Developing Your Creative Artistic Vision with Jim Zuckerman

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All photos and text © Jim Zuckerman, all rights reserved worldwide. No form of reproduction or usage - including copying, altering, or saving of digital image and text files - is permitted without the express written permission of Jim Zuckerman and BetterPhoto.com.

Lesson #7: Creative Perspectives

MS-4151
MS-4151
Cavalier King Charles spaniel
© Jim Zuckerman
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Over the years, my involvement in photography has taught me to see. I can't imagine how blind I must have been when I was young, because seeking out great photographic opportunities has really opened my eyes to the artistry that surrounds us on a daily basis.

One of the ways in which I look for new picture opportunities is to shoot from interesting and unusual perspectives. Once you discover that there are new and unique ways of looking at the world, you will start to see many possibilities. Your creative potential will be stretched, and the ways in which you normally think about composing pictures will take a new turn.

Shooting Downward
We normally look for subject matter at eye level, and indeed that's where most of it is. However, one of the ways that you can start to expand your vision is by shooting straight downward. This point of view is unexpected, and it's a visual surprise, so to speak. Subjects that work with this technique are tremendously varied.

For example, I often talk about photographing small children from eye level because it makes an intimate portrait and gives us a peek inside their world. When you stand and shoot a child, the height differential implies you are an observer rather than someone who is really connecting with the child. However, if the downward angle is severe, as in MS-5232, the unique perspective makes the child look very small and vulnerable. In FW-401, I stood over the young boy and made the back of the camera parallel with the ground. I filled the frame with nothing but the pattern of the leaves for maximum impact.

MS-5232
MS-5232
Little Indonesian girl, Nashville, Tennessee
© Jim Zuckerman
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FW-401
FW-401
Young boy in autumn leaves, Tennessee
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-3646
MS-3646
The Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
© Jim Zuckerman
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Another example of shooting straight down is this picture taken at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, MS-3646. I was on a cliff above the Colorado River with no railing, looking straight down 3000 feet to the river. I hate heights, especially with nothing between me and oblivion, but I swallowed my fear to get this shot. You can tell that the camera's angle was pointing down at such a severe angle because this was a wide angle lens and there is very little of the sky seen in the picture.

MS-741
MS-741
Fisherman at sunrise, Guilin, China
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-5756
MS-5756
© Jim Zuckerman
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FO-4491
FO-4491
© Jim Zuckerman
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I took photo MS-741 from a bridge in China, looking straight down as boats passed under the bridge. I also used a bridge to get this shot of a beautiful river in New Zealand, MS-5756 by shooting downward. To get the shot of the large rock surrounded by dry brush in the Western Sierras, FO-4491, I used a 21mm equivalent lens (I used a Mamiya 7 medium format camera and a 43mm lens) looking down on the rock. The way the vegetation looks like it is angled away from the rock, creating an 'island' effect, is due solely to the combination of my lens and the downward angle of shooting. It didn't look this good to my eyes.

FO-3109
FO-3109
Morpho butterfly, Peru
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-737
MS-737
Marine iguanas in love, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
© Jim Zuckerman
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I took the photo of the morpho butterfly, FO-3109, shooting straight downward, and in the photo of the marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands, MS-737, I used a downward angle from the height of a tripod with extended legs.

On the technical side, when you angle the camera downward, if it is not parallel with the ground or floor you will have depth of field issues. Therefore, a small lens aperture is important if you want to maintain sharpness throughout the composition. In the picture of the iguanas, the camera was oblique to the reptiles as they lay on sloping lava. I used f/32 to get complete depth of field. The shutter speed was a surprising one full second, but when reptiles are cold (this was taken in the early morning) they don't move.

MS-483
MS-483
Brugge, Belgium
© Jim Zuckerman
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FO-2741
FO-2741
Procession of the Holy Blood, Brugge, Belgium
© Jim Zuckerman
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Photo MS-483 was a downward shot from the top of the Belfry in Brugge, Belgium. I climbed the tower just to get the lofty view. Also in Brugge, I happened to be there when an annual parade was taking place, FO-2741, and I asked a shopkeeper if I could go upstairs to get some shots from the second story. He agreed, and I had the best view in the city of the colorful procession.

