How to Find the Best Photographic Vantage Point


Jordan-Hare Stadium at NightJordan-Hare Stadium at Night

Jordan-Hare Stadium at Night

Isn’t this an amazing time to be interested in photography. Whether you’re a fan of the hype or not, the announcements of new tech are almost never ending. This week Apple announced the iPhone 7 Plus. With this Apple showed off the first dual camera on an Apple smartphone. This was something I had been anxiously awaiting. Just the technical achievement in having two different camera sensors, two different focal lengths, in your pocket, brings a whole new life to what’s photographically possible.

Nikon, Canon, Sony, Samsung, and all the big tech names in photography have been working diligently on that steady pace of incremental advancements that we often scoff at in tech reviews, and perhaps some would say boring. While we always want to see giant leaps from one year to another, the slow steady incremental advancements in technology are usually how innovations are made. This has been said for a long time over the history of technology. Walter Isaacson took a fantastic long look at this concept in his book The Innovators which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

Another camera company currently 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 can create beautiful or successful images. After watching the progress on the L16 for a while I was thrilled when they asked me to explore the aspect of  finding a good “vantage point” for photography 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 they like it. One of those elements is the vantage point of the image, and that’s what I’m exploring here today.

The Jordan-Hare Stadium Vantage Point

A “vantage point” is a “place or position affording a good view of something,” and it’s not always the most obvious place. What’s unique about this vantage point at Jordan-Hare Stadium is how well it tells the story of this particular 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. A solid, strong, towering creation stretching endlessly around the block, patiently waiting for next time, the next game.

Since we are now full-force into the college football season in Auburn 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. 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. So, 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.

Setting Up Field Astrophotography

Telescope Setup at Twilight

Setting up the telescope for lunal viewing as the sun sets

The clear summer skies are upon us it seems, so my nephew and I setup for some viewing and photography last night. For more of a how-to-tutorial I should at some point talk equipment and setup but I’ll save that for another day. The skies were clear last night but the atmospheric conditions were not the best for planetary astrophotography, so we stuck with “night shots” and the Milky Way.

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Not One is Missing Among 10 Billion Trillion of Them :: Isaiah 40:26

The Milky Way Galaxy and Jacob

I have been walking, and sometimes running, through the book of Isaiah over the last week or two. There are so many incredible passages in Isaiah, but this morning I came across something that made me stop, it was just one phrase, just four words, “not one is missing” (Isaiah 40.26.d). This passage, in context is Isaiah 40:25-26, is talking about the pagan worship practices, many of Isaiah’s contemporaries had failed to resist, which now surrounded the Israelites. They often worshipped astrological phenomena, but Isaiah here is saying that Israel’s God is the only thing worthy of worship, and he created the stars themselves.

Apparently astronomers say there were about 5,000 stars visible in ancient Israel, so saying that God created these stars would have been an awe-inspiring thing (and it reminded me of the star images above from last summer).[1] What is always so awe-inspiring to me, in a time and culture where not many people worship the actual stars, astronomers now estimate there are more than 400 billion stars in our own Milky Way galaxy, there are 125 billion galaxies in the universe, making the total number of stars 1×1022, or about 10 billion trillions. If this isn’t mind boggling enough to contemplate, Isaiah says God knows all these stars by name! In His own strength He created, controls, and sustains millions upon millions of stars, each one of which He, amazingly, has named (cf. Ps. 147:4).[2]

I’m not even sure I can fully understand what 10 billion trillion is in a numerical order. The only thing I could think to compare a number like that to is something huge, like our national debt which is around 15.6 trillion. Even something we are told is as huge as the national debt looks absolutely minuscule when compared to how many stars God has created. The point being of course, if God knows the name of every single star, such a God will surely never forget even one of his own people. After all, there are only about 7 billion of us for God to remember!


[1] See EXIF Data of Star shot above on Flickr

[2] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-), Is 40:25–26.

cf. confer, compare

Christmas Eve, Where Christ Lights Up the Darkness

It was a wonderful night at Cornerstone tonight celebrating the coming birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. I always love the candles, it is such a reminder that Christ is the one who brought light into the darkness of this world, and walked among us as well. Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday Night Auburn Lights Photo at Jordan-Hare Stadium :: Friday Feet

It’s the Friday night before the first Auburn football game and it’s become sort of a tradition with Deborah and I to walk around downtown and eat dinner while we watch all the “out of towners” stroll in. Last year it was Hamilton’s on Magnolia, this year it ended up being a very crowded Mellow Mushroom. It’s always interesting to see our quiet southern town turn into a crazy madhouse, but that’s fall, and that’s what makes Auburn such a unique town. It also makes for some great photographic opportunities. At this point I’m not sure how many times I have shot Jordan-Hare Stadium (one of my favorites came right off my iPhone), but it always seems to have another look, another angle, or different colors that I haven’t found or seen before. What’s even better are the countless shots of Jordan-Hare on Flickr and other places that seems to find even more looks to this great stadium.

