Six feet up is bad?

©Neil Turner, October 2000. Oxford.

©Neil Turner, October 2000. Oxford.

This was first published in the Autumn of 2000 on the DP Review website as a follow-up to a review I did of the original Canon G1 Powershot

It is very easy to hold the camera to your eye and take a picture. Good photography requires us all to think about where we are taking the picture from as well as what we are taking. The best photographs are made when the photographer chooses a vantage point to suit the subject, and it is surprising how few subjects are suited by the height of a human standing at their full five to six feet. This is compounded by the fact that when someone views the image they will see pretty much what they themselves would have taken because they haven’t been told about bending your knees or climbing a ladder to shoot better pictures.

It is no accident that many of the world’s best photographers wear denims most of the time, and I take pride in the fact that I spend so much of my time kneeling that I have “housemaids knee”. Sooner or later I will end up flat on my face or up on a chair to give something extra to a composition – namely a point of view that the person looking at the image would not have seen themself.

This image was shot in the beautiful University City of Oxford on a Canon G1 using the swivel LCD to get the camera at ground level without having to lie in the dirt myself. The lens was less that two inches from the cobble stones and this ultra low angle gives the image a dynamic quality that would have been missing had I been standing at my full five foot ten inches. The photograph is different from most pictures taken of this tourist magnet and I’m sure that my antics were the reason for the puzzled look on the passer by’s face.

My point is that when you get your camera out think about the height of the lens. If you end up shooting from a standing position, well that’s OK – but I will lay good money that 90% of pictures are better when taken from below four feet or over seven.

One comment

  1. I don’t think even housemaids get housemaid’s knee any more, what with Dyson super suction cleaners and Vileda Supermops.

    I have much admiration for cleaners in India who spend hours with their tushes only inches from the floor, knees deeply bent and smiles for the world.

    As for taking pictures at one height, I was at a talk once given by a portraitist who took everything with his Hasselblad at chest height.

    Someone in the audience pointed out how poor a photographer that indicated he was.

    It was a stinging remark and it has stayed with me whenever I get a little voice in my head that asks ‘But what about converging verticals?’


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