Photography - Knowledge

Wildlife Photography: How to Use Eye Level Shot

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Wildlife can be mesmerizing and to capture the essence of it needs some really good skills. It’s not just about capturing what you see, it’s more about developing a connection between the audience and the subject. Capturing the audience attention is of primary importance in wildlife photography. Moreover, we must have seen those innumerable African wildlife portraits that are shot from game viewing wagon that is usually presented in a way as if it’s shot from a higher vantage point. This helps produce some really nice shots, however, when shot from a lower-vantage point the result is at a different level altogether. So, how do you achieve that perfection? Eye level shots with the subject are one of the best ways to get the best click. However, eye-level does not mean ground level at all times. The subject could be anywhere, like on a tree or on a rock. So, the emphasis here is to shoot the object at the eye-level and not really at the ground-level. 

Understanding Wildlife Portraits at Eye Level

Let’s find out the importance of eye level shot and how to achieve it.

What’s the effect when shot at eye-level?

When shot at eye-level the background usually is either totally blurred or partially blurred. This helps shift the focus from any other points in the surroundings that are vying for attention. When you capture the subject at the eye-level you would automatically notice that the attention is drawn directly to the subject moving the focus away from any other objects around. 

eye level shot in wildlife
Focus is completely on the subject (source)

Why is the background affected?

This is a question many may have while learning wildlife photography. You can understand this by a simple example like when you drop a small object on the floor, for instance, an earring you have to lay your head on the floor to find the object. 

Ever wondered what’s the reason it works when you get down to ground level?

This is because by changing your viewpoint, the distance between the subject and the background is also changed. The more the distance, the higher the odds of getting a shallower depth of field in effect highlighting the subject and blurring of the background. So, when you lie down and shoot the object the background is almost infinity. 

How to achieve this perfection?

If you are on a game viewing vehicle, it’s time you leave that comfort. Get down to the ground level and now try and photograph the subject by resting the lens on a bean bag placed on the ground. 

You can also choose to visit the game reserves that offer animal hide facilities. These are the places where you can get the best clicks be it a bird or any other mammal. These hide-ins are the perfect choice to achieve a low angle “mouse view” point for the best shot. 

Once you get to eye level, get down in the line with the subject wherever it’s placed. 

Benefits of Eye Level Shot 

There is no doubt how beautiful an image can appear with the use of eye level in wildlife portraits, especially of the birds, pets or animals. So, why is there so much of frenzy with eye level shots for wildlife? Well, eye-level photography indeed has its advantages which we will discuss here. 

1. You achieve more pleasing backgrounds

As discussed earlier the longer the distance between the subject and the background, better is the background. When you shoot down on an animal, the distance between the subject and the background decreases and you won’t get perfection. 

However, if you bring yourself to the eye-level with the subject that’s when you can successfully capture nicely blurred background. The background usually has plants or plain ground at the back of the subject. Given that these are too close to the subject will make it challenging to get an out of focus background. So, in this case, getting down to the eye-level can do the trick and make the background far off from the subject. This helps ease the process of getting a blurred or an out-of-focus background.  

eye level shot importance
Longer the distance, better the photos (source)

2. You get a more intimate photograph

If you want to capture them close, you need to get into their viewpoint. As you lower your camera to the eye-level, the subject can also see you the way you see it. You feel closer to their world. If you want to engage the audience with the subject in your photograph, the connection between the subject and the camera has to be deeper.  

3. You show respect for your subject

When you shoot at the eye-level you are actually paying the due respect to the subject. The subject’s power is reduced when you go down and shoot the subject. Respecting the subject will ensure superior quality photograph of an eye level, with a precise background.  

4. It’s easier to make sharp images

There is a high probability that you will find the sharpest image using the camera sensor when your focal plane is parallel to the subject’s eyes. While the depth-of-field does matter, matching the plane of focus with the subject will remarkably improve the sharpness. 

bird photography
Sharper and stunning shot (source)

5. Its relatable

If you are looking for an angle that offers you a real-world view for the best wildlife photography shots, shooting at eye-level is the best way. Isn’t it convenient for us to identify something when seen at an eye-level? You can automatically feel the difference when you get down to eye-level. You can actually view the subject exactly as it is in the real world. You achieve an almost neutral shot that leaves no scope of further opinion and rather just showcase the subject exactly the way it is the real world. 

Tips for Shooting Wildlife Photography at Eye Level 

Now that we already know why eye level shots are important in wildlife photography, we are ready to discuss some of the wildlife photography tips.  

Tip #1 Get Yourself Flat on the Ground

Well, it does not turn out to be as easy as said. Simply by lying down flat on the ground is not the right way to capture the best eye level shot. If you are on the vehicle and the subject is close to you, you can try lying straight on the ground while making sure that there are absolute silence and slow movement. If you want to make moves, do that only when the subject is looking elsewhere. Try and avoid making a lot of burst shots as you lay flat on the ground. Allow the subject to get acquainted with you to get the best click. 

Tip #2 Get the Vehicle at Eye Level

If you are a wildlife photographer you would know that most of the shots are taken in national parks and reserves. Getting down from the vehicle in these areas are not allowed. 

Wondering how to manage the best eye level shot here?

Your field-skill will come into play here. Get acquainted with the subject so that you can foresee its movement. For instance, as soon as you spot a lion walking on the road, stop right there, and click a few random shots. Alternatively, you can also simply watch them and analyze the lion’s likely path for some time. Now you can wait at a place where the path is a bit lower than where you are currently positioned. As you place the vehicle at a lower position it will help create a better connection between you and the subject as it walks towards you. 

Tip #3 Crawl

This is one of the best wildlife photography tips. Crawling to get the best eye level shot is also applicable for beach photography, especially speaking about shorebirds. For instance, shorebird photography requires you to be at a sandy beachside because these are the places where you get your desired subject and the perfect surrounding. However, for this type of photography, you would have to leave your vehicle, as the presence of the vehicle may upset the shorebird. Hence, it’s recommended to crawl in these cases from a safer distance. 

You can get a perfect wildlife shot if you put effort to crawl instead of rushing in on them. In fact, it’s the animals that allow you to get the closest shot if you take it slowly. However, make sure that you have those knee and elbow guard ready as crawling won’t be easy along with a big lens. You can also make use of a ground pod (contraption) in this situation as it will help you push the gear effortlessly. 

tips for eye level shot
Crawl and click at eye level shot (source)

Tip #4 Stand up and Click

Getting to an eye-level can be true for all situation, that is, whether the subject is sitting or walking on the ground, on a tree, or on top of a hill. So, if your subject is sitting in an elevated location, standing up on your vehicle can be the right approach. When you capture the images while sitting down and while standing up, you will automatically feel the difference. However, it’s extremely important to remember that even while standing up you have to extremely watchful and take it slowly. Rushed movements can disrupt the wildlife causing the animals to panic. 

Summing Up

Now that you know the importance of eye level shooting, and various wildlife photography tips, practicing would be the key to perfection. It is advisable to practice without the camera first and rather just start with understanding the subject’s mood. Here you need to ensure that you make no sound and move as slow as you can. Once you have gained an expertise in the movements, you can then use the camera and get going with wildlife photography. Although you may not get 100% results, you can make use of the moment when you succeed to get close to the subject. So, get going with eye level shots and enjoy your adventure with wildlife photography. 
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