If you are in Auburn take a walk down to the stadium and see the new black and white banners that went up in the off season, they look great and once again they changed the face of Jordan-Hare. So here is hoping Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers have another fantastic season down here on the the plains.

Creation Proclaims the Milky Way Galaxy on the Summer Solstice

As I mentioned in my blog post last night we were going to try to get some shots of the Milky Way Galaxy, and these above are what I ended up with last night. There are so many different aspects of creation but this one always blows my mind. I love how Paul puts it in Romans 8:20-25

…ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The lights at night out where we live are always interesting. Some nights it’s so dark you really can’t see your hand in front of your face, but most of the time we have a good bit of “glow” from Auburn-Opelika on one side and several other cities on the other side, but they are farther away. The shots of the Milky Way above (the first three) were taken when it was very low in the night sky facing south east. Turn around and you see the difference between the glow facing south and the glow facing Auburn. That last image still shows a good bit of stars, but nothing like the shots from the other side of the sky, and that shot was an entire f-stop longer (in other words the shot in the direction of Auburn let in twice as much light as the shots facing the Milky Way and showed less stars). Still, either way, the number of stars visible is always just amazing to me. Thanks goes to my nephew Jake who stood in and modeled for the first shot and explained to me what I was looking at in the night sky.

A Midnight Summer’s Dream in the Night Sky

Ok, well it’s not Shakespeare but it is just about that time of year when the days are really long and the nights are clear and hot. Sometimes it’s hard to find new and fresh images when your routine seems to stay the same, but there is always a lot more to creation than meets the eye. Out here we actually still have a dark sky at night, most of the time. We can still see the lights from the Auburn-Opelika metro area and on the other side we can just see the glow from Columbus, GA, but it isn’t anything like what the sky looked when we lived in the big cities like Dallas. Those big cities like Atlanta and Birmingham have almost no night sky left. Luckily out here we still do… so… I’m off to try to get some shots of the Milky Way or whatever else my nephew finds while stargazing. Hopefully I’ll have something interesting to show for it tomorrow night.

The Dallas Skyline at Night on Our Arrival

So we made it to Dallas, just a quick 12-13 hour drive and we arrived. The trip was pleasantly uneventful and after dinner I was thrilled our hosts wanted to stop at their favorite skyline view so I could take some photos. I love photographing traffic at night, it has a unique motion all it’s own, but being here in Dallas standing over the I-30 bridge with a large tripod looked conspicuous to someone driving by and it only took about 10 minutes before the Dallas Police Department showed up. For once the police didn’t make me pack it up and go home, instead she just wanted to know how much my camera cost? The three above were my favorite of that shoot. At dinner tonight I found out I am going to get to go to the PGA Byron Nelson Championship, so hopefully I will get my first decent PGA Tour shots while I’m there, after that it’s Polka time.

Auburn 4th of July Fireworks Celebration Photos

4th of July Fireworks Photography

4th of July Fireworks Photography

4th of July Fireworks Photography

4th of July Fireworks Photography

Last night we went to see the fireworks display in Auburn. It was a very enjoyable night to have even just an hour or so to hang out with some friends and family while we waited for the fireworks. The fireworks display that the city of Auburn Alabama puts on each year is great, and we have been to see fireworks all over the country.

This year they started a little early, we presume because a storm was on its way, but they were still great to see. I decided to take my camera equipment and do some fireworks photography this year. I have not shot any public fireworks display in many years, but still came away with a few good shots.

Normally when doing fireworks photography you want to setup using a sturdy tripod so you can use your remote shuttle release in manual mode, but I found another Auburn photographer on Twitter (ToomersCoffee) who also got some great shots hand holding with a faster ISO.

I hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July weekend.

Do it Yourself Low Light Fireworks Photography

Low light photography is probably one of my favorite genres or areas of photography. It has so many possibilities and you can really get something special that the eye doesn’t always notice. One easy way to try out low light photography is with the 4th of July holiday (for those here in the U.S) or on New Year’s Eve.  You can of course accomplish this at any time of the year, all you really need are healthy collection of sparklers, but the opportunities during those two times of year make it quite easy.

The camera is going to record any light source you have, so the bright lights of a fireworks display or something like this sparkler above is good place to start. The only light source in the photo above is the sparkler, but notice it also is enough to light up the subject as well.  You will of course need a camera, and some type of support (like a tripod) would help, but is not totally necessary.  This shot above was taken hand held and the exposure was placed on the sparker itself.

If you want to try something other than the program mode or automatic settings, place your camera on the “bulb” shutter speed setting, and hold the exposure open for different amounts of time depending on what effect you want to see.  The concept is very similar to photographing lightning.  For a full and detailed explanation on how lightning photography is done, see How to Successfully and Safely Photograph Lightning.  If you can place the camera on a sold surface or tripod it will greatly help the sharpness of the image.

Since most of us now use a digital camera, just shoot away and experiment with different settings until you get the desired results.  I have created several posts on low light photography, you can also see these on my low light gallery.  Any questions at all just ask.