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Cambodia,  Friendly Friday,  Photographic techniques

Friendly Friday Challenge: think about your viewpoint

Photography is an art of observation. . . I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

Elliott Erwin

Before photographing your subject, it’s worth taking time to think about where you will shoot it from. Our viewpoint has a massive impact on the composition of our photo, and as a result it can greatly affect the message that the shot conveys. As well as shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a long way away, from very close up, and so on.

For this week’s Friendly Friday Challenge I’d like to share some examples of what I mean about the importance of thinking about your viewpoint before pressing the shutter.

The South Gate, Angkor Thom

It’s always worth moving a few steps away from the first position you select for a photo, just to explore other possibilities. When I posted a photo of the bridge at Angor Thom a few weeks ago Rusha commented ‘I loved that bridge but never thought to go off the bridge to capture the whole’. That’s exactly the idea I want to promote today.

The perhaps obvious thought when you first see that bridge was to photograph it from the road.

People walking towards a stone gate carved with a face
The bridge and south gate

But it’s probably impossible to do that without getting a lot of other tourists in the shot. Plus, you don’t see the detail of the carvings along the balustrade either side of the bridge, or of the magnificent South Gate at the far end.

My next shots were better. I concentrated on individual elements of the bridge. The statues of gods and demons; the face (probably) of King Jayavarman VII looking down at us from the gate; the view down to the moat. All of these help to build a picture of the bridge.

But I was still on the bridge. So next I tried some shots from the side, down on the bank of the moat. From there I could show the line of gods supporting the naga (a mythical multi-headed snake) leading to the gate beyond. And the gods successfully hide the other tourists up on the bridge! But even here I experimented, taking both landscape format and portrait format shots. I also tried a more zoomed-in one which foreshortens the perspective and adds some drama.

But in the end my favourite was the landscape one which I used in that previous post. I feel this works well on several counts. It shows enough of the bridge to tell its story, while also showing you the setting. The trees frame the shot nicely (remember my Frame your Subject post?); there’s a bit of a reflection of the gods in the water; and the sunlight positively gleams off the lichen in the partly dried-up moat.

Bridge lined with carved stone figures and stone gate with face carving
The bridge and south gate

Maybe you’ll disagree; photography is subjective after all. But for me this image is a significant improvement on that first shot on the bridge, and was worth the small effort to seek out a different, better, viewpoint.

Some other examples

Here are some examples of pairs of shots from the same location, one more ‘conventional, the other a bit different in its approach. I’m not suggesting one is better than the other; often you need multiple shots to tell the full story of a place. But it can be the case that the choice of a more unusual viewpoint gives you the chance to be more creative with your images. Sometimes that will result in a more pleasing shot, sometimes it won’t. But it’s always worth the experiment!

Kinkaku-ji
Gold temple and lake with reflections

The ‘proper’ name for this temple is Rokuon-ji or Deer Garden Temple, but no one seems to call it that. This is for sure the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji; no other name would suit it half as well. It is one of the most visited sights in Kyoto, and also one of the most photographed. You wouldn’t know it from this shot but I had to stand elbow to elbow with many other visitors to get the views I wanted.

Gold coloured water and reeds

Having taken the classic shot of the temple reflected in the water we started to walk around the lake. As soon as we left that first viewpoint the crowds thinned; I am sure a few visitors never progress further than this in their rush to ‘tick off’ the sights of Kyoto. They’re missing a lot, as the gardens here are beautiful and there are also some interesting different views of the temple to be found. I was particularly struck by its reflection in the lake, turning the water as golden as it is.

Pak Ou Caves
Lots of small metal and carved Buddha figures on steps in a cave

These caves in Laos are famous for the hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes deposited here. They range from tiny to huge and are in a variety of materials.

There are just a fraction of them visible in my standard record shot taken inside one of the caves. Many of them were situated so far back in the cave that the light wasn’t sufficient for decent photos. I’m not sure flash would be allowed but in any case it would seem disrespectful and also kill any atmosphere.          

Buddha carvings silhouetted against a landscape with a river

The caves are located in a cliff above the Mekong River, which you cross to reach them. Looking out at the river from inside the cave enabled me to get this rather different shot of the statues, silhouetted against the bright light outside.

While this loses all the details of the figures, it places them in context in a way that the standard shot cannot do.

Ahu Tahai, Rapa Nui
Moai with topknot and eyes

Ahu Tahai is the name commonly used for a large complex of moai, on three separate ahu, located very near to the town of Hanga Roa.

One of its three ahu, Ko Te Riku, is the only one standing on the island to have had its eyes restored. This, and its proximity to the town, make it one of the most photographed of the moai. This is a pretty standard face-on shot.

Two moai, one with a topknot and eyes

Nearby stands Ahu Tahai itself, with a single rather weathered moai. The contrast between the two is striking, and it’s possible, with some careful positioning, to get both in the same shot.

Fernsehturm Berlin
Slender TV tower against a blue sky

Berlin’s famous television tower is much-photographed of course. It is the tallest structure in Germany and was built in the former East Berlin as a statement of Communist power.

The sun’s reflection on its windows forms a cross, leading to its nickname of the ‘Pope’s Revenge’; the GDR government had removed all crosses from the city’s churches.

Slender TV tower reflected in an office block

But talking of reflections, I find it fun with city buildings to look out for opportunities to photograph them reflected in the windows of other buildings nearby.

The Monument to Party Foundation
Huge monument with stone fists holding tools

I’m finishing with a set of three images, although in truth I took far more than three of this iconic sight. The Monument to Party Foundation in Pyongyang was erected to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Workers Party. My first shots here were regular record shots of the monument with its massive clenched fists; one holding a hammer, one a sickle and one a writing brush. I included some people this time as I wanted to show the scale.

Looking up at a huge monument with stone fists holding tools

But I took my time looking for some more unusual shots too. Looking directly upwards from inside the circle gave me a very different angle on the fists towering above me.

And from the far side I could show it dominating the trees of a small park; and with a couple of passing locals to further emphasise the scale of the monument (you may have to squint to see them!) As an added bonus, here I wasn’t having to compensate for shooting into the sun which had resulted in rather flat lighting in my initial shots.

Huge monument with stone fists holding tools, surrounded by trees
View from the far side

Over to you

In the past, using expensive film, we didn’t have the luxury of being able to experiment like this. But now, with unlimited digital shots available to us (as long as you remember to carry a spare card and battery!) we do. So have a go, take lots of shots from different angles and see which ones work best. Under normal circumstances I’d also advise learning the art of self-appraisal and weeding out the less successful shots before sharing your results. But for this challenge I’d love to see some examples where you tried different approaches before settling on your preferred viewpoint! See what you can find in your archives; or maybe get out on a photoshoot and experiment with different angles and views.

Please leave a link in a comment below, as pingbacks don’t always work on my site. Also, my nephew is getting married this weekend so I’ll be tied up with family most of the time. That may mean I’m slower than usual to acknowledge your comments and contributions; but rest assured, I will read everything and respond eventually!

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who had a go last time around, sharing your leading lines images. I loved seeing them all!

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