Table of Contents
I would say that my #1 piece of advice is to get down low to the ground.
And no matter how many times I say it, whenever I teach a workshop or a lesson, I usually STILL need to tell the student to get low. Nope, lower than that. Keep going.
You may need to be lying on your belly, or crouching over your camera if you have a flip-out screen. The important thing is to (almost always) get down low.
I know there’s a long lesson coming up, with several topics… because I cannot stress the importance of getting down low to the ground enough.
Take a look at the photos below.
Which one connects you with the dog more? (okay, Journey’s expression in one is TERRIBLE)
Which one gives you more of a sense of “place”?
Which one FEELS like a more interesting photo?
These were all taken at the EXACT same location. I didn’t move, I simply got closer to the ground!
I think it goes without saying that the perspective or angle at which we take our photos can determine whether they are impactful portraits with a sense of depth and context… or not. It can determine how majestic our dog looks, how connected we are with the dog, how powerful they come across, and can often separate a professional-feeling photo from an amateur one.
Have a look at just how low I get while taking a photo of Loki…
Portrait Photos / Portraiture
In general, for our portrait-style shoots, we want to focus on including a soft blurred foreground in our image. This helps to give a sense of depth and perspective, and to really place the dog within the scene. These layers can really help our images feel more 3D, and invite our viewers into them. !
Our subjects need to have presence. If you’re here,I can only assume it’s because you’ve moved beyond taking happy snaps of your pet, and want to create something beautiful, with presence. Maybe you want to find your style, and make something that could be powerful, or emotive, dramatic, intense, or joyful. In any case, I would argue that our subjects always need to have some kind of presence in the scene, whether it’s a close-up headshot, or they are amongst a mountain range. Without presence, we may as well continue scrolling.
Even just slight changes in height and angle can affect this feeling of presence and depth.
Some people recommend you try to be at the level of the dog’s eyes… but I’d go one step further and say you should be at the level of their elbow, at the highest. Most of the time, my camera is about 10cm off the ground, unless there’s a lot of foreground & bushes.
You can play with the angle and perspective. Sometimes shooting straight across works better, sometimes shooting with your lens angled upward works better.
I’m always trying to achieve a balance between the amount of blurry foreground in the image, and the rest of the scene. Getting low doesn’t mean you need 1/3 of your image to be blurry foreground!
Below are two sets of two very similar photos in terms of mood, location, lighting and so on, but to me one of them definitely feels like you are more drawn into the scene, that you have a sense of the whole scene, and of Loki or Journey’s presence within the scene.
Notice how that bit of extra foreground blur just adds an extra element of depth to the scene.
This concept applies equally to Phone photos, as well as wider-angle lenses… however! You may need to play around a little more to get the perfect angle, as going too low can look a bit comical and strange with wider angle lenses. The photo examples below: one taken higher, or the normal angle I see many new photographers using, and one getting very low, were all taken with my iPhone 11.
How low do I need to be though, really?
This really depends a lot on the foreground and even on the camera and lens you’re using.
My camera which hasn’t articulating screen, for example, means I don’t have to (myself) get quite so low, however my camera is usually still very close to the ground.
In order to achieve this we may need to lie on our belly, kneel down on hands and knees, be on all fours with our elbows and knees on the ground, crouch down with one knee on the ground and the other up – you’ll see that I do this quite often because of my screen.
We may be able to sit cross-legged and really lean forward if you’re flexible enough. I’ve even seem people lying on their back and kind of twisting forward, so it really depends on the situation, the location and exactly what you’re trying to achieve.
As long as you’re focusing on the foreground and the dog having a sense of presence, that is the most important thing.
As you look at the images below, think about how you may have been positioned when taking your most recent photos. Have a look through some recent photos and ask yourself: is the dog powerful? Do you have a sense of the scene? Are there layers to the image? Do you get a sense of the dog’s size and presence?
Could you be even lower?
Other Creative Options?
Of course there are a lot of other creative ways that you may want to pose your subject, so how high or how low you need to be is really relevant to the kind of mood and aesthetic that you’re going for.
If you want your dog really towering over you then you’re going to need to be quite low. I would however, caution that in most cases being slightly above your dog is usually not the most flattering angle, or the most impressive.
It doesn’t really tell a story and it doesn’t really do much to enhance our images at all.
In general it’s better to err on the side of being slightly lower, assuming that the dog still has catchlight in their eyes, so whether you have them posed somewhere interesting or doing something interesting it usually works better in our favour if we are lower rather than higher.
I can’t really think of very many examples except for the overhead shots where I would want to be taking photos of my dogs from a higher perspective.