I had just pulled my boat into the protected bay inside of the marsh where these horses were feeding. I was still actually idling my way in when this whole scenario began to unfold and really had no time to get myself into position, the boat anchored securely, and me and my gear into the water and set up on a shoal (sandbar) to shoot this.
Realizing I was in a sort of do or die moment here, I chucked the anchor of the bow, ran back to my camera, wrapped my leg around the chrome pole to the hardtop over the center console of my boat, and then hurled my body over the side of the boat. The result was me dangling head first over the water with me ankles hanging onto that pole for dear life.
This is all a little bit ridiculous if you think about it. Why go through all this trouble? When not just simply pick up the camera and shoot?
Photographs like this are all about perspective. Low, high, kneeling, laying down… it all makes a tremendous difference in the composition of your photograph.
The higher that your camera is to your subject, the higher up into the frame your background will be. The lower you are, the less background you will include.
Additionally though, the higher your camera is to your subject, the more that they will melt into the background and surrounding landscape. The lower you are, the more that the subject will leap out from the landscape.
When we are photographing wildlife, there are always decisions to be made about background and perspective. Do I get higher in order to anchor my subject into the landscape, or do I get lower to further separate him from the landscape? Do I get higher to make my subject part of the landscape? Or do I get lower to make my subject larger than life?
Each choice has pros and cons. Each choice comes with a trade-off and consequences that you must accept. If you are not asking yourself these questions, then you are holding yourself back in terms of what you can do with your composition and the story you tell with your photographs.
For me, I have a head and belly rule when it comes to separating my subject from the landscape and making them large than life.
Basically, I want either the head to be above the horizon / background elements in the composition OR I want to see the horizon line just BELOW their belly if the background elements are big and imposing. This is how I know that I am low enough to achieve my goal. The head and belly rule.
So in order to create this shot, I needed my camera a whole lot lower than I was going to get by staying in the boat. This is why I prefer to shoot in the water instead of from a boat. In order to make this happen with such short notice, I dangled myself off the side of the boat to get my camera down near the water. This was just low enough in order for me to get the horses head above the tree line thus creating a more intimate one on one sort of feel between the viewer (you) and the horse.
Now, if the trees had not been in the background of this shot, I would have wanted that horizon to go below his belly. This would have been my preference because the open and empty sky would have had to be contended with. A big sky is a large and imposing background. If unbroken then the horizon goes down further for me. Because the background is broken up between water, trees, and sky, just getting he horses head above the tree line was all that was needed.
There are a bunch of different variables in the real word. Now “rule” works all the time. And this is a pretty subjective rule to begin with.
With that said, its not even really a rule to be honest. Its my personal preference. Its not something I hear other photographers discuss, and its not something I see others typically aim for. So if you are going to try this, realize this is a technique that I have developed and prefer the look of but others may have very different ways of doing things.