Any photographer with a little bit of training knows what point of view is. Where is the camera relative to the subject? High above? Think aerial photography. Low? Think photographing a pet while you are sitting on the floor. Close? Difficult to photograph an insect any other way. Far away? Grand landscapes lend themselves to this point of view. Photographers love to experiment with point of view, to add excitement and originality to their subject matter.
Writers, too, use Point of View, or POV as I will call it from here on. Early novel writers almost exclusively used what we call Omniscient Third Person POV. That means the writer is god-like, writing about the actions and thoughts of all the characters, using "he" "she" and "they", no matter how separated the characters are in time and location. Read Jane Austen for some examples. Omniscient Third Person is gaining some new popularity after being banished to the outer darkness for decades.
If you remember your grammar classes, you'll recall that the "you" pronoun is second person. Very few novels are written in second person, but most help books and much non-fiction are written that way.
Many books today are written in first person, using "I" and "me" as the pronouns. First Person takes you into the mind of the main character, as if he or she is talking to you, telling you everything as it happens. First Person can be exciting and dramatic, but one thing it cannot do, is tell you what other characters are thinking, or what is happening outside the knowledge of the main character. This can make it difficult for the writer to create tension based on another character's actions, a character we writers refer to as the Antagonist. Yet, it can be done. Have you read books recently written in first person? Sue Grafton's Alphabet series with main character Kinsey Milhone are written in first person. I've read them and thoroughly enjoyed them.
There's another variation of Third Person, in which the writer zooms in on the thoughts of one, or a small number of characters, still writing he/she/it, but with special insight into those characters. Third Person Close, as this POV is called, is very popular at the moment, and it's the POV I chose for my novel, Another Ocean to Cross.
Next time you pick up a book, see if you can tell what POV it is written in. Do you like it? Would it have been better for the author to have chosen a different POV?
I recently published a short blog post aimed at writers who are having a tough time sorting out POV. If you are interested, you can read it here.