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Tips & Tricks

Learning Overhead Photography From Vintage Perspectives

By Michelle Bird on September 25th 2014

margaret-bourke-overhead-photography

We often find ourselves shooting what’s directly in front of us, perhaps out of convenience. It’s always great to garner a new perspective, and try different angles that you haven’t incorporated into your shots before. Film photography always involves a lot of planning, you think more about your settings, composition, light, etc. Shots have invariably been more thought out with film, which is why I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from the past.

A great perspective that some folks tend to forget about, is shooting the whole scene looking down. You don’t need a drone for this one, just a few stairs or an elevator. Overhead is done quite often when shooting food or portraits, but with the examples below of great photographers from the 1930s-1960s, you’ll see how much creativity can derive from a simple change of perspective with urban and street photography.

[REWIND: The Photographer Who Ignored Segregation And Saw The Person, Instead Of The Color]

Overhead photography gives you a chance to experiment a bit, so here are a few things you should think about:

1. Play With Shadows

Who says you need to put your camera away in mid-day sun? Mid-day sun is perfect for capturing the scene from above as it gives you a chance to play with shadows and incorporate them artistically into your shot. Embrace that harsh sunlight!

Bruno and Eric Buehrer, 1964

Bruno and Eric Buehrer, 1964

Lucien-herve-1948

Lucien Herve, 1948

2. Symmetry

While looking down, look for lines that connect to your subject, shapes, curves and formations that might help you tell the story of the location you’re shooting. Symmetry definitely adds a unique layer into overhead photography that will make those urban landscapes stand out.

stanley-rayfield-1939

Stanley Rayfield, 1939

3. Minimalist

Try isolating your subject with the least possible distractions around it. Minimalist compositions will help you tap into your creative side a bit more, as it will challenge you to see past the distractions. Also, look for colors and tones that contrast each other greatly, not only will it look good in color, but if you decide to do some black and white post-processing, you’ll have a little extra to work with.

alfredo-camisa-1956

Alfredo Camisa, 1956

pietro-donzelli-1954

Pietro Donzelli, 1954

martin-munkacsi-1940s

Martin Munkacsi, 1940s

margaret-bourke-white-1930

Margaret Bourke, 1930s

andre-kertesz-1954

Andre Kertesz, 1954

gerard-castello-lopes-1950s

Gerard Castello Lopes, 1950s

 

mario-de-biasi-1953

Mario De Biasi, 1953

Images Courtesy of US National Archives

I want to hear your suggestions, what has worked for you when shooting overhead landscapes?

Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
Instagram , or Facebook

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Dylan Richardson

    We can all ways learn from those who have gone before us.

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  2. Barry Cunningham

    Love the Bourke-White photos, especially the first — I imagine tenents of the Chrysler Building would have to go to a lot more trouble to recreate that one nowadays.
    The two shots in the first section have awfully long shadows for the “mid-day sun”. They’re more like late afternoon to golden hour. They fit the title of the section, but not the commentary.

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  3. Anthony McFarlane

    Thanks for sharing. I will definitely try these tips.

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