From the Ground Up – Composition

From the ground up.

Living where I do with all the sights to see and photograph, I see a lot of photographers around and I love watching them shoot. But nothing bugs me more than watching a photographer set up their tripod, eye level, and shoot and that’s it. They may  pick it up and move it down the beach. But they set it up again, eye level, click, done, go home.
Years ago when my photos first started getting noticed, I got noticed for my style, for the type of shots I took. My shoe shots. What? you shoot shoes? No, My shoe shots. I would set my camera to a tight aperture, focus at hyperfocal distance. Place the camera on top of my shoe (so it wouldn’t get dirty or wet) and take a shot, usually with a object in the foreground.
I never looked through the viewfinder,so I really didn’t know what I got till I got home. Sometimes I got nothing, sometimes I got pure magic and a lot of times I got some very crooked horizons. My most notable shot and probably still my best selling shot was this one of a Starfish I took on the beach in Oregon. It’s a view from the ground up and it became a part of my style. So much so my first blog was named groundUp photography.
Now not all the shots I do today are done that way but more likely than not you will find me laying down on the job, looking for a new perspective on the shot. You’d be surprised how the look of a photo can change just by getting down low and shooting up. This is really true when we have foreground objects in our scenes. Getting down on the same level as a field of poppies or  even  a stupid tennis ball on beach. If you are trying to find me in a field of photographers, just look for the one covered in dirt and stickers in his shirt.
I was reminded of it again as I shot on the beach in Oceanside California. As all the other photographers set up their tripods, 5 foot high. Mine was set-up legs splayed as low as they would go and my camera was a foot off the ground. I would have laid on the sand but it was cold and getting soaked would not have made for a good time so I settled for 1 foot high and just a wet knee.
(All three images, shot 3 exposures +-2EV, Tonemapped in Photomatix)
So next time you go out, don’t be afraid to get down (just don’t boogie) and find a new perspective for your shots. I think you may be pleasantly surprised
Hope that helps


  1. Jim Cayer January 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    I can’t agree with you more, I’m very big and being low while shooting and love the perspective it gives. I also remember when you started posting your shots at shoe level and thought how unusal but effective it was. Why don’t more do this, well that’s something I ask all the time when it comes to sports. Great post and something to live by.

    • Peter January 16, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

      And that folks is from one our truly great sports shooters (recently published in SI) that really knows how to find the unique angles in all of his shots

  2. Mathieu January 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    My friend Gorillapod and I wholeheartedly agree that shots from 1 foot high can be outstanding 😉

  3. Duane January 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I totaly agree and is why I spent so much time researching the different tripods on the market. I love my Manfotto 190XPROB. It has a Min height of just 3 inches.

  4. ken January 16, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    works with kids and wildlife too… you see so many shots of the top of a bird/child’s head… get down to their eye level…something I learned from that starfish shot way back when…

  5. David January 17, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    I have a friend in western Nebraska who also knows about different perspectives. She shoots from a wheelchair and part of her bio talks about how she sees things from a different perspective. She is kind of limited on her perspective, but at 20 years old she is already aware of where a lot of photographers see things from.

  6. Sandra October 10, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Hey, Peter, its not the “getting down” that is the action, its the getting up.

    Its nice to know how you began to find your style. The questions become “do I continue to take shots like this because it fascinates me” or “do I continue to take shots like this because people like them and they sell” or both?

    • Peter October 10, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Thanks Sandra,
      Yeah, I don’t jump up like I used to. It’s why tripods are good, they give you something to lean on.
      I guess a lot of people have these questions. Even though I almost never think of it myself, I do have the “Style” debate with a lot of my photographer friends who really seem to worry about “Finding their style” you won’t…it finds you.

      And then others have the same worry that you do. I tend to not think about that much either. But the truth of the matter is, I derive 100% of my income from Photography and writing, I have no one else to rely on to pay my bills. So the truth is I ‘always” can take a shot than pleases me personally. No one else in the world needs to like it. And then I also hope that along the way, it would be great if other people did too.

      But because this is my profession, the truth is, if I knew I could shoot something a certain way without compromising morals or making myself look like a talent-less buffoon…ok maybe I’d be a buffoon.. But if I knew something would bring me $30,000 tomorrow, I would.

      It’s a business, you either have to please or attract clients, and while you hope to do it your way, in the end if I don’t, I will literally be homeless.

      It is a very tough question and there are things in my work I wouldn’t compromise on like, I believe no matter what it still needs to be high quality.

      But business is still business. If you have a restaurant that specializes in Toe Nails, no matter how great you think Toe Nail sushi is…if you have no customers…

      Like I said, I can ALWAYS create art I just like, nothing stops me from doing that. My favorite photos have NEVER sold…and that’s OK

      Thanks again for all the comments and this very good question!!