I have been on the road for the last few weeks, first in Glacier NP and then in Lake Clark NP photographing bears. Both trips were incredible with fantastic photography. Lake Clark had lots of spring cubs this year, which always present some nice images. Our visit timed with very low tides, which meant we had a lot of bears clamming on the beach. During our workshop a great question came up about perspective and wildlife photography. We all know that getting down to eye level with your subject creates a more intimate view than standing tall and shooting from your tripod. But once you get low, say 2 feet off the ground, does it make much difference if you get even lower? To answer this I think the question is how important is the foreground in the image, how long is your lens, how tall is the bear off the ground, and how far away is it. Not a simple answer!
Here is spring cub taking a break from clamming. This cub is probably about one foot off the ground. I’m shooting at about two feet off the ground at 560mm. But since this cub is pretty far away, and I have a long telephoto lens, the difference between being one or two feet off the ground with my lens isn’t much. At longer focal lengths and more distance subjects the amount of foreground doesn’t change that much.
Now take a look at these two second year bears resting on the beach. This time I am closer, shooting at 400mm, and lying on the ground. My lens is about 6 inches off the ground. See the difference in the amount and look of the foreground in the image? By shooting so close to the ground the foreground is more pronounced. Most important is the lens is at eye level of the sleeping bear, giving you a very personal look at this bear.
I love the crossover between different genres of photography. Portrait photographers know eye level gives you a strong connection….above your subject puts you in the power position and minimizes your subject…and shooting from below your subject puts them in a position of power. Camera position, both for portraits and wildlife, should be determined by what you are trying to convey in the image.
Shooting eye level to your subject is a good practice, but every rule has exceptions and variations. I always evaluate the scene and decide exactly where I want my lens height to be, sometimes it might be two feet off the ground, other times very close to ground, and other times I might shoot from my tripod. Always remember to ask questions about what you are you are trying to convey in your photograph…don’t take the snapshot, but instead create a stunning photograph using good camera craft.