Getting Down in the Dirt

How to Shoot Better Pictures In the Pumpkin Patch

For many photographers, taking a photograph means raising their camera to their eye, focusing, composing, and pushing the button. What they end up with is a snapshot that certainly explains to their viewer where they were and what they saw, but rarely results in a photograph worthy of being blown up and framed.

If your eyes are between 5 and 6 feet from the ground, and you always stand erect when taking photographs, then every photograph will be from that same vantage point and your photographs can become pretty boring very quickly!

A Ladder in Every Shoulder Bag?

Since I don’t carry a ladder with me on a casual day of picture taking (but you can bank on me having one with me on every assignment I shoot!) I am always on the lookout for higher vantage points from which to shoot. Without a moment’s hesitation I’ll climb stairs, towers, hilltops, and even small mountains to get an image looking down on something.

And, at the drop of a hat, I’ll get down to ground level looking for that elusive better image. And, because the ground is always nearby, as opposed to the aforementioned towers and mountains which aren’t, more times than not it’s the ground level photo that comes up as a keeper. Look at Photos #1 and #2. Which would you rather frame and put on your wall?


1 Shooting while standing erect gets you a great record shot with so much visual data you can’t see the essence of the subject

…. but it’s also nothing more than a snapshot.

Camera data: Nikon D100, 24mm f2.8 AF-D lens (35mm equivalent), ISO 200 equivalent, exposure: 1/320 at f/5.6.


Sing along with me; “You gotta turn around and get down to pick a peck of pumpkins”! The low camera angle of this photo helps eliminate the distracting background that strengthens the essence of the pumpkin patch. Camera data: same as photo #1.


To Shoot Good Pictures You First Have to be Able to See Them!

Viewing and composing the image while down on your belly for that low-angle shot is not as easy with many of today’s cameras as it was with yesteryears. While all my Hasselblads (and every other rollfilm SLR) and all my early Nikons have removable prisms, my newest casual camera is the Nikon D100, and it doesn’t have a removable prism. Once the camera is down at ground level, the lack of this feature makes ground-level viewing and composing almost impossible.

One of my favorite accessories for my D100 is a right-angle finder (see photo #3) that allows me to look down into the eyepiece when the camera is in the dirt. Although I use Nikon's right-angle finder; the availability of one for your favorite SLR is worth looking into (forgive the pun).

Going for that low camera angle doesn’t mean you have to shoot blind! The Nikon DR-4 Right Angle Viewing Attachment lets you see what the camera is seeing when it’s down in the dirt. To use it on the D100 you’ll also need Nikon’s viewfinder adapter part #2370.



Carry a Trash Bag in Your Bag

If you decide to take my advice on this there is another accessory that you should also tuck into your bag. It is the lowly trash bag. It’s amazing how much water the knees of your khakis or jeans can wick up when you kneel on moist ground. Spread the bag on the ground before you kneel on it to help keep you presentable when you take a break from shooting.

Regular Tripods Don’t Work!

Because regular tripods are often too bulky and inconvenient for this type of shooting, I had always carried a Leitz Table Top Tripod and Leitz Small Ball Head. But, while beautiful, rigid, and perfectly machined, the Leitz unit, at just over 9 inches in height to the center of the lens when the camera is mounted on it, often isn’t as low as I want to go. My solution? Carry a one-pound bag of beans (I use the Goya brand, No.1 grade, small white beans). I plop the bag of beans down on the ground or atop a ladder, make a groove in it with the edge of my hand, and nestle the camera into the groove.

For bean security, I put the plastic bag of beans into a second bag. It’s a nylon ditty bag with a drawstring top that I picked up at a camping supply store. This bag-in-bag protection helps insure that I never end up with loose beans rolling around in the bottom of my camera bag. I have often been accused of losing my marbles, but never my beans.

How low can you go?
Using the beautiful Leitz Table Top Tripod and Leitz Ball Head the answer is not low enough!

When is a pile of beans more than a pile of beans?

When you use them to support your camera two inches off the ground!