Sunday, August 21, 2016

Getting higher and higher

There's a tendency for all photographers to stick with the familiar.  In my case it's to set my viewpoint somewhere between my eye height and ground level.  This doesn't always provide the best view for complex scenes such as gardens.  A little more height, to provide a more elevated viewpoint, can provide a very different picture.

In my own garden I occasionally photograph from the upstairs windows to produce images looking down on the scene.  For example:

Part of my rear garden taken from a first floor window
 I've also increased height by going up on a step ladder.
Part of my rear garden taken from a ladder
Even though the viewpoint is only about 8-9ft / 250-280cm above ground level the use of a wide angle lens (my old Tokina 12-24mm before it expired) gives a definite feeling of looking down on a scene.

Working, as I now do, in the 10 acres of The Garden House, I have areas I can photograph using a higher vantage point - and areas I can't.  The walled garden, for example, has vantage points on terraces and on the tower that links an upper and lower terrace.

Looking down on the tennis court terrace at the Garden House, Devon
View over the walled garden from the vantage of a window in the tower at the Garden House, Devon
Shots like these are easy to take using conventional tripod, wide angle lens and remote release but they definitely give a feeling of a different perspective on a garden.  But what do you do if the terrain is flatter or you need height to see over hedges or other obstacles?  Carrying a stepladder round a ten acre garden is far too cumbersome.  My tripod, even with the centre pole extended, only gives me a small amount of height extension.

So I've been trying a technique I've used before but never extensively.  It involves mounting my 600D camera on my old Manfrotto monopod (25+ years old), adding my 15-85mm Canon lens, switching the focusing to manual and setting a hyperfocal distance, switching on live view with the articulating screen positioned so I can see (just) the screen, and hoisting the whole lot as high as I can get and still trigger the camera using the remote release.  Yes, it's a bit hit and miss.  The monopod does move around a bit - but the good IS on the 15-85 and a wide angle setting such as 15 or 18mm produces sharp photos in good light, even at ISO 100 to get the best dynamic range.  Even though I can see the live view screen it's too far away to do more than roughly judge the angle of a horizon or upright feature.  But you can, with a bit of practice, get excellent results.  Results such as these:

Elevated view over the borders in the walled garden at the Garden House
Elevated view over the hedges in the walled garden at the Garden House
Elevated view over the drift plantings of the Summer Garden at the Garden House
Elevated view over the drift plantings of the Summer Garden at the Garden House
Elevated view of the tower in the walled garden at the Garden House.  The window vantage point for the earlier shot is on the tower.
In practice I'm getting shots taken from a viewpoint about 11-12ft / 330-360cm above ground level. Where there is no suitable vantage point it's certainly worth a try to produce some different views of familiar scenes.  Another advantage if you have taller structures in the shot (the tower above is a good example) is that shooting from a higher viewpoint reduces the converging verticals problem so common with lower level shots.  Yes, it can be overcome with tilt/shift lenses - but those are beyond my budget.

I'm planning to get an 80D in the next six months (Alamy earnings permitting).  With it's built in Wi-fi and ability to be controlled from a phone app I can see me getting even higher.  There are taller monopods out there and even special extendable poles that will carry a suitable camera mount.  And all at an affordable price.  Of course, you get a few funny looks from visitors - but it's worth it.  At least I'm not taking selfies.

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