Low angle photography provides a different perspective on wildlife

Get down!

Low angle photography will make your pictures stand out from the crowd, because YOU aren't! Physically getting you and your camera lower will provide a different perspective on your wildlife photos, one that is much more intimate.

When photographing children and pets you will often be told to kneel down so you are at their eye level and the same holds true for wildlife. However, you will need to get down to ground level, or as near as you can get to it for birds, as many of them are not very tall. 

You might find yourself making excuses for not getting low. Mine included:

The benefits of low angle photography

Taking the last of those points first, YES, low angle photography will make heaps of difference to your results. 

One of the unwritten rules with wildlife photography is to always get the eyes in focus. If you are standing over the bird you may not even get the eyes in the picture! You will also see less of the side and belly of the bird.

The two photos of Great crested grebe below illustrate the difference. The first was taken as the bird was about to swim under the bridge. You can see a lot of the bird's back. Look also at the water behind the grebe - it's in focus and and you can see the water surface. 

Great crested grebe photographed from aboveGreat crested grebe photographed from a bridge

For this second shot, taken at a local nature reserve, I laid down on the wet grass by the edge of the lake. Although the bird is further away, you can see a side view and the water behind it is blurred out and, therefore, less distracting.

If I had my current camera I could have gone lower, by using the flip-out screen, but the DSLR I was using at the time did not have this luxury and had to be held at eye level for comfort. I wouldn't advise placing the camera direct on the ground for low angle photography, to avoid damage. Instead I use a Playtypod, which is a metal plate that holds a tripod head. Feet screw into the bottom to allow me to use it on uneven surfaces.

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Great crested grebe photographed from a low angleGreat crested grebe photographed from a low angle

The next two images were taken in Craster, Northumberland. I was high up on the harbour wall for this first photo, and the Turnstone is hidden among the rocks and seaweed down below us.

Turnstone photographed from the harbour wallTurnstone photographed from up on the harbour wall

We carried on walking down to the slipway and as the tide was out I walked as far as I could go. This did cause the birds to fly a short distance away, but once I sat on the ground and stayed still they soon came back. I used the low angle photography technique to take a more pleasing shot. However, the rocks in the background were too close to blur out nicely and are a distraction. 

low angle photography with messy backgroundlow angle photography with messy background

Later in the day we came across more of these little birds and this last photo shows how more effective a low angle shot with a simple background can be. 

Turnstone on the beach from a prone positionTurnstone on the beach from a prone position

Not getting any younger

I can't do a lot about my age, but at least going out for nature walks helps to keep me active. I tackled the issue of getting up after laying on the ground for low angle photography by practicing at home, when there was no one around. I worked out the most dignified method of transferring from a prone position to standing, first without my photography gear and then fully laden. 

Of course there is a difference in doing this on a soft carpet than bare sun-baked earth. But I had a secret weapon here. On a previous outdoor adventure I had bought a tri-fold kneeling pad that I carry with me, clipped to my camera bag. Ideal for padding certain parts of the body when out and about.

If you are younger than me, this may not prove a hindrance to you at all. Oh, to be young again!

Keeping clean and dry

When out walking I normally wear trousers (pants to my American friends) to protect my legs. I pick neutral colours to make myself less visible to the birds, depending on the habitat I am visiting. Luckily, these also serve to make dirty marks less obvious to the casual glance.

Keeping dry, when laying on wet ground can be more tricky. Where possible I try to take something with me to lay on, such as a large dustbin bag, along with a second bag to transport it home again once it is soggy and muddy.

I also have a pair of waterproof, camouflaged, over-trousers but as I feel self conscious wearing them, they are reserved for remote places where we are unlikely to meet many other people or dogs (who seem to take an instant dislike to them for some reason).

Do not disturb

The Birdwatcher's Code makes it clear that disturbing birds, especially during the breeding season, is not only inadvisable, but in some cases against the law. Therefore, it is important I keep my distance and not go blundering into restricted areas. Getting a little closer is possible if I take it slow and keep as quiet as possible. 

Low angle shot of a SanderlingLow angle shot of a Sanderling

Here again, keeping low gives me an advantage. Birds spook if they see a human shape above the horizon. If something is laying on the ground, not moving, it is seen as less of a threat and before long is ignored completely. 

This was the case with the Sanderling on the beach, in the photo above. I had been laying there quietly for so long the birds forgot about me and came closer and closer. I almost didn’t need a telephoto lens for this picture!

In places where people regularly visit, the birds get used to us and carry on their daily lives without worrying. Here, I have found that laying on the ground when there are many other people around can cause a trip hazard, especially if I blend into my surroundings, so I tend to just sit.

Practice makes perfect

If you are new to low angle photography, you might like to practice in your own back yard first. This way you can find the most comfortable position and see for yourself the difference it makes when getting low. 

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