Getting Down With It: Bending Your Knees for the Best Shots
The easiest photographs to make are those taken at the photographer's eye level. In my experience though, the best shots are to be had by those willing to get down low and explore their subjects more intimately.
Sometimes all it takes is a willingness to bend over a little and see what you can see. By changing the height from which you look at a subject, you can also control what you see in terms of background. This can make the difference between an ordinary shot and an extraordinary one. Rather than being at the mercy of what most people see behind some object, you can take control of that background to choose one that provides better contrast or context. Shooting a common subject in an uncommon way can yield images that stand out from the pack. A typical viewer will be immediately drawn to such shots either because the recognize a familiar subject in unfamiliar surroundings, or sometimes because they don't initially recognize the subject at all and feel drawn to look closer to figure out what it is.
Shooting down on a wildflower shows only the dirt and other plants surrounding it. Shooting from down next to it can real that same flower in its surroundings. The same is true for pine cones, tide pools, small animals, insects and many other subjects. Once you start looking at things from down low, you can discover numerous subjects beyond the one that initially compelled you to bend your knees or sit down on the ground. Working in this way can be a journey of discovery for the photographer just as the results can be for the viewer once those images are shared as prints or online.
Adequate camera support for shooting low to the ground is something worth putting some though into so you can be prepared. Sometimes, a tripod with legs that can be splayed out completely and isn't encumbered by a useless center column will provide the support needed. Other times a good ground level tripod such as the wonderful Gorillapod will do the trick. There have been times though when I've resorted to literally setting the camera on the ground, propped up to the needed angle with small twigs scavenged on site. You do what you've got to do. At home, spend some time sitting on the floor in your living room with your camera seeing what you can do with your own tripod and other support options. As I say, you want to be prepared. When the sun is rising over the most gorgeous wildflower setting you've ever seen is not the time to be fumbling with how to make things work.
Being willing to work at ground level isn't always comfortable. In addition to the possibility of getting muddy or wet, the ground can be downright hard. Ouch. Well manicured lawns rarely exist in the wild, and rocks are common. Sometimes I've joked that landscape photography should be viewed as a contact sport. At least there isn't much difference in terms of aches and pains based on some of the bruises I've gotten while photographing. A little soreness though is a small price to pay to get shots that show subjects in a way not often seen.