Perspective is a powerful tool in image creation. When used masterfully, it can create a 3-dimensional world within a two-dimensional surface, drawing the viewer into your world with a single glance.
Here, we’ll discuss the different types of perspective in photography and how you can successfully use them to improve your work.
What is Perspective?
Perspective refers to the rendering of distance and depth in a 2-dimensional medium.
In photography, perspective refers to the manipulation of the viewer’s perception of three-dimensionality in images.
Types of Perspectives in Photography
1. Linear Perspective
One of the most common techniques used in visual art forms to create the illusion of depth on a 2-dimensional surface is with linear perspective.
Linear perspective uses converging lines to influence the viewer’s perception of space.
It requires two main elements: parallel lines and a vanishing point.
The parallel lines are made to meet and vanish, typically on the horizon.
The more these parallel lines converge at a vanishing point, the further away the vanishing point will appear from the viewer’s perspective.
The most common location to position a vanishing point is the horizon line, but you can place it anywhere in the composition.
A composition can have multiple vanishing points, although your viewers will usually only perceive three of them.
- One-point perspective: When one vanishing point is present in an image.
- Two-point perspective: When two vanishing points are present in an image.
- Three-point perspective: When three vanishing points are present.
Your image will appear to be more three-dimensional with each vanishing point that you use — the more vanishing points in your composition, the greater the illusion of depth.
One-Point Linear Perspective
One-point linear perspective uses two parallel lines that converge at a single point in the horizon to create the illusion of depth within an image.
Think of standing in the middle of a bridge. The bridge continues deeper into the landscape, becoming narrