What is a vantage point in photography? And how can vantage points help you create eye-catching compositions?
I think about vantage points all the time in my own photography, so I have plenty of tips, tricks, and useful advice to share with you. Plus, I’ll feature 22 examples so you can see the power of vantage points in action!
Let’s get started.
Vantage Point: Overview
- What Is a Vantage Point?
- Why (and When) Does It Matter?
- Common Shooting Perspectives (Plus Tips for Using Them)
- Vantage Point Examples
- Vantage Point in Photography: Final Words
What Is a Vantage Point?
The vantage point refers to the angle at which you take a photo.
So you might shoot from a high angle (i.e., a high vantage point) for a breathtaking aerial image:
Or you might shoot from a low angle (i.e., a low vantage point) for an ominous, looming perspective:
Or you might shoot at your subject’s eye level for a more intimate result:
In fact, there are literally infinite possible vantage points for any given scene. You can shoot from high up, from down low, from standing height, at a 45-degree angle, looking straight up, and much, much more. Of course, not all vantage points are achievable (or useful) for all scenes, and some vantage points tend to look better than others – more on that in a later section.
Note that you, the photographer, do not necessarily need to physically occupy the vantage point. For a bird’s-eye view (i.e., an ultra-high vantage point), you could shoot from a helicopter, but you’re also free to do some drone photography. And if you want a low vantage point, you might consider putting your camera down and shooting with a remote shutter release.
Why (and When) Does It Matter?
Vantage point is a key part of photographic composition. It’s important for nearly every photo, though many photographers fail to consider it carefully because they get in the habit of using the same (eye-level) vantage point over and over and over again.
But if you force yourself to deliberately choose a vantage point for every photo you shoot, your compositions will immediately improve.
Here’s why vantage point is so important:
Your vantage point determines how the viewer experiences the scene.
If you have a low vantage point, the viewer will feel as if they are looking up toward the large, looming subjects.
If you have a high vantage point, the viewer will feel as if they are looking down toward diminutive objects.
If you have an eye-level vantage point, the viewer will feel on a level with your subject, which gives a sense of equality and intimacy – like the viewer is entering the subject’s own little world.
Now, it’s true:
There are plenty of vantage points that photographers use repeatedly, and they really do work. Portrait photographers tend to shoot from the eye-level vantage point simply because this creates an intimate, flattering composition. Architectural photographers tend to shoot from down low because it helps their subjects dominate the frame.
At the same time, you can create stunning, original shots by switching up the vantage point – and by thinking long and hard about whether you want to start high, low, eye level, or somewhere else entirely. So don’t fall into the habit of shooting at the same vantage point repeatedly. Instead, always consider multiple vantage points (and ask yourself how they’ll affect the overall shot!).
Common Shooting Perspectives (Plus Tips for Using Them)
I’ve already mentioned a few of the most common vantage points in the sections above.
But in the next section, I’ll take you through a more detailed rundown of key vantage points every photographer should know, starting with:
Shooting on a level with the subject is popular among quite a few photographers.
Portrait photographers and event photographers love eye-level shots. The direct perspective prevents major distortion of the subject’s features, plus it gives images a more authentic, intimate feel – like the viewer is staring directly into the subject’s eyes.
And wildlife photographers use eye-level compositions constantly because of the window it provides into the natural world. Plus, photographing an animal at eye level generally means getting down low, which helps create clean, beautiful backgrounds.
Many beginner photographers like eye-level vantage points, too. Here, eye-level shooting is popular simply because it’s easy; it’s the natural way to snap a shot. Just put the camera to your eye, hit the shutter button, and you’re done.
But while eye-level shooting is easy, and it can work well, it’s not always the best perspective for stunning shots. Sure, it’s okay to shoot at eye level, especially if you’re a portrait or wildlife photographer. If you’re not working with humans or animals, though, I’d recommend you consider switching things up.
A bird’s-eye view vantage point, out of all the common vantage points on this list, is the hardest to achieve.
You get it by shooting from directly (or nearly directly) above your subject.
These days, drone photography is a popular way to capture a bird’s-eye view shot, though you can use helicopters or planes. You can also elevate yourself some other way – for instance, by climbing a ladder, by climbing some stairs, or by shooting from the top of a building.
Of course, if you’re shooting a small subject, such as a plate of food, you don’t need a drone to achieve a bird’s-eye view. Instead, you can just hold your camera above the subject and shoot downward. Easy, peasy.
Now, bird’s-eye view vantage points are a great way to flatten a scene. Look at the scene below; do you see how there’s no real depth? The whole thing exists on a two-dimensional plane.
This vantage point is also great for making your subjects appear small. For instance, a city from above looks tiny:
I’d also recommend trying the bird’s-eye view when shooting street scenes (it’s a good way to make your photos more unique), architecture, and even macro compositions. A shot taken from above will instantly stand out.
Certain photographers favor a high vantage point, which tends to run about 45 degrees above the subject, like this:
A 45-degree perspective will make your subjects seem smaller, while avoiding the flattening effect of a bird’s-eye view shot.
Portrait photographers occasionally work with this angle (see the shot above).
And macro photographers use the 45-degree angle a lot because it lets you get intimate without requiring too much hard work.
