One needs to learn how to “see” a good composition. It’s critical to bring one’s photography to the next level. The art of seeing has long been a popular term in regard to all aspects of creativity. The opening sentence may sound elementary, so I take the concept to the next level to benefit everyone. I offer you the following warning with food for thought: “Watch your step.” The expression implies one must be aware of their actions so they don’t cause harm. From a photographic standpoint, and to bring your photography to the next level, it’s what every photographer should do to realize there’s a plethora of images that exist at ground level.
I want to introduce you to a new term: Groundscape. I define a groundscape as any portion or area within the environment found from waist level to terra firma. Many photographers view the world through their camera mounted to a fully extended tripod. This translates to a starting point of eye level. Human nature then takes over as the mind tends to scan the eye upward. This being the case, there’s a whole new undiscovered world of potential subjects from eye level down. With groundscapes, I limit it even further and have you start at the waist. This “forces” the mind to look down as opposed to straight out. The more you watch your step, the more groundscapes you’ll notice.
When you literally watch your step, you’ll realize the photographic potential that exists at your feet. Erase the negative connotation many people associate with the word ground: ground level is bad, bottom floor, get off the ground—it’s dirty. If you drop something on the ground, you’ve been taught to leave it there because the ground has germs. Photography provides the opportunity to dispute this fact. It’s time to get grounded and do something groundbreaking! A groundscape isn’t a grand landscape nor is it a sweeping vista, but it still can provide a glorious image. It’s the intimate scene or small section of the whole that grabs your attention. The more you train yourself to watch your step, the more easily you’ll spot great images that exist at your feet.
To capture a great groundscape, slow down your pace, stop every once in a while, look to your left, look to your right and look behind where you just stepped. A good photo op may go unnoticed if you rush your pace. Slowly amble along a path, sidewalk, trail or wherever else your travels lead. First look at the entire area at your feet and then get dialed in and use “telephoto eyes.” Portion out the terrain and study sections of your surroundings. Walk a little farther and repeat the process. If you work at a hurried pace, you’ll miss some shots.
As you walk and look down, you may notice a potential image, but the area is muddy or wet. That’s why you need to bring a ground cloth, a large plastic layer or a hefty garbage bag to lay upon. This way, you don’t get wet or dirty. You also want to wear knee pads in case there are rocks upon which your knees must be placed. Use a tripod whose legs can be splayed so you can get really low. Close-up filters or a telephoto macro will come in handy to make portraits of flowers or show them in their environment. A flash or reflector can come in handy as a fill light to open up dark shadows.
Exhaust All Possibilities
Don’t overlook the possibility of capturing a great wildlife photo. The subject needn’t have four legs or a large wing span to provide a great image. Insects and ground dwellers are excellent subjects. Wait for a good head angle, be cognizant of obtaining a clean background and try to depict some sort of behavior. Be aware of your ISO in case the animal moves. You don’t want too slow a shutter speed and wind up with a blurry subject. Also, keep in mind the aperture that will work best to provide a faster shutter along with how depth of field will impact the background.
The next time you hear “You’re grounded,” think of it as a positive thing as it may encourage to look to your feet to make excellent pictures.
To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.