How to Find the Best Vantage Point Photographically
This is an amazing time to be a photographer. Whether you're a fan of the hype or not, the announcement this week from Apple about the iPhone 7 Plus, specifically the new dual camera, was something I was anxiously awaiting. The technical achievement to having two different camera sensors in your pocket brings a whole new life to what's photographically possible... from something you can carry in your pocket! Another camera company working on multiple sensors I've been eagerly following is Light.co who have been developing a camera called the L16 which uses 16 different sensors. Light.co is taking a different approach to multiple sensor from Apple and LinX. The new iPhone uses two sensors to house two different focal length lenses where the user can choose to use one or the other. Light.co is taking a 16 images from 16 different sensors and stitching them all together for a final 50mp high res DSLR-like image. But none of those advances alone creates a beautiful or successful image. After watching the progress on the L16 for a while now I was thrilled when they asked me to explore the aspect of finding a good "vantage point" here on my blog.
There are so many elements to photography which come together to make an image "successful," and when it's done really well it's hard for the viewer to even put their finger on why, they just know. One of those elements is the vantage point of the image, and that's what I'm exploring here (and possibly continuing in the future), the #VantagePoint.
The Jordan-Hare Stadium #VantagePoint
What's unique about this vantage point is how well it tells the story of the night. You can see so many visual elements within the frame, thousands of solum fans milling around from edge to edge, the blackness of night soaking down all around the stadium except inside where everyone's left, even the trash around the grounds tells part of the story. Then you have the stadium itself, solid, strong, stretching endlessly around the block, waiting for the next time, the next game.
Since we are now full-force into the college football season the image I decided to start with is this photograph of Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn that I took after the Auburn vs LSU game in 2008. And while I'm offering a few suggestions from the perspective of Jordan-Hare Stadium as the subject, this will work well in any large venue. To find the best vantage point for any given image I would offer up these three suggestions.
1. Explore All Possibilities
It took me years to find some of the obvious locations to capture the best images of Jordan-Hare. And it took exploring the stadium for all possible angles, from all possible vantage points 365-degrees around the stadium grounds, and at all given times night and day. I've shot from the ground, from the top deck, on the walkways, from Plainsman Park (the baseball stadium next door), from the basketball arena (both of them), from super far away, super close up, and all points in between. Some I like more than others, but I keep coming back to this one spot on the south side of the stadium.
In fact, the vantage point where this image was taken wasn't even possible years earlier before "the night the barn burned" to the ground during the 1996 Auburn vs LSU game, and more unique vantage points have grown up over the years as Auburn has grown. I finally found one of my favorite spots after a very dejected loss to LSU as fans slowly sulked out of the stadium. I ran up to the top floor of the parking deck on the south side of the stadium and captured a few images with my camera perched on the concrete wall.
2. Always Have a Camera With You
As security at big events has become tighter and tighter it's been more and more difficult to get high quality pro gear in or near sports venues. Auburn implemented a no-DSLR rule a while back (though I would argue not for security reasons), and now they have a restriction on the length of lens you can bring into the stadium (i.e. have with you because you aren't going to walk back to the car once you are there). So, the compact cameras have now become my go-to cameras when it comes to shooting scenes like this, but you never know when you are going to find that perfect vantage point, so always have a camera with you. This shot was taken with a Nikon D700 (a 12mp full-frame DSLR, which at the time was huge) and the Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 lens, neither of which I could get in with today, but it was what I had with me that night. As Chase Jarvis has famously said, "the best camera is the one you have with you." For secure venues like this almost any compact camera will do. I love the Fujifilm X70, and the iPhone, both fantastic cameras to take this very shot. Once the L16 openly available in 2017 it will probably fit the bill in an amazing way.
3. Ask the Local Photographers
This is something I think many of us are hesitant to do. We photographers can be very competitive, threatened by anyone with a camera self-conscience types, always questioning our own work and hunting down the best vantage points. So the thought of giving up your sacred secret spots was once taboo at best, but has since vanished (for the most part) with the proliferation of photography in our digital age. Besides, what's the worst that can happen, they don't respond or say no, but any time someone asks me where I took this or that shot I'm more than thrilled to point out the specifics. So my suggestion would be to hit up the locals wherever you are on Twitter or Instagram and just ask. Most likely they already know where the best vantage points are, and are happy to share them with someone who also has a love for photography.
One thing Apple did was bring photography to the masses, a fundamental shift in the world of photography. That didn't make everyone an award winning photographer, but it removed biggest barrier, owing an easy to use camera. Whatever the camera, constantly trying to improve my own photography is one reason I've spent so much time studying photography on every level I can find, the #VantagePoint being one of those areas. I especially love deep thick philosophical photography books, and one of the absolute best I read this summer was The Road to Seeing by Dan Winters which I'd highly recommend. Until next time, happy hunting that unique vantage point.