Viewpoint height in photo refs

By now every photographer and painter should be aware that the modern standard in portraits is enlarged nose and other distortions, as set by masses and wide angle lenses of phone cameras. ;) So my question is not about that.

Even if I use normal angle of view lens to take photos I intend to use later as a reference, I have some doubts. I am very tall, so I have different view perspective than average viewers, and the same is reflected in the photos I take, be it a phone or a camera. Unless I use the hinged screen and hold the camera at breast level, or bend or sit down, I get much more view of the ground. I realized that when doing one painting, and when I modified the view by compressing the ground, like if I was lower and looking a bit up higher, I liked the result much better. (I hope that you understand what I mean...)

I tried to search but found no discussions or recommendations on that, in terms of classical art teaching.

I know though that Ansel Adams took many photos from a platform on his car's roof, to achieve the special perspective, and even make it more profound. It went into different direction of course, he wanted it to look like that.

Do you think that all makes a bit of sense and I need to take care of viewpoint height to have more pleasing perspective? (While still being pleased by Adams' work.)


  • @outremer
    Eye level or just below. Use a tripod. Upgrade your phone or use a drills with a good 85mm equivalent lens. Lighting is more important in my mind. A strongish softened main light with a fill card or light. Lighting and environment. 

    Learning to draw the face and figure from life are more important in the long run. Attending formal figure drawing sessions is a great thing where possible. There are many online resources
  • @outremer

    Depending upon context, you could use relative height of the sitter and the viewer in a psychological way.  

    There is IMHO some psychological association of height with authority probably because as children we all had to literally look up to adults and as adults we all literally look down on the innocent wee ones.  

    Put someone on a pedestal by lowering the camera to lend them mystery or power.  

    Raise the camera above them to lend a sense of innocence or vulnerability.
  • CBG, all valid points, you confirmed what I was thinking of intuitively.

    Kingston, my question was less about portraits but rather about landscapes. However, having "eye level" view is obviously essential for portraits too, because one rarely wants to show face as seen from below (will look like a hamster)

    So, if there are no humans shown in a painting to establish the ideal level, I assume that the standard "eye level" viewpoint height must be roughly 150-160 cm from the ground.
  • @outremer. Very old post of yours but its a Friday afternoon and I don't feel like working anymore. I've never heard anyone giving advice on what level your eye should be. When it comes to landscapes where you place your horizon always seem to be of greater concern. Perhaps that's why you couldn't/can't find anything on the subject in literature?

    When it comes to people like Adams and others (read hamsters), I do know some artists explicitly change the point of view up to where it isn't accurate anymore only to create some effect as CBG pointed out. Check out Caillebotte's 'Paris Street; Rainy Day' (Rue de Paris ; temps de pluie) for the warped perspective on the building in the back.
  • Thanks for posting and yes, I have the same feel of Friday :)

    In case I was misunderstood, I am attaching an illustration. The ground area marked in violet results from the different view height. You get the effect even if you adjust the view to have the horizon at the same level in the painting.

    By the way, the building is not warped in Caillebotte's work. It is built that way to fit into the area created by two streets meeting at an angle.
  • edited November 18
    Mark has a photography guide section here that might be helpful on how to take good photographs of what you want to paint.
  • outremer said:
    So, if there are no humans shown in a painting to establish the ideal level, I assume that the standard "eye level" viewpoint height must be roughly 150-160 cm from the ground.
    Looking straight ahead: I've pondered this a bit - or at least related aspects. Horizon is always eye level if we are looking horizontally (whether we stand or lie down). So if we climb a hill we get more foreground, and at a different angle - as your diagram points out.
    Looking up or down: But if we aren't looking horizontally (I hadn't connected the word horizontal and horizon before, not sure why) but looking down from a cliff at an angle or up at the clouds, or down at our feet, that shifts the horizon and everything.
    Framing a portion of what the eyes see: Or... are we framing what we see or a section of what we see? We generally frame a portion. That changes it again.
    Single glance or sweeping view: If we truly paint the single glance then the periphery should be blurred, understated because the eye only sees clearly at the focused centre. Landscapes are usually done to replicate the experience of being there, which means we may change our focus and perspective. Cameras create bokeh based on distance in a single glance. How do we want to represent it? I have painted single glance as part of the tonal method I was taught - more for still life though. It's very effective.
    My biggest discovery of perspective in the last year or so was that both cameras and perspective drawing are flawed and distorted when it comes to rounded objects that are off-centre. Neither match the way the eye sees, partly because of curvature of the back of the eye and partly because we have very little peripheral vision and would normally make multiple eye movements within a few seconds, thus changing the perspective distortion of curves created by cameras and perspective drawing.
    Sorry, just a rambling reflection rather than direct answer to your problem.
  • Thank you, @A_Time_To_Paint!

    @Abstraction, that's a detailed analysis! I think your last statement are key, it's not easy to describe that. My sketch is too simplified and only marks the ground. Climbing higher and adjusting the angle to keep the horizon at the same level will not only result into seeing more of the ground, but it will also change the relationships of the objects we see. 

    I think the nature of the effect is similar to the compression of the objects we see through a telephoto lens.

    And back to the original problem, the view a tall person gets and photographs, assuming the camera is held at eye level, will differ from that a short person gets. A little bit but noticeable.
  • My detailed analysis that emerged from my last two paintings, trying to solve problems with photomerges. The seascape was easy. The current one with architectual features was a long journey. Nobody anywhere I looked understood off-centre circles, dozens of youtube or perspective sites that didn't give the answer, and classic perspective for hundreds of years is incorrect unless you want to replicate a camera image that distorts them. It was on this site I found the key through @Richard_P => <=This will blow you away if you're not familiar with it. So I now treat off-centre rounded objects the same as if they were in the centre - with the view that if I was in that location I would move my eyes and they would then be in the centre of my vision and not distorted.
    Also helpful input from @CBG and @dencal and others a year ago in this discussion.
  • @Abstraction : ouch, seeing all those complex problems... Okay, I got what you mean. I should stop whining and just paint. :) Plus, my problem, if I think I got one, can be easily solved by taking my ref photos holding the camera a bit lower.

    From that discussion on the forum, I'd take a quote of tassieguy :That does it! Architecture is not for me!

    And from that blog, there is something like "no matter what you do, it will be wrong".
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