While I generally don’t recommend a high perspective for wildlife photography, it is pretty common; when you’re photographing subjects on the ground, like a shorebird, you’ll naturally get a 45-degree angle just by pointing and shooting.
A low angle is a personal favorite vantage point of mine. It’ll get you shots like this:
What’s important to recognize here is that low-angle photography delivers big and imposing subjects. Portrait photographers occasionally use it to make their subjects seem tougher (in sports portraits, for instance).
And while a low vantage point isn’t hugely popular in wildlife photography, there are some trailblazing shooters who use remote-controlled cameras to capture stunning low shots.
Now, to create a beautiful low vantage point, you’ll need to put in some real effort. You can lie on the ground, or you can ask your subject to get up high (by climbing a set of stairs, for instance). I often shoot low vantage point photos from flat against the floor. I find this makes for especially unique photos, but the choice is up to you.
Out of all the vantage points discussed in this article, shooting with a worm’s-eye view – directly below the subject, looking up – is probably the most unusual.
For one, it’s not always feasible. You can’t photograph most animals from below (unless they’re birds flying across the sky). Landscapes have no worm’s-eye perspective (though you can always shoot the sky by pointing the camera straight up, of course).
One genre where a worm’s-eye view is genuinely useful, however, is architecture and cityscape photography. By shooting straight up, you can create stunning shots of buildings winding their way toward the heavens, like this:
Very nice, right? It can often be great to experiment with different types of lighting and cloud cover.
By shooting at sunrise or sunset, you can capture dramatic, colorful skies behind your main subject. By shooting at twilight, you can get a beautiful purple glow. And by shooting at midday, you can get a bright, intense blue:
Vantage Point Examples
Now let’s look at examples of vantage points in action, starting with some bird’s-eye view shots:
Bird’s-Eye View Examples
A bird’s-eye view vantage point allows you to simplify the scene and contrast broad colors. For instance, this aerial of a forest and lake features a gorgeous blue/green contrast:
And in this shot of a road winding through trees, the overhead view emphasizes the simple geometry of a curve among texture:
Remember how I said a bird’s-eye view produced very flat images? Can you see the two-dimensionality in this shot of a dock on a lake?
And while photographers often strive to create depth in their photos, flatness can work, as you can see here:
Also bear in mind that a bird’s-eye view doesn’t require a drone or a helicopter. You can shoot a macro subject from above while staying within three feet of the ground:
High View Examples
A high vantage point can make your subject seem slightly smaller in the frame:
Though when used more moderately, you’ll simply get a flattering result that emphasizes the subject’s face:
Notice how the eyes (and the subject’s facial features more generally) really pop in this shot:
The effect also works on young kids:
Eye-Level View Examples
The eye-level perspective is great for a lot of situations. It’s a portrait standard:
Notice how the shot above seems to offer a connection to the viewer? If the photo were taken from above or below, that intimacy would be lost.
Here’s another eye-level portrait, and you can clearly feel the intensity of the subject’s gaze:
You can also use this for wildlife and bird photography. An eye-level lion shot is especially engaging:
And take a look at this sanderling photo:
Do you feel like you’ve entered the shorebird’s world? (Also, look at that smooth background!)
Here’s one final eye-level bird photo to illustrate the point:
Low View Examples
A low angle can give your portraits a uniquely powerful character, like the subject is larger than life:
But be careful with this vantage point, because it’s easy to end up with a memory card full of unflattering photos.
You can always try getting up close for an unusually strong effect:
And you can even try the low angle with wildlife, though it’s often hard to get low enough for the effect to work. Here, the fox stands regally above the viewer:
Worm’s-Eye View Examples
You won’t find many examples of an ultra-low angle, but it’s certainly a vantage point worth trying, especially when faced with tall buildings:
You will need to compose carefully, though. Finding interesting skyscrapers isn’t enough; instead, arrange the shot to draw in the viewer:
And shooting upward through a hole in a building structure is a worm’s-eye view classic:
It works especially well when the clouds are interesting, too:
You can also shoot building ceilings (which can look really cool, by the way, so always remember to check):
Vantage Point in Photography: Final Words
Well, there you have it:
Everything you need to know about vantage points in photography for amazing results.
Remember: if you carefully choose your vantage point, you’ll end up with a much more powerful composition – so think about the tips, tricks, and examples I’ve shared here, and start using vantage points to your advantage!
What is a vantage point?
A vantage point is the angle of the camera relative to the subject. By adjusting your vantage point, you can change the feel and intensity of your images.
What is a low vantage point?
A low vantage point involves getting lower than your subject and shooting upward. For instance, you might shoot a portrait of a person sitting on a ledge, or you might photograph a bird in a tree from down below.
What is a bird’s-eye view in photography?
A bird’s-eye view is when you shoot directly down. Generally speaking, you’ll need a drone to do bird’s-eye view photography, but you can also use a helicopter/plane, or you can find a tall object to perch on (such as a balcony).
What are vantage points for aerial photography?
In aerial photography, you’re generally working with a bird’s-eye view vantage point (where you’re pointing the camera directly down). But you can also shoot with a high vantage point (where you’re shooting at a 45-degree angle or so) to display the sprawl of the foreground. And you might even consider shooting directly at the horizon for a more intimate, eye-level shot – one that transports the viewer directly into the scene.