#570. A beautiful rear can also endear

By Steffen Kamprath | Opinion

Mar 16

Dear fellow photographer,

if you read this blog, chances are you’re assigned as your family staff photographer. Whenever the pack moves, it’s your job to document the happening. That is a highly responsible task, no doubt. But we all also know, no one waits for the guy with the camera, and it’s a tough job to keep pace with the non-photographers. You’re always running behind them and probably often end up with shots like this:


Your random family travel photo … Sheep on Süderdeich, [North Friesland (Germany)]


First, I didn’t notice it at all.

Then, I noticed it and wanted to do something about it.

But then I appreciated it and finally fully embraced the look. Because what happens with shots of people looking in the opposite direction of the camera, the so-called rear view, are three important things:

1. You guide the viewer’s view to the important subject of your image — which is not the person looking away from him.
2. You create a sense of scale and perspective by putting a human into your frame.
3. You immerse the viewer into your image by making him feel he stands behind the person in front of him.

Here are two examples of about the same spot with and without people:


With people … [Costa Smeralda, Sardinia (Italy)]

Without people … Costa Smeralda, Sardinia (Italy)


With people … Capo Coda Cavallo (Sardinia, Italy)

Without people … Capo Coda Cavallo (Sardinia, Italy)



See how the ones with people are more attracting you? That’s because a human relates to humans more easily. Landscapes get a much clearer sense of scale. The photos tell much more interesting stories than the pure landscape shots.

Use these technique to create enthralling images. But be aware: The photos are not about your people anymore but what they’re looking at. When you have eyes in your frame, viewers look at them first — and sometimes even only. It’s a (environmental) portrait.


Eye contact … Tricycle driver, Padre Burgos (Southern Leyte, The Philippines)

No eyes … [Padre Burgos (Southern Leyte, The Philippines)

Rear view photos are not about portraits anymore. For that, the following things have to align too:

1. What the people are looking at has to be inside the frame. Otherwise you can’t guide the viewer and it’s a portrait.
2. Proportionally, the people have to take a smaller frame estate (or otherwise be not the main part of the image). Because it’s about what they’re looking at, not about the people not looking at the viewer or about the person’s actual back.


More than a landscape shot … Brandenburg, Germany


You can also step-up the game and use body parts as a framing. That still creates the aforementioned three points guidance, scale, and immersion, but takes out actual people and adds another photography technique called object framing.


Use body parts to frame … Approaching Navagio Beach, Zakynthos (Greece)

and guide the viewer … Japanese tea ceremony at Asian Art Museum Berlin, Germany


Photographers often complain about people in front of them, often in discussion about selfie-sticks and smartphone-mania. However, you could turn this into your advantage with two approaches: either, like mentioned above, use them with the actual subject to create viewer’s guidance, immersion and scale — or just photograph them instead.


You can either complain … Selfie shot, above – Navagio Beach (Zakynthos, Greece)


… or photograph them … Elephants and families, Tierpark Berlin (Germany)


So next time, you stand second in line or run after your beloved ones, just relax. You’ll have some exciting new photo opportunities right now in front of you. Just embrace the new opportunities, adapt, and recalibrate your hunting senses.

If you like what you saw, visit my [Flickr] with many, many more images (also front views, left, right, and even from top 😉 ).

For now, I leave you with some inspirations from my back catalog:


Sogod Bay … Southern Leyte (The Philippines)

Endless sea, Northern Zakynthos (Greece)

Two elderly women on Cemitério do Alto de São João, Lisbon (Portugal)

Marathon runner on 2016 Lisbon ETU Triathlon European Championships in (Lisbon, Portugal)

Street cook shop, Hanoi (Vietnam)


People climbing down. Felsenmeer, Laufental (Hessen, Germany)


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  • Joakim Danielson says:

    Using people as part of the composition or to help with the story without it being about those person’s, yes I like this advice. Simple and good. Elephants and families is my favourite here, it is an image that is so much better than if it had been shot standing next to the fence.

    • Steffen Kamprath says:

      Thank you, Joakim! Yes, it is simple and I like ideas that just work, that I can remember easily. Too often we forget about simple things and are too much focused on our initial intend or boxes. “Hey, kids, turn over and grin for me!” – not necessarily. Too many people in front of your subject? Include them. Dead simply. Like for the zoo photo you mentioned: There’re a lot of “wildlife” photographers with their big zooms lurking around zoos worldwide. And we have street photographers on the streets outside. Why not combine both sometimes?

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Some 50 years or so ago, Steffen, I took a photo which my friends all told me was “wrong” and “awful” because the subject was photographed “from the wrong end”. I simply ignored the comments. It is a question of opinions, of personal taste. After all, we are talking about “creating an image”, and creation works best in freedom of opinions.

    I take Joakim’s point – with the elephants, I would have moved forward – but mainly to get rid of the fence etc in the foreground. I am not troubled so much by the people, as by the clutter created by the zoo’s boundary on the elephant’s enclosure. And I would use DOF to blur the background, too, for similar reasons. No doubt other photographers would do the opposite, with a view to emphasizing “enclosure” and “zoo”.

    It can also depend a lot on the subject matter. You mention “being drawn into the scene” – or avoiding the temptation to pitch the people waving their selfie sticks in everyone’s face (ruining everyone else’s photos) over the edge of the cliff.

    Another subject that lends itself quite naturally to photographing people from behind is a person praying. For example, you might be photographing a stained glass window in a cathedral, and include an altar below the window. And if someone is kneeling at the altar with their back to the camera, praying, it adds strength, character and meaning to the image. At the same time, being from behind it shows respect for the individual, and doesn’t intrude on their situation.

    • Steffen Kamprath says:

      Time has changed. Today’s art is about being different for the sake of different and provocative. Everything is allowed – and nobody cares. So it’s still about creating and being yourself. My photography is absolutely about me. Though I understand that’s probably different for professionals.

      For the elephants, you would have needed to go in quite close to overcome the fence and still get a sensible crop. But the people were not standing dense enough for that (like with the shot from the shipwreck beach), you would miss all the gestures happening in the foreground, and you would too much emphasize on the elephants (which I think is the most unimportant element of the photo). But yes, one would have needed to try it out. I didn’t saw it that way.

      For the prayer photo: You mean something like that? https://www.flickr.com/photos/97238650@N08/23954844152/in/album-72157662370501266/ 😉

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        OMG – yes! – that photo is a superb example of what I had in mind, Steffen. The back of the person praying sets the atmosphere for the entire photo, draws the viewer in, and makes it an absorbing study. Turn him around, and that all melts away. For me, anyway.

        “. . . that’s probably different for professionals” – of course, yes – they have a market to answer to, instructions to follow – their creativity is hampered by the task they have undertaken. You as a freelance photographer are totally free to choose whatever approach you want. If someone else would have preferred something different, they can take their own photo.

  • philberphoto says:

    Wow, Steffen! Great post! You make what I don’t know how to do look so easy! Thanks for the free education, and please give us more… please…

    • Steffen Kamprath says:

      Thank you, Philber. It’s a honor to hear that. Indeed, I’m already having a list of ideas for future posts and some are about how to make photography easy (again). First, I need to know your process and how you share things here on DS. So far, it’s a great place to be.

  • Oliver says:

    Great post ! Congrats …

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