iPhone Photography 101 : Low Angles

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Every day I take a walk along Fort Lauderdale’s North Beach. I’ll be there rain or shine as I have been for many years. The reason I like this stretch of shore is that in the early hours it is quite deserted. The width of the sands there is quite narrow, so it is quite easy to step away from the shoreline should the skies become photogenic. I like to frame the sunrise with silhouettes of palm trees if I can, and the palms along this part of the shore are a little wild and unkept.

I began sharing the photographs from my walks on my twitter stream , uploading directly from the beach after a few quick adjustments. It quickly became a 365 project, sharing each day whatever the weather. That in itself is quite a challenge.

To create something interesting for a photo stream – I alos share on Instagram and Facebook –  it’s important to be inventive and not repetitive. I share a very narrow range of subjects – palm trees, same dunes, ocean waves and morning skies, so keeping the photos fresh depends upon changing perspectives and points of view.

I try to share images that present a different way of looking at things, and one technique I use a lot is low angles, frequently from just a half inch off the ground. Seeing the world from such a persective is something that we don’t see in every day life. Since we learned to walk life is seen from a much higher angle, so taking photos from low down can help present the world in a totally different light.


1. Angles and lenses

With a conventional camera the trick would be to work with a wider lens, or a zoom to accentuate the perspective. But the size of a camera can limit how low you can get for your image making. With a cellphone the limitations of the camera lens is actually a liberating thing. The camera is physically so small with the lens down near the edge of the device, so getting down low is comparitively easy.


2. Volumesnap

One of the most inventive additions to the cellphone camera has been the volumesnap feature. This allows the photographer to activate the shutter by means of the volume-up button. This innovation – first brought to us by the Camera+ app – allows us to use the iPhone camera with both hands (no camera shake!) just like a proper camera. You can even use this facility via the headphones volume control. This is such a bonus when using the add-on macro lens – you can set up your photograph by placing the camera on a mini-tropod and trigger the shot using the headphone as a remote. For street photography this has fascinating possibilities.

When shooting along the shore I use the volume snap to take images of seabirds – it’s quite easy to hold the iphone with my thumb over the volume button and the camera locked-in focus. Reaching down and snapping the shutter means I can get the camera lens very low very quickly.


3. Depth of Field

One feature of iPhone photography is the ‘tap-to-focus, tilt-to-expose’ action that from day one made the mobile camera a much different photography experience. It certainly hooked me enough to ditch my puny point-and-shoots and concentrate on squeezing sparks from my iPhone. Now of course it’s possible to lock your focal range, which is great for low angle photography.

Shooting this way will accentuate perspectives, so fixing a focal point really will help. The iPhone is very good at automatically grasping the middle distance, but if you’re looking to accentuate the angles it will be good to pick a subject to catch the sharpest focus. Some camera apps will allow you to lock your focus for freehand snapping.


4. Forget the Viewfinder

One thing that will free up your image making is to forget about shooting and focusing through the viewfinder. It’s impossible to get down to ground level most of the time, so simply shooting  freehand will generally pay dividends. Just trust that things will work. I still find myself checking that I caught the wave just so, or managed to frame that seagull well but snap-snap-snapping away, trusting the scene, is the way to go.


5. Straight and true.

I’m a stickler for straight horizons, but one wonderful thing about shooting and processing images on cellphone is how easy it is to straighten using the various apps that are available. Most apps have a straightening tool, including Instagram, and there’s even a very simple app called Quick Straight that will do the job quickly and simply. It’s always best to shoot stright as a matter of habit – beach shooting makes it easy as the horizon is alway there to help.


6. Don’t over-expose.

As a rule it’s easier to lift out the shadows of an image than work details from a blown out exposure. Remember to tap the screen to help the camera adjust ot the brightness. I use Camera+ app a lot, which has an on-screen slider to help reduce the light. As I frequently shoot into the sun this really does help.


7. Angles and shapes

If your shot has an obvious subject, do experiment with angles and positions. Sometimes a low angle can create extraordinary shadows and dramatic angles, all well worth trying. Everything from people to cars, buildings and trees, animals and plants, can look so different from low down. Pets especially are wonderful subjects- you are presenting the world from their point of view.

My main advice though is to keep experimenting and take lots of images – deliberately aiming for the inventive. One very good reason to have a regular and familiar subject is that you can frequently return to the same scene in different light conditions. Sunlight is probably the most dominant element in your image-making. Learning the ways that sunshine can add drama will really make a difference to your photography skills.

When you are on that trip of a lifetime you will find that your new photo skills will help you take the most wonderful images.



Andy Royston is a designer, artist and photoblogger based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is one of the world’s best known mobile photographers and his work has been exhibited across the UK and Europe. He is the winner of the 2014 Mobile Photography Awards ‘Nature and Wildlife’ Award. Veteran of the London 1980s music scene, where he designed record sleeves for all kinds of rock stars and indie heroes he is a bottomless pit of musical trivia. Still looking for the next big thing he’ll be dropping into JAQUO.COM to write an irregular column on the musicians he’s most excited about.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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  1. After all these years I’m still admiring your work Andy! I’m so pleased that you are doing so well. Please keep going and showing your work.. Best Wishes.

    • Hi Gayle – great to hear from a former Fort Lauderdalian!

      I hope all is well with you and the old country is treating you well. Thanks also for your kind words about my pictures. All that pounding of the sands is beginning to pay off 🙂

      – Andy

  2. I have admired this guys work from the first time I saw it. Absolutely spectacular. You can tell he truly loves his work. Keep it up Andy.

    • Thank you for such kind words, Charlotte.

      It’s all true I love to photograph the dawns here. Always changing and full of surprises.

  3. You’ve quite an eye Andy, for what makes a photo more than just a photo. Not only are they gorgeous, but they also elicit emotion from the viewer. Really a treat for the eyes!

    • Hi Nancy

      I’m glad that you see the emotion in the pictures. I try to make the images timeless, so that there’s a sense of the eternal at work…

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