In this article, you’ll learn all about vantage points in photography – including what it actually is, plus tips and tricks for great results.
I’ll also include plenty of vantage point photography examples; that way, you can understand exactly how different vantage points impact your images and how you can adjust your vantage point to achieve different effects.
Ready to become a vantage point expert? Then let’s jump right in, starting with a simple definition:
What Is Vantage Point in Photography Composition?
Vantage point refers to the perspective or angle from which you take a photo (relative to your main subject). You can shoot from above the subject for a high vantage point, from below your subject for a low vantage point, or on the same level as your subject for an eye-level vantage point.
Types of Vantage Points in Photography Composition
Photographers have five general vantage points to consider, and in this section, I’ll take you through each option:
1. Low Vantage Point
As the name suggests, a low vantage point is shot from below the subject.
The effect depends on the lens type; a wide-angle lens tends to render a tall, powerful, looming subject, whereas a telephoto lens will have a less pronounced result.
A low vantage point can be useful in landscape photography, particularly when you want to lead the eye from foreground to background. By getting down low, you can enhance the foreground while bringing it closer to the background.
You can also use a low vantage point in portrait photography to make your subject appear stronger (for this reason, a low angle is commonly used for portraits of men). And in macro photography, low vantage points are used to position brightly colored subjects against the bright backdrop of the sky.
Of course, a low vantage point generally requires scuffing up your knees, and it can even involve lying in the dirt. Physically, a low vantage point is the most demanding option on this list.
2. High Vantage Point
To capture a high vantage point, you must shoot from above your subject, looking downward. This can range from photographing slightly above your subject’s eyeline, all the way to photographing at a 90-degree angle from the ground.
A high vantage point generally makes subjects look smaller and more compressed; subjects photographed this way tend to flatten into one another.
The simplest high vantage point now involves raising your camera into the air. But to pull off a significant high vantage point, you will need some method of getting above your subject. If you’re on a portrait shoot, you might consider bringing a folding stepladder. You can also climb stairs, get onto a roof, shoot from a balcony, stand on a car, or find some other inventive way of shooting downward. If you’re photographing a landscape, you should find lookouts, climb hills/mountains, and more.
When is a high vantage point useful?
While an ultra-high vantage point isn’t common in portrait photography, shooting from slightly above your subject’s eyeline is often encouraged. This will minimize any double chins while making the eyes the focus of the shot. And in landscape photography, a high vantage point is great for conveying a scene’s vast, sweeping grandeur.
3. Eye-Level Vantage Point
The eye-level vantage point is direct, intimate, and lets you see right into the world of your subject – which is why it’s quite possibly my favorite vantage point of all time and the one I use most frequently in my photography.
An eye-level vantage point involves shooting at your subject’s eye level. (For subjects without eyes, such as plants, trees, and the like, an eye-level view involves shooting on a level with the bulk of the subject.)
And I’m not the only one who loves the eye-level vantage point. Bird and wildlife photographers get down low, so they’re on a level with their subject for beautifully intimate portraits. Portrait photographers often shoot on a level to create a greater viewer-subject connection.
Also, note that an eye-level vantage point offers the most accurate, natural depiction of subjects. If you shoot a portrait at eye level, for instance, distortion is minimal, you’re capturing the subject eye to eye, and you’ll feel like the subject is genuinely in the room.
4. Aerial View
I’ve already talked about the value of a high vantage point. But an aerial vantage point takes this to the next level, putting your camera high in the sky and shooting directly downward toward subjects, often hundreds of feet away.
While it’s technically possible to achieve the aerial view by handholding a shot from atop a mountain or hill, it’s pretty rare. In reality, most aerial vantage points are captured by photographers in helicopters, or (especially in recent years) photographers with drones. Drones, in particular, let you carefully select aerial compositions – compositions that often completely compress the landscape below and create a gorgeous contrast between different elements of the landscape as viewed from a high height.
An aerial view is great for emphasizing color and tonal contrast. It’s also perfect for capturing more abstract compositions that emphasize shapes and lines over volume. That’s why landscape photographers love shooting aerials of landscapes, while portrait photographers and street photographers tend to avoid aerial views with a passion.
5. Closeup View
The closeup vantage point simply involves getting ultra-close to your subject so you can capture every little detail.
To achieve a closeup view, you’ll appreciate a dedicated macro lens, though you can also gain this vantage point with a relatively close-focusing lens or with accessories such as extension tubes or close-up filters.
Closeup photography comes with its own challenges, and there will likely be some trial and error as you play with different apertures, shutter speeds, and focusing techniques. That said, you can certainly create stunning shots by concentrating on the details, especially if you like photographing nature.
The closeup view is popular among nature photographers, but you can also use it for wedding details, portrait details, and even landscape details.
How to Use a Vantage Point in Landscape Photography
If you want to use vantage point to improve your landscape photos, here are a few simple tips:
Shoot Every Scene With as Many Vantage Points as Possible
As I’ve emphasized throughout this article, a vantage point change is a big deal. By adjusting your vantage point, you can dramatically impact your composition – by making certain objects seem larger or smaller, by minimizing certain objects’ effects within the frame, by compressing or expanding the objects of the scene, and much more.
Which is why I highly recommend you don’t just rely on a single vantage point when doing landscape photography. Instead, start with the most obvious vantage point.
But then switch things up. Get down low and shoot up for an interesting low angle. Find a nice lookout point to shoot the composition from above.
Just experiment, and you’ll undoubtedly get great results.
Test Out Different Focal Lengths With Different Vantage Points
Every focal length gives a slightly different effect at each vantage point.
So if you’re not getting the look you’re after, or you simply want a unique perspective, then don’t be afraid to zoom in or out.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the wide-angle plus low vantage point combination. But you should also try to shoot eye-level shots with a wide-angle lens and eye-level shots with a telephoto lens, telephoto aerials, and more.
Use Different Vantage Points to Create Juxtaposition
Here’s one last fun vantage point tip:
When you’re shooting landscapes, first find an interesting foreground subject with a decent amount of height, such as a flower, a tree, a tall rock formation, etc.
And then slowly change your vantage point, watching as the relationship between foreground and background elements change.
Simply by getting higher or lower, you can force the foreground and background to intersect. You can force them apart. You can create depth or create flatness or create tension or create space – really; the sky’s the limit, so make sure you always experiment with different perspectives and juxtapositions!
That’s how you’ll find a truly unique, compelling, even jaw-dropping result.
Vantage Point in Photography: Conclusion
Vantage point isn’t the easiest aspect of photography to master – but if you remember the advice from this article, you’ll be well on your way to capturing stunning photos using different vantage points.
So get out. Have fun.
And shoot from all different angles!