Nevada Wier - chop

Angling for a View
Your Pictures Come Alive When You
Change Your Perspective

Reprinted from Escape Magazine

By Nevada Wier


Dancers, Raqchi, Peru

I'm currently in the process of weeding through 10 years of accumulated slides, heaving into the trash poorly exposed and out-of-focus but mainly just boring, ho-hum images. The majority were taken with a “normal” lens (50-100mm), straight on--the most common, and dull, vantage point. The subject of a photo has to be paparazzi material to pack any punch from this static perspective.

As a result, my midrange lens collects cobwebs in my camera bag and my back aches from the contortions my body goes through to find a different angle on the world. To give an image graphic impact and a personal interpretation, I try to stretch the limits of my equipment, bones and imagination.

Doing that requires going beyond the initial, obvious photo. I consider the first photographic temptation just a visual warm-up for explorations to follow. I'll then play around with different lenses, apertures and viewpoints, hoping for the winning mix of personal interest and creative perspective.

Floating Market, Phung Hiep, Vietnam

One of the most powerful ways to achieve a fresh look is by varying the angle of a shot from the same old straight-on approach, finding new, unusual points of view. Point of view is the angle you choose; style is the manner in which you depict it.

To create new views, try shooting from up above a subject, low to the ground or even through someone's legs. You'll be amazed how much more drama and snap your pictures have when you take people inside the action with novel viewpoints. Aiming up at your subject (from a squatting position or even lying on the ground) expands the image, implying grandeur and power. Shooting from above (standing on a chair or a roof) can diminish a subject or isolate it for a stronger composition.

You can express style with the lens you choose and how you frame your subject. My choice often is a lens that widens the playing field, the Canon17-35mm. The wide-angle is the most versatile and challenging lens in your repertoire. It allows you to create a much richer, deeper composition, accentuating, dramatizing and cinemascoping your image. You can fit several stories within one frame, on in the foreground, another in the rear. You get more animation and depth, creating a dimensionality that lifts your picture out of the flat-earth society.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Dimensionality is a key element to quality graphic images. By using the right lens, camera angle and proximity to a subject, you can control the size relationships between the foreground and background elements in a picture. A classic example is making a small rock in the foreground larger than a mountain in the back by shooting up close with a 20mm lens. You can do the same thing with documentary images, capturing flour-stained hands kneading dough in the foreground while someone in the back places loaves in an oven.

“Layering” a photo, or having different dimensions of interest, creates a more complex, intriguing image. Too often we only shoot one plane of vision, one subject, such as a portrait or an evening landscape. It's difficult to capture two layers, or subjects, of action--three or four are even more challenging. I find it easier to do this with the wide-angle, but it can be achieved with any lens.

Sister's Meal Festival, Shidong, China

You can also create new perspectives in your photography by shooting only part of a subject. Sometimes that involves photographically decapitating a person, turning him around or focusing on a specific body part or clothing detail to evoke a mood or a cultural idiosyncrasy. I don't believe you have to see someone's face to make a portrait--or statement. I feel comfortable arranging the world (in a respectful and sensitive manner) to fit my creative vision. I often have to some in closer, perhaps taking a social risk. Choreographing our subjects allows us to graduate from picture takers to image creators.

When we photograph deliberately, intuitively and creatively, we become the producers and directors of what we record. This is when we step beyond objective chronicling and infuse a little bit of soul into our images, shifting from mere passersby to participants in the photographic process.

Nevada Wier is author of Adventure Travel Photography.

© 1998 Nevada Wier and Escape Magazine