You may need to hold a camera to your eye, most of the time, to get your shots. But that doesn’t mean you have to be standing up!
The world is an interesting place and sometimes all that is needed to make it more interesting is to get a different perspective. Photographing the world around you is no different; change your view and the photos you take will start to portray something different.
Achieving anything new with your camera is not always about gadgets or gizmos but they can make it easier. Bending down is the cheap way of gaining a new perspetive on the world. The more adventurous could try laying on the floor. The letter tends to draw too much attention, gets you dirty and isn’t always practical. You could put your camera on the floor and with the ‘Live View’ function on most newer DSLRs, that is an option that now lets you see more of what is going on through the lens.
Since my father first bought one for his Olympus OM-2 back in the mid-1980s, the right-angle viewfinder quickly became my preferred method of low-level shooting with 35mm cameras. Later I used a variety of different medium-format cameras to achieve the same effect. With their waist-level viewfinders, cameras like my old Bronica, Mamiya and the Rolleicord I still own gave a new perspective to the world and often gave me the chance to get pictures without people knowing what I was doing…. holding a camera up to your face is what most people expect to see.
Right-angle finders for DSLRs
I use a Nikon DR-6 finder, which will fit all of Nikon’s rectangular-shaped viewfinder DSLRs. The DR-5 is the version which fits circular viewfinders, like the D2, D3 and D700. Neither are particularly cheap but you can find them used. The older DR-3 and DR-4 fit the Nikon F-series film cameras.
Canon make a right-angle finder for their DSLRs which can be bought with a variety of fitting-plates, that enables it to fit all of their DSLR range.
Hoodman, Seagull and a variety of other third-party companies make good generic right-angle finders but they often works out – with shipping – to be so near the price of the manufacturer’s versions that sometimes it might be worth you just getting the one made specifically for your camera. Unless, of course, you have several brands of camera in your stable and need a finder that – with adaptor plates – can fit all of them.
There is also this interesting little gadget; the ZigView, a digital right-angle finder.
OK, so what is all the fuss about? Having a new perspective makes for interesting photos. It makes for photos that engage the eye of the viewer, sometimes, more readily than normal exactly because the shots are taken from an angle from which people don’t normally view the world.
See the gallery at the foot of the page for examples of all these…..
- The world through a child’s eyes: One person commented recently on some of my photos: “I finally understood why it is I like the photos you take in the street using the right-angle finder. Your waist-level is the level my head was at as a child. The shots remind me of the way I saw the world when I was seven years-old!”
- Stop looking down on the world: The difference between the natural posture of always shooting with the camera pointing down from head-height, and shooting from waist or ground level is astonishing and offers a fresh view of the world around you.
- The world from ground level: These finders mean that if you get down on one knee, you can hold the camera almost on the ground yet still have one eye against the optical viewfinder, making composition and framing much easier.
- Great for hand-held macro or tripod work: Cradling the camera at waist-level and looking through a right-angle finder can be a more stable way of shooting close-ups. It can also help tremendously with low-level tripod work. When I was taking shots of the cherry-blossom in spring, I found that I was able to look up into the blooms. Difficult and neck-breaking without a right-angle finder.
- A little extra time when taking candid shots: People, especially people in the street, are not looking at someone’s waist or at a low-level for a camera. People are much more used to seeing cameras up against people’s eyes, so head-height is generally where people are automatically looking. Big black box at eye-level? Must be a camera. Big black box at waist level? Hmmm…………????? …..and that extra few seconds is all you need sometimes to get the shot.
- The vanishing point goes lower: Street shots in particular often benefit, in my opinion, from a lower vanishing-point. From head-height, the vanishing point is lower in the frame, making a bottom-heavy composition. From waist-level the vanishing point is put ddirectly in the middle of the frame. Lines in the top and bottom halves of the shot converge equally to the vanishing point, making for a different balance in the shot.
- Makes looking up easier too: Rather than craning your neck to look straight up, using the angle-finder means you point the lens up and can look straight into the viewfinder, without having to crane your neck at all.
Try a new view of the world out! Borrow a finder, rent one or take the plunge and buy one. I guarantee you won’ regret the change of perspective it affords.
Oh, and if you really fancy a new perspective, how about this?
Take your widest angle lens – I used 11mm. Fix a monopod to your camera. Turn it upside down, rest the camera on your shoe, use a cable-release for added ease….. and the ‘GroundCam’ is born!
[one issue in Japan is that because of the trend in dogy old geezers shooting 'upskirt' pics, you might get a bit of Police attention whilst shooting like this, as I did].
A Gallery of Shots Using the Nikon DR-6 on the D300.