Shake It Up: 3 Easy Ways to Add Variety to Your Photos

The low angle changes the dynamic of this image, made at Lake Eola in Orlando, Florida. I had a 16mm fisheye on my camera, and the camera was just above the waterline, mounted on a Platypod Max that was on my Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ballhead. Photos © Deborah Sandidge

Regular readers know that I emphasize in these columns the idea of visualizing opportunities that will set your images apart from the rest. There is another aspect to that idea, and that’s setting your images apart from each other. In other words, adding variety to your photography by adding, and even combining, techniques.

All my methods, techniques, and ideas ultimately have one purpose: to reach beyond the first-impression shot, the see-something-and-grab-a-photo moment.

I made this eye-level portrait in the mountain weaving village of Chinchero, Peru. Attracted by the vivid colors and textures, I saw she was looking right at me with this little pout, which made her all the more adorable. If I’d remained standing and shot down at her, the photo wouldn’t have the same emotional impact.

I thought I’d start off this year’s columns by going into the details and providing examples of some of these creative tips and the added benefit of combining them from time to time.

My 8-15mm zoom fisheye, at 8mm, provided a different way to picture familiar elements at the Bear Lake area of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. I wanted to give viewers a sense of place and a bit of a jolt. In Photoshop I gave the colorful, detailed circle a clean white background and a drop shadow.

1. Point of View
Essentially, the idea here is to go low, go high, go unexpected. Shoot from a low angle for eye-to-eye images and unusual perspectives; from a high angle for the depth, detail, and emotional response that those photographs can provide.

By unexpected I mean your choice of lens and composition. Tilt the camera slightly to increase a sense of movement or tension. Use a fisheye lens for the surprising treatment of familiar subjects—for example, sky, sunlight, trees, and clouds when you look straight up at them.

This image of Tower Bridge in London combines a 20-second exposure with blue-hour photography for an unfamiliar look at a familiar place. I deliberately tilted the camera to avoid a static look and add a little tension to the picture.

A photograph of a child taken at the child’s level builds an emotional connection between the viewer and the photograph, and makes for a more intimate portrait. If you shoot standing up, you’ve separated yourself, and the photo’s viewer, from your subject.

A photograph driven by a different point of view often begins for me when I think, Okay, I know the normal way to shoot this, but what’s the not normal way? What composition will give me the element of surprise?

I used a 30-second exposure and a high angle for this image taken in Addison, Texas, at holiday time. I could have gotten an interesting shot at ground level, but from a ninth-floor vantage point, I added depth, dimension, and distance to the colorful curves.

2. Go Long
Long exposures capture time passing, and they collect light. When combined with panning, they can convey the energy of city streets.

When I combine them with blue-hour photography, I can get very different, eye-catching, and dramatic views of very familiar places.

A shot freezing the action wouldn’t impart the feeling of frenetic energy that is Times Square in New York City. The reflection of the iconic yellow cab in the glass front of the background building adds to the effect of the 1/6-second pan blur. The oldest trick in the book, still reliably effective.

3. Time of Day
I like to shoot at the golden hour of early morning, before most people are up; at the blue hour as darkness approaches and the light is more dramatic; and after dark, when the tourists are all gone, I have the streets to myself, and the night tells a different story.

For this to make sense and to work for you, you have to consider yourself a traveler, not a tourist. You have to get up earlier and stay later than a tourist. Your day will be longer, but you’ll see more, photograph more, and tell more stories than the tourist.

Combining a silhouette with a golden-light image taken near Ljubljana, Slovenia. The figure is a guide who knew a stormy night would produce golden rays and fog for us if we were up early enough the following morning. We were.

And I like to combine silhouettes with images taken early and late. Silhouettes are a wonderful way to create mystery and add interest to an image.

I’ll explore more ideas for idea-driven photographs in my next column.

A selection of Deborah Sandidge’s world photography is at, along with cinemagraphs, photo tips, and a schedule of upcoming workshops, photo tours, and seminars.