dramatic close-up images of what we usually look upon as mundane subjects, especially when they're half submerged in water. Clover growing on a neighbor's lawn is ho-hum until you get down on your hands and knees and view them from the perspective of a chipmunk. Ditto dandelions.

It wasn't long before I began taking pictures of ground-level subjects where the sky meets earth, which once you get past the grass stains on your knees and elbows can be quite fascinating from a photographic point-of-view.

The macro abilities of digicams are most dramatic when taken with a wider-angle lens. The photographs that illustrate this article were taken with a Canon G10, an Olympus Tough 8000, and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1, all of which zoom out to the equivalency of 28mm lens (about 78° AOV). I mention these specific cameras because their zooms back out wider than the more typical 35-38mm equivalent (62-ish° AOV) focal ranges found in most point-and-shoot digicams. And while you can capture (somewhat) similar images using optics in the 35-38mm range, the pictures they produce often lack that extra bit of drama afforded by wider-angle lenses.

Semi-submerged with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 (left) and Olympus Tough-8000 (right)
Roadside with a Canon G10
Groundhog buffet. Clover at ground-level with a Canon G10

If you're not into grass stained knees and/or crawling through the brush in search of interesting pictures, be assured it's possible to add touches of creativity to your photographs without soiling your garments or taxing your back and knees. The act of removing the camera from your eyes is the first step.

By zooming the camera to it's widest focal length and clicking on the camera's macro settings, it's possible to take 'portraits' of the flowers in their surroundings that have a far different feel about them compared to the garden variety (pun-intended) eye-level pictures of flowers we tend to take. (If your camera has an articulated LCD you will now be putting it to good use.)

This is an interesting approach to photographing many subjects, and with a bit of practice it's easy to figure out what the camera lens is seeing even when holding the camera in a position where the LCD isn't viewable. This is called shooting by feel, or as journalists refer to it, shooting from the hip. Regardless of what you call it, once you can 'palm' your camera and intuitively know what the camera lens is seeing you can start taking truly creative imagery. And since you're shooting digitally it costs you nothing but your time to play around and learn a few new tricks.

The pictures below were taken by 'feel', that is, they were captured by setting the camera to its widest position and hovering the camera around the flowers similar to how a bee approaches and hover around the same flowers when hunting for pollen. Rather than being bit-players in the overall landscape, the flowers take on personalities of their own.

Macro flower portraits taken with 'hovering' Canon G10 (and a Polarizing filter!)

The point of all of the above is that if you approach picture-taking from angles other than the easy-to-fall-into, eye-level, camera-to-the-eye, or these days arms-distance shooting, it doesn't take that much extra effort to elevate the level of your imagery to a higher creative plane.