MS-7377
MS-7377
Autumn foliage blanketed with low clouds, Owl's Head, Vermont
© Jim Zuckerman
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In northern Vermont, I walked the short trail to Owl's Head, a rock outcropping 2000 feet above the forest below to photograph the spectacular 'lollipop effect' in late Sept., MS-7377. Filling the frame with the color from this downward perspective is what makes the picture so dramatic, but note also the beautiful lighting. A good perspective is not enough; lighting and compositional design are crucial as well.

MS-7430
MS-7430
Wide angle view of door, Western Ireland
© Jim Zuckerman
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xFO-4335
FO-4335
© Jim Zuckerman
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Note how interesting the graphic design of this beautiful door is that I shot in Ireland, MS-7430, with a wide angle. I was standing right in front of it shooting downward. In Calcutta, India, I shot down on a flower seller, photo FO-4335, for a dramatic composition.

When shooting tide pools at the beach, many of the creatures that live in the shallow water can be composed artfully when shooting straight downward. Photos MS-3996 shows five bat stars in the tidal zone, and the back of the camera was virtually parallel with the sand when I shot this. On a black sand beach in New Zealand, I leaned over and shot downward on iridescent bubbles reflecting me in each one, photo MS-3848.

3996
MS-3996
Bat stars, Big Sur, California
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-3848
MS-3848
© Jim Zuckerman
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Upward Angles
The opposite perspective also yields great shots. Looking up and shooting can give you very strong, graphic designs. I'm not talking about angling the camera a little bit like you're shooting a distant bird in a tree. I'm suggesting that you really shoot straight up or a least close to that kind of severe angle.

MS-732
MS-732
Autumn foliage, New Hampshire
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-8174
MS-8174
Sheefrey Forest, County Mayo, Ireland
© Jim Zuckerman
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I took photo MS-732 in New Hampshire with a wide angle lens. I wasn't lying on my back - I was just standing in the forest looking straight up. I did a similar thing in an ancient forest in Ireland with photo MS-8174. The problem here was that it was lightly raining and the water drops fell onto the lens. After every shot I had to dry the lens.

MS-8166
MS-8166
European poppy held against the sun, central Turkey
© Jim Zuckerman
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In the case of photo MS-8166, I held the poppy above eye level and shot upward with the sun right behind the flower to take advantage of the strong backlighting.

One of the most dramatic types of pictures to take is in the huge cavernous rooms in cathedrals, ancient temples, and mosques where you use an extreme wide angle. Shooting up at the remarkable artwork on the ceiling and columns is always a stunning shot, as in photos MS-8067(the Blue Mosque in Istanbul), MS-793 (the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain), and MS-3112(the Temple of Dendera, Egypt).

MS-8067
MS-8067
Ceiling detail and giant column, Blue Mosque, early 17th century,Istanbul, Turkey
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-793
MS-793
Cathedral in the Mezquita, Cordoba, Spain
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-3112
MS-3112
Temple of Dendera, Egypt
© Jim Zuckerman
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Similar to shooting this kind of architecture is photographing modern skyscrapers. Upward angles are incredibly dramatic, as in the stunning Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, photo MS-8247 and in the awesome statue of Christ on Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, FO-4192. I used Photoshop to replace the original sky with a picture taken from a commercial jetliner at 35,0000 feet.

MS-8247
MS-8247
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malasia
© Jim Zuckerman
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FO-4192
FO-4192
The statue of Christ, Corcovado Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
© Jim Zuckerman
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You can also photograph people from a low perspective for a dramatic look. For example, I got down low to shoot up at two Maasai girls in Kenya, MS-3670, and in Venice, I used a 16mm lens and shot from ground level up at the model in MS-6885. Notice how she is somewhat elongated and how dramatic the stunning doors behind her look. I used the same lens and the same angle when I shot photo MS-6823.

MS-3670
MS-3670
Maasai girls, Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-6885
MS-6885
Carnival in Venice
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-6823
MS-6823
Carnival in Venice
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-5152
MS-5152
Tiger sand shark
© Jim Zuckerman
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A very dramatic example of how powerful upward angles can be is this picture of a shark in the world-class aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, MS-5152. This is an exhibit where the fish and sharks are swimming right above you - just 4 feet from the camera - and amazing shots can be taken just like you are underwater. Using Photoshop, I added the background taken in a large pool in Sea World.

