FIELD TECHNIQUE: The View from Below

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

The Awakening, © F.M. Kearney

The Awakening, © F.M. Kearney

Spring is finally here and the abundance of blooming flowers will soon present an array of interesting photo opportunities. From delicate daffodils to charming cherry blossoms and tantalizing tulips, you certainly won’t go wanting for interesting subjects. However, coming up with new and interesting ways to shoot this annual spectacle may present a challenge.

A simple change in perspective is a common and easy way to try something new. Most photographers tend to shoot from an eye-level perspective. This is fine for many landscapes and cityscapes, but it may not be the best choice for subjects that are short or very close to the ground. Photographing children from above can create a sense of their vulnerability. When it comes to nature, however, unless you’re shooting an entire garden, individual flowers can get lost when using a high-angle view.

Some subjects could have much more impact if they are shot at or below the level of the subject. For a unique perspective, try shooting way below the subject.

Each spring, the Central Park Conservancy in New York explodes in a colorful array of natural beauty. One of its most beautiful gardens houses hundreds (perhaps thousands) of tulips in a striking circular design. After shooting the standard, overall views of the garden, I decided to try something a little different.

Sometimes, Lady Luck is in your corner and graces you with a terrific shot without much effort on your part. More often than not, creative photos require careful planning, execution and maybe even a little homegrown ingenuity. Having shot the tulips in this garden the year before, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I used a tape measure to determine the distance between the ground and the majority of the bulbs. I then pre-focused my 16mm fisheye lens to that distance, set the aperture to f/22 and placed my camera on the ground in the middle of a large bed with the lens facing skyward. Composition was a bit tricky (to say the least), but I knew that I could get a pretty good idea of what the camera was “seeing” by looking at the reflection on the front of the lens. After activating the self-timer, I stepped back and captured this unique image, which I titled, “The Awakening.”

I shot this photo years ago using a Nikon FE2 film camera. Compared to today’s bulkier digital models, this camera is fairly small. Nevertheless, I wanted to make it even smaller to be able to access tight spaces. Removing the strap and motor drive allowed me to place it in extremely small areas without damaging the surrounding flowers.

One reason this garden is so attractive is because of its “theater-style” arrangement of the flowers. Planted on an incline, they rise in height from the front to the rear. While this may make them easier to view from any angle, it wreaks havoc with ground-level photography—simply because the ground isn’t level.

Here’s where that homegrown ingenuity comes into play.

Placing the camera on the sloping ground would have resulted in one of two things. I would either have gotten photos where the sky was off-center or the camera would have slid down the hill. To remedy that, I created a small cardboard wedge which I taped to the back of my camera, giving it a tilt of about 15-degrees to counteract the uneven terrain. When I placed it on the incline, the camera not only pointed straight up, it was perfectly secure from any slips.

At this point, I’d like to say that the sunburst was the direct result of precise mathematical calculations—but that would be a lie. Although I got the cold shoulder from Lady Luck throughout much of this process, she did flirt with me a little bit here. The burst was a complete but welcomed surprise.

With the multitude of blooming flowers all around you, try something new this spring, something somewhat out the box. Change your perspective and check out what the ants see from theirs. Hopefully, your ground will be more level than mine, but if not, a quick fix is never far away.


F.M. Kearney is a fine-art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, visit www.starlitecollection.com.