Behind the Scenes! Getting Low Comparisons!

Recently while out shooting, I decided to create a lot more examples for this lesson, since it seems to me that no matter how much I say to get down low, people don’t understand how low I really mean.

What I did on this walk, therefore, was to take three photos at each location:

  • standing up
  • kneeling down taking the photo at “eye level”
  • and having my camera at its normal height off the ground, which you will see in the video.

Of course in some examples, there isn’t TOO much difference between kneeling and being right on the floor…. but for me, the floor version always has more depth and more presence.

In these examples, I was mostly using my 85mm lens, or 135mm lens,  but I would have been close to the ground with any lens!

I’ve tried to edit them more or less the same so nobody can claim there’s any trickery going on with making one look better than another through editing! All are just extremely quick edits in Lightroom. You just have to ignore Journey’s expressions in the “up high” ones. He is sensitive to pressure and if I keep asking him for attention, it doesn’t work. So better to save asking for his attention for the “good” photos.


Kneeling/”Eye Level”

Down Low

Action & Candids

Candids & Action Photos

For the most part, candid photos and action photos still require us to be low to the ground so that we can get that soft for foreground in.

However if you are doing photos of say disc dogs or agility dogs or dogs who are kind of in the air you may then need to lift your camera higher in order to track them so you just follow them up as high as they go. 

So it really depends on the effect you’re going for. By seeing no ground and pointing the camera higher, they will have the sense of being higher… but sometimes having the ground gives us context as to their height!

The photos below are variations of “leaping” photos. For some, the drama comes from perceived height: they are so high we can’t even see the ground.

For a few others, the drama comes from seeing the ground and having that extra layer with the blurry foreground. We get more of a sense of their place in that space and how they’re moving through it. 


Otherwise in general we still need to be trying to keep a sense of the space and of the size of the dog and we can do that by being nice and low.

However we also need to be conscious of not cutting our dogs ears off or having them get too close to the top of the frame which can be quite a challenge in candid shots where they are moving around and you’re trying to track them. 

So just try and keep them more less in the centre of the frame. You may just need to lie on your belly so that you’re forced to stay down low.

Plenty of examples below of different kinds of movement or candid photos.

Head and Shoulders

Head and shoulder portraits obviously don’t require you to be quite as low, but still aim to be no higher than the dog’s eye level – and this is possibly even lower than you would think! 

It’s still worth getting some foreground or surrounding foliage for context and to really place the dog in the scene. Finding a place where you can frame the photo with some leaves, flowers or other bushes can help create the depth we are aiming for in more “artistic” portraits.

Notice how all of these photos feel like you’re looking directly AT, or slightly up at the subject. We have a real sense of being on the dog’s level.

Times to NOT Get Low?

It is up to you to analyse the location you’re shooting in, the pose your dog is in, the background, and the story you want to tell, in order to determine how high or low you want to be.  In general, we should aim to be quite low – enough that we have a foreground layer of some description, however it may not be enough to apply a blanket rule to all images that one should simply “get down low.”

After all, we can be taking:

  • Portrait photos
  • Candids
  • Action
  • Head/shoulders
  • Puppy-dog-eyes/looking down from above
  • Dog on an object
  • Other creative options

Every situation will need you to analyse how low or what perspective you use. There’s no mathematical formula.

Look at your scene.

Is there a horizon cutting through the head? Change your angle. Does this mean the dog suddenly has no legs? Maybe you need to break the rules and get higher.

Is the dog up or down a hill? Does your angle and perspective cut their back legs in half, making them look stumpy? Can you change your angle, their pose, or their position on the hill?

Cutting a dog doesn’t end at cutting through them with the edge of a photo (more on this in the Composition lessons coming up next!) – although it’s less important to see all the toes and paws amongst moss and bushes – but be conscious of how your angle can make the dog look like it has no legs or body, or makes a horizon cut through the head, and adjust accordingly. If you need to get slightly higher to make sure the dog doesn’t look stubby, but this means you have no foreground – I would rather do this. We want the dog to look its best, not the foreground. I can always add an overlay or make a panorama if I want that foreground effect

Similarly, if the photo ISN’T all about the dog, but it a harmony of dog and landscape, then you may need to break the “get down low” rule completely, to work with the shapes and elements in that landscape and to actually SHOW the landscape, where getting down low may hide most of the good stuff!

