I suspect that 98% of the travel images in the world are taken straight on with one subject in the frame. That is fine if there is a compelling reason to do so–the expression is remarkable, the action compelling, the light god-like radiant, or it just had to be composed that way.
I have done my share of straight-on shooting. Most of the time I was just being lazy or bereft of vision. Or, maybe I was just having a good time walking down the streets of India, Vietnam, New York or anywhere with my camera. An interesting person, or a pretty door, or a splash of color does not insure a great photograph of these subjects. So, I better have an inarguable reason when I choose one of these images as a select!
Fortunately, when I get to a situation that beckons to me as a photographer I can often pull myself together, back away from the straight-on shot, and elevate my creativity.
Here’s an example of an extremely interesting person that first I photographed as a straight on head shot. It is okay, not terrible, but certainly not exciting.
I rethought the situation and MOVED and looked for more texture, depth and expression. It is still straight-on but now there is a reason.
© nevada wier Myanmar, Chin State
It meant changing my perspective (the physical distance and angle from myself to the subject). Moving is one of the best ways to become a better photographer (especially if you are using a mid-range lens).
Last year I was in Mongolia photographing the Kazakh eagle hunters. I often take this kind of image so that the person gets used to having me photograph them, or so I can send back a print I think they might like. But then, at the end of the edit they usually end up in the trash.
In this composition there is a clump of horses in the background, the horizon is in the middle of the frame, and there is empty space that has no purpose. It is just another boring shot of an interesting person.
Since everything has to matter in a frame, I moved right under the eagle, and laid down on the ground, in order to shoot up at the sky. It almost looks like the eagle wants to swoop down and eat me (maybe it did!).
© nevada wier Mongolia. Far west.
I am always looking for an interesting angle. Not long ago I was in Southern India. It is so easy to photograph in India that I feel I have to work extra hard to create a compelling image! I had a wonderful encounter with some pilgrims at the lovely Meenakshi Sundareswarar Thirukoil Temple.
© nevada wier India. Madurai.
I knelt down with my wide angle lens, exposed for the sky (I often work on manual mode), and added a touch of flash. (I will discuss my use of wide angles and fill flash in future posts). I think you can now image that a straight-on shot would be rather mundane in comparison.
So take your straight-on “insurance” shot — then think, feel, and move!