Most photos are taken from eye level. In my case, that’s barely over 5 feet! Getting high up or low down can be a way of creating a more interesting and original composition of a familiar subject. I’ve often seen wildlife photographers lying in the mud on their bellies to get the perfect shot.
Shooting from Above: Markt Square from the Belfry of Bruges
Whenever I plan a trip to somewhere new, I always research the possibilities to take some bird’s eye photos. Most cities and towns usually have a high building or bell tower you can climb to get some shots from high above your surroundings. Just make sure they allow tripods if you plan to bring one.
The next photograph was taken from the top of the famous Belfry of Bruges. Climbing this tower allowed me to capture a spectacular wide angle panorama of the square and rooftops of the gorgeous gabled buildings below.
I had to work extremely hard to get this shot of Markt Square in the heart of Bruges. For a start, I had to lug my camera gear up 366 narrow steps to the top of the Belfry. Now thankfully I’m in shape. Well I mean, round is a shape isn’t it? As I wheezed my way to the summit, I think some of my fellow climbers were worried I might require medical attention. I actually met a guy whose office was right at the top of the belfry. He told me that he made the trip up and down the tower several times a day in a suit whereas I looked like I’d just climbed Everest, he barely broke sweat.
A Tricky Shot to Get
The viewing area beside the bells themselves is difficult to take photographs from with a SLR as each window is covered in chicken wire. This meant I had to hold my camera high above my head, pull in the chicken wire and shoot blindly towards the square below all the while hoping the security guard didn’t see me. I took over a hundred shots like this, most of which were very crooked or featured the chicken wire as a major part of the composition. I finally got the shot above after about half an hour of effort that involved increasingly dark muttering and cursing under my breath.
We go to Paris for the next two photographs. Cities often look at their most spectacular at night especially when photographed from above.
Shooting from Above: Paris from the Montparnasse Tower
When you think of places in Paris to climb up high, you immediately think of the Eiffel Tower. The problem with shooting from the top of Paris’ most iconic structure is that you can’t include the Eiffel Tower in your shot! This is why the viewing deck of the Montparnasse Tower in the south of the city is a much better location to capture a bird’s eye view of the City of Light. The Montparnasse Tower is a pretty ugly building too so being on top of it has the added advantage that you can’t see it while you are up there. This photograph was taken just after sunset while there was still some colour in the sky. I waited for the moment the Eiffel Tower sparkled as it does for one minute on the hour, every hour throughout the night.
Shooting from Below: The Eiffel Tower
I returned to photograph the Eiffel Tower several years later. This time, I took my shot while standing at its base and pointing my camera up. This was also a perfect occasion to use a centred composition due to the symmetrical subject.
In the final tutorial on composition, I will examine the idea of the “decisive moment” in photography.
Improve your Photography Skills
The full collection of my photography tutorials covering exposure, camera settings, composition and light can be found in my Kindle e-book: Outdoor Photography Essentials. This e-book can be read on most Kindles or any tablet or smart phone with the Kindle app installed (€7.06 / $7.00 / £6.34).