MS-4851
MS-4851
Fire belly toad, California
© Jim Zuckerman
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When I took a photo of a fire belly toad, MS-4851, I wanted to emphasize the remarkable ventral side so I placed the amphibian on a sheet of glass and positioned myself beneath it. I made sure the piece of glass was perfectly clean and shot upward to produce a very unique view.
Getting Low
An extremely low point of view is a visual surprise, especially when the subject is very small and close to the ground. It can be very uncomfortable to shoot from ground level, especially as it forces your neck to bend in ways nature never intended, but the payoff can be worth the pain! Sometimes, if you have control over the subject, you can position it such that it can be photographed from a low level without hurting yourself.

MS-4151
MS-4151
Cavalier King Charles spaniel
© Jim Zuckerman
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Let me show you some examples. I photographed a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, MS-4151, laying on a sofa from about a foot and a half off the floor. This kind of eye-to-eye intimate portrait is a powerful way to photograph an animal. When I took the picture of a cross fox in Montana, photo MS-6670, I was lying on my stomach in the snow. Note that the fox had climbed the fallen tree, so it is slightly above my shooting position. When you can make an animal that is so close to the ground appear to have greater stature like this, it is especially compelling. The wolverine in photo MS-6686 was also taken while I was lying in the snow.

MS-6670
MS-6670
Cross Fox, Montana
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-6686
MS-6686
Wolverine, Montana
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-664
MS-664
Extreme closeup of a moth
© Jim Zuckerman
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I photographed this moth, MS-664 with a special microscope lens, and this is especially unique because insects are so small that we never see them from this kind of perspective.

MS-1311
MS-1311
Red eye tree frog, Costa Rica
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-673
MS-673
Columbine flower against the sun, Michigan
© Jim Zuckerman
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The red eye tree frog, MS-1311, also shows an unexpected viewpoint. When I placed the columbine flower against the sun, MS-673, I was lying on the ground with the legs of my tripod spread out (I cut off the center column) so the camera and ball head were just a few inches above the dirt. Look for subjects that are close to the ground and get as low as possible to photograph them, and you will end up with some amazing pictures.

Aerial Perspectives
If you want to spend the money to hire small planes to do aerial photography, it can be extremely rewarding. I've hired fixed wing four- and six-seat planes, hot air balloons, helicopters, and even an ultralight when I was in Africa. To be honest, I hate flying, but I do it because the images are so amazing. Landforms and colors become artistic and very graphic from a great height.

If you rent a fixed wing plane, make sure that it is a 'high wing', meaning the wing is above the windows, not below them. This gives you a clear shot of the ground below. On some six-seater planes, the side door can be removed so you have unobstructed views

MS-4345
MS-4345
Hot air ballons, Albuquerque Baloon Fiesta, New Mexico
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-2014
MS-2014
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-487
MS-487
© Jim Zuckerman
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MS-7525
MS-7525
Manhattan at sunset
© Jim Zuckerman
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Photo MS-4345 was shot from another hot air balloon, MS-2014 was taken from a fixed wing plane I chartered in Tahiti, and MS-487 was taken of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro from a helicopter. You can see what unique and exciting views await you from the air. In this pre-911 shot of New York, photo MS-7525, I arranged to hire the plane just before sunset to take advantage of the beautiful lighting. This kind of reflection can't be seen from ground level.

Your Assignment: Creative Perspectives

Upload 3 to 5 photos showing one or more of the creative perspectives described in the lesson. Make sure that you don't forget about the other aspects that make good photography, like lighting, composition, compelling subject matter, etc. Without these things, a great perspective won't give you a great picture.

Submit your 3 to 5 images to the Campus Square by %%assignmentDueDate%%.

As always, anytime you need an answer, don't hesitate to ask your question in our online Q&A forum.

Have fun!

Jim

All photos and text © Jim Zuckerman, all rights reserved worldwide. No form of reproduction or usage - including copying, altering, or saving of digital image and text files - is permitted without the express written permission of Jim Zuckerman and BetterPhoto.com.