These images needed quite different considerations when it came to the height at which I held the camera. The image to the left needed me to be very low to get any kind of foreground to to the flat, open nature of the snow. The image to the right required me to be higher, and in fact to cut off much of the dog’s legs. To be any lower would have meant half an image full of dark grass, and probably the dog’s face covered by the sparkly tops of the grass. What I’m saying is that by making conscious choices about where we position our camera, our images will make more sense. 

And of course, the type of foreground you have in your image (whether bushy or open) is also a stylistic choice.


Puppy dog eyes/looking down from above

These photos work best with a wider-angle lens, unless you’re really tall – although I have taken them with my 85mm before, but then I’m usually standing on a stump or a hill.

They work best when you aren’t directly overhead of the dog but overhead enough that they’re looking up at you, with a good amount of catchlight in their eyes but not so much that it overwhelms the eye with the reflection of the sky and the trees above, making it turn completely white.

It will just take some experimentation and practise to find the perfect overhead angle for these types of shots.

In these photos, I don’t think it’s necessary to have context or foreground. They work best as the dog alone, though it doesn’t hurt to have some vaguely interesting ground colour/texture to add some visual interest. You can also find frames of leaves or branches that surround your dog, for something a bit extra.

Notice how most of the dogs here are sitting. It’s really difficult to not cut off parts of a dog if they’re standing or lying down. Check out the few photos below where they aren’t sitting – the composition just doesn’t really work.

Dog on a log/hill/bench/raised surface

A point to be careful of, is having the dog on some kind of raised surface – such as a log, bench, stump, rock and so on. If we get too low in this situation, the dog will have to look down to see us, which blocks the light from the sky from hitting their face (meaning their face is dark) and because of this, they also may not have catchlights in their eyes.

It’s also possible that if you get down really low, the hill/log/whatever is going to block our view of their legs or body, causing them to look stumpy, like they either don’t have legs, or their legs are only half their length. This generally isn’t flattering.

For these shots, you may want to treat them similar to head and shoulders photos – be at eye level to them, or slightly lower. You may not be able to get a foreground layer from the ground because then you’ll just be too low. Having something else in the foreground (leaves, the log itself, the slats of the park bench, bushes) can help add extra depth to your image.

If you are not used to shooting with a low perspective, you may need to be slightly lower than you think! But remember, we probably don’t want our dog looking down! If you want to get them towering over you for artistic effect, have them looking off to the side, or up (like watching a bird) to keep their faces and eyes bright and well lit.

In each of the examples below, I was either NOT on the ground/down extremely low… and/or, if I was, the dog was looking up or up and to the side.


The other time you’ll need to be especially aware of how low you want to be is if you’re wanting to include the landscape in the photo.

Most of what I do is portraiture – that means, the photo is mostly about the dog, and it just happens to be in a pretty location. 

Dogs in landscapes places much more importance on the landscape, than I normally do in my type of photography. It aims to give the dog and landscape equal weight, or to harmoniously incorporate the dog into the landscape by using the shapes, negative space, light and dark tones, horizons, and so on, that are present in a landscape photo.

In these situations, you need to not only be aware of horizons cutting through the dog’s head or neck, but also: what is it you want to show your audience about this place?

For example. If I go to the beach, and I pose my dog on some rocks, and I get down so low that you can’t see the waves any more… then I might as well have not been at the beach in the first place. 

If I go to a dramatic field in the highlands, and get down so low that all you can see is grass, a hint of mountain, and sky…. then I might as well have just taken a photo in the dogpark at home. 

If you’re in a landscape and you get so low that you can’t see the most important part of the landscape… then you may want to reconsider your perspective in that location.

Below are some examples of some rare situations where I managed to take a photo both slightly higher, and slightly lower, in landscape situations. Keep in mind I am NOT primarily a landscape photographer, and many of these – especially in the mountains – were just to practise with my flash, rather than with the intention of creating a good photo. But I want you to look at how a change in perspective can change the scene in the background – not ALWAYS for the good, although in the case of the mountains, I’d say they almost all look more impressive and imposing when taken from slightly higher, as this allows them to LOOM over the subject.

Photos taken from slightly HIGHER are on the left, LOWER on the right. 

In the first two – yes, I know you can see more of the sky in the  photo from lower, but that’s more about the composition and how far to the right I took the photo, rather than the perspective.

These are almost all taken with the 85mm, or 35mm lenses. The very last example has the 85mm mm, then the 35mm for the “lower” version. In these examples, “low” probably isn’t anywhere near as low as I would normally go – because I would have already noticed this perspective wouldn’t work in this situation, and not even bothered to take a photo there.