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Choose a Vantage Point for Nature Photographs

Shooting all your landscape pictures standing up does not result in the most compelling image. Here's how to choose a low vantage, a high vantage point, or photograph at eye level in nature.

A low vantage point is useful when you’re photographing tall objects like majestic mountains A low vantage point is also useful when you’re photographing tall trees like the sequoias in Muir Woods in California. You can achieve a low vantage point by dropping to one knee or by lying prone on the ground.

If you choose the latter, pay careful attention to what’s beneath you, and make sure you don’t flatten something like a beautiful flower. Getting the photo is one thing, but preserving nature should always take precedence.

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Dropping to one knee can be painful if you do it enough or if you kneel on something hard like a rock or the granite floor of a mountain. A small gardener’s pad is easy to carry around and will save your knees from abuse.

A high vantage point is useful when you’re photographing valleys. Yosemite’s Tunnel View places you above the floor of the valley, but well below the highest mountains. This vantage point gives you an idea of the grandeur and scale of the valley.

If you photographed this from the floor of the valley, you’d still get a sense of scale, but the trees, not the mountains, would be the stars. Photographing from the valley floor would also require a shorter focal length to get the tops of the mountains in the picture.

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When you’re photographing a bird or animal, the best vantage point is at the level of the animal’s eyes. This can be a challenge if you’re photographing wading birds, and virtually impossible when you’re photographing a bird in its nest unless you can climb a neighboring tree.

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There are really no rules that are cast in stone about which vantage point will yield the best image for the scene you’re photographing. A lot of it boils down to taking a lot of pictures. Experience and your personal style will come when you take an abundance of pictures. After a while, you’ll instinctively know which vantage point to choose for a particular scene.

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