John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche


viewpoint in photography


Do you want a carrot?

Of course he does. Even though he’s old, sleeps most of the time, and has failing vision, our dog Griffin, sitting under the kitchen table, immediately rivets to that carrot as soon as he spots it. He loves carrots. In this shot I imagine this is how it looks to him.

Viewpoint. I also like to call it “perspective,” although in photography and art that term often refers to how visual elements are arranged to create a sense of depth and distance. That’s an element of what I’m calling viewpoint, but there’s more to it. Viewpoint also overlaps with the idea of camera angles in photography, although it goes beyond that idea too.

Viewpoint is how the image places the viewer within the image. It's the physical and psychological perspective or point of view that the image creates for the viewer.

Often when we shoot, we are standing. That’s our typical viewpoint, the way we usually see the world. What about other perspectives? What if you kneel down to shoot? Or lie down, get closer, or further away? How would this scene look to a child, a dog, an ant, a bird? How does your TV or car see things? Interesting photos often are those that place the viewer into an unusual viewpoint that encourages us to see, in a new way, even a familiar person or everyday scene.

Thinking in terms of spatial expressions can help us see and shoot from different perspectives. So experiment by looking:

next to
from inside
from outside
from below
from above
from the other side

… and any combination of these and other viewpoints.

Other than the physical position the photographer and viewer take towards the scene, including how closely connected or distant one feels from it, psychological perspective also is achieved by other elements of composition, like shapes, color, texture, focus, and tonal range. What exactly would this scene look like through the eyes of a bird, squirrel, tree, dog, child, or people who are tired, drunk, sick, spinning, jumping, angry, happy, sad? Learning how to create different viewpoints in an image is learning how to empathize with people, animals, and things.

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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche