How to use different shooting angles in stock photography

Found in: Photo Tips
Apr 05 2013
by Pratik Panda

As a stock photographer, you surely spend a lot of time understanding how to get the lighting and composition perfect for all your photos. There are many articles on the internet with a number of composition tips. One of the common tips is to “shoot from an unusual angle” to make a shot attractive, which, metaphorically, makes us get under the table to shoot a dish kept on the table. If executed poorly, this approach can often give us a unsatisfactory result, instead of a compelling one. To link interesting shooting angles, human psychology, and stock photos, you can photograph a subject from 3 different comparative heights: from below the subject, from above the subject, and from the same level as the subject. Most of the “unusual angle” styles are covered by these three positions.

Shooting from a height lower than the subject

This is the angle you go for when you want to make something look influential, majestic, dominating, powerful, and admirable. Shooting a roaring lion from the ground level (camera lying on the ground) or a political leader during a public speech can be good examples of using this angle. The human mind instinctively recognizes the subjects as dominating and powerful when they are shot from below. You could try positioning the setting sun just behind the lion’s head, if possible.

Stock photography: shooting from a height lower than the subject
Photo by Sarah Cheriton-Jones

Shooting from the same height as the subject

This usually makes the viewer think of the subject as friendly, trustworthy, sociable, and of equal standards and influence. For example, a smiling businessman extending a hand towards the viewer in a stock photo should be at the same height as the photographer. A lower level would make the businessman seem insignificant, and positioning his head at a higher level would make him look almost patronizing and unfriendly. The images taken at the same height are typically used for marketing purposes, so the viewer would feel welcome and unthreatened.

Stock photography: shooting from the same height as the subject
Photo by Yuri Arcurs

Shooting from a height higher than the subject

This tends to make the viewer feel like the subject is under his or her control and less influential. As an example, this angle could be used with glamour and fashion photography. A beautiful girl photographed from a higher level than her head, looking towards the camera with appropriate facial expression, can instinctively attract attention of male viewers (based on the fact that males usually want to be dominant).

Stock photography: shooting from a height higher than the subject
Photo by Ronnie Patrick

Your viewers and buyers are humans, and their actions are governed by psychology. If you understand what their mind would make them pick, you can come up with a very efficient portfolio.

You could try some other “unusual” angles, as well, but, of course, within certain limits. For example, shooting birds flying almost vertically below you, from a cliff or a watch-tower can produce some “unusual” imagery because we usually look upwards to see a flying bird. Your favourite orange juice sitting on a table on the beach might look better if you lie down and shoot it from below with coconut trees in the background, rather than the usual ocean-and-sand background. You could probably also manage to get to a level higher than a giraffe’s head and shoot a close-up of its head turned towards you, body blurred as background.

These are some styles of shooting that usually produce striking and influential images with little competition from people who rely on luck and random “unusual” angles. I still remember a photographer who had trying to shoot an “unusual” photo of the Gateway of India. He positioned himself just below the arch of the huge stone gateway and photographed the flat rock face directly above him. I still don’t understand how anyone would ever know which monument the subject really was.

You can, and you always should, try out your own experiments, but it always pays to stick to a set of psychological standards even though photographing according to them can be a challenge. It is certainly worth the effort.

Guest writer: Pratik Panda

Pratik Panda is a professional photographer working with Dreamstime stock photography. You can view his portfolio here:

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