Sunday, March 9, 2008

Photo Creativity Experiment - A Walking Stick Camera

In a previous article here, I suggested some creativity ideas to help you shake up your photographic style with a view to seeking and exploring new venues. I thought it was important that I should be able to “walk the talk’, in this case literally with my camera, to test a new method that I had not perused before.

One of reasons that I like to call this an ‘experiment’ is that it permits me to not have a perfect outcome, at least with stellar images and then beat myself up because of this. If I could learn something, then it would be a success and any decent images a bonus.

I received for Christmas one of the ‘Gorilla Zoom’ flexible joint tripod legs that permits you to almost attach your camera to any railing, pole or even use as a tabletop tripod.

I thought that if I attached my camera with the wider angle of the lens (Nikon 18-70mm) to the lower part of my monopod I could walk around the market area of Ottawa and capture some unique perspectives of people in their daily routines within the gritty winter environment. 18mm equate to 27mm for a 35mm format camera on my camera (D200). I used a wireless remote to trigger the camera shutter.

Being winter, cold and with people dressing accordingly, I felt more comfortable using a camera at such a low angle.

I thought people shots would provide a few interesting photos but overall I was disappointed with most shots and that is one of the reasons I have waited so long to post them here. Most of the images were just too jumbled with people, legs and other distracting elements and I wondered if any of you would even find them interesting.

Of all the shots taken, about 50, the image below is the only one that I find has some potential.

As with most photos, simplicity in scenes is a strong design element as it makes it easy for the viewer to focus on the subject. There is some added mystery with the person’s legs going down the stairs and the slight bit of motion blur, creates action in a frozen moment and makes you wonder where he is headed in such a hurry.

The next image of snow mound, which is actually only about a foot high, appears larger due to the low angle.

There was something interesting about the bottom of ‘X” forming a peak that re-enforced the peak of the snow mound, but it would have worked better if the snow peak
was more centered under the triangle.

The lower angle does provide some unique vantage points and with the wider angle you are able to capture more as people walk by. The image below has some potential as the green and yellow create strong graphical elements and the jumble of legs makes you wonder more about the setting.

These images could be achieved by squatting down low, except I am sure that many people would give you a wide berth as they would probably figure you were shooting something in the distance.

One of the better jumbles but definitely not a great image and from a design perspective the repeating circles add unity to the image. Here is an opportunity to go back and with better framing isolate these circles.

Having the camera on a stick and firing the shutter with the remote control, you are never really sure how the camera will determine focus. This is one outing where I should have gone to closest focus setting as set by the camera or set lens on manual at the hyper-focal distance

Still a few interesting shots can be obtained, but I was very glad I was shooting digital as only about 5% of images seemed to work for correct focus of near subjects.

This image was taken when I turned around on the top of the steps that are shown below. I like how the couple in the background compliments the couple in foreground. The red door unfortunately becomes the first focal point and detracts from the overall scene. This would be a good case to change the red colour to grey.

I did decide for this image to enhance the darkness and contrast of the one dark brick, which is nicely positioned on the lower rule-of-thirds grid. The top left corner was darkened, as this was brighter being more exposed to the sun.

There is something peculiar about a person jaywalking and then having to look out for cars coming.
As you can probably see we had a bit of a mild spell in Ottawa in early January, but winter has now made up for this with a vengeance and we have had since then almost constant snow fall and we may be on to setting an all-time record.

These are few images from this adventure, nothing stellar, but I thought it was important that I show how things went. I just couldn’t bring myself to show you the real crappy images.


Efficient time wise with remote.
No need to physically get down.
Quick to take a shot as people pass in front of you.


Not a high accuracy rate of reasonable photos.
You wind up with a lot of crotch shots, while fully respectable/ they are still not my cup of tea.
While nothing happened I think there is a greater chance of camera damage even though I would pick up while walking to other locations.

You need a remote to trigger shutters release.

In Summary

It was fun to try this once inside a cityscape, but I don’t think I will do it again. May try in a rural-wooded setting. It would in some locations allow you to take a shot from a position that you might not be physically able to position yourself.

A wider angled lens would work better, but you need to be closer to items to have visual impact.

In reviewing all the images, it did provide me with ideas for shots that might work in the future, but I will need to properly compose and therefore actually get down low to shoot.

A fellow blogger, Brian Auer at Epic Edits, wrote an article The Lowdown on Getting Down and Low if you want to see another perspective of low angle shots.

Another blogger, Neil Creek, had the l PROJECT: The View From Below - Results with his readers.

Niels Henriksen

A Photographer’s Adage

I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner. - Alex Webb


Damien Franco said...

I wonder what kind of images the same experiment would produce with a fish-eye lens?

nielsp said...

A very good suggestion Damien, as I bet the low angle would offer more uniqueness with a fish eye, as I found that the lens I was using was not wide enough.

If you have this lens and are able to take similar photos, I would enjoy seeming some of these.



Antoine Khater said...

Oh great set!
My favorite is the green bag on yellow coat

nielsp said...

Thanks Antoine.

When you are shooting without looking in the view-finder you wonder if any will actually turn out.

There was a speaker that came to our camera club who was legally blind. Could only see faint blurs of colours never any detail and his images were simply stunning.

By only looking at tonal shapes he could focus on these elements and was not distracted as sometimes we are with all the detail.

Sometimes I wonder if we should not put the Vaseline on our eye glasses and not the lens (filter only) to get a different perspective.


Brian Auer said...

Great stuff Niels! This looks like a lot of fun -- especially with something like the Sigma 10-20mm lens. I might have to give this a go sometime, my Sony has a remote shutter release built-in -- so it would be a piece of cake to take the shots.

advman said...

Absolutely ingenious :)

In one of my camera bags I carry two silver mats with me to lie down for really low shots, but in fact I have used them only once. THAT's for inefficiency :)

nielsp said...


Yes I love the 10-20mm Sigma but I was a little hesitant using it, even though I have a protective filter.

Maybe I was being just a bit too cautious as the market can be very busy with people and all those legs and feet.

@ advan:

I also have a ground sheet which I use when shooting flowers But on a crowded street I didn't want to be taken for a weirdo laying on the ground at street corner even though I may have tendencies that way (grin)


advman said...

Niels, you did it. Well, actually I did it. Anyway :)

Thanks for pointing out what my monopod is for :)

Neil Creek said...

Thanks partly to your inspiration, I've had a little experiment with this idea myself! I'm pretty happy with the results and I'm looking forward to trying it on some interesting subjects :)

Thanks for the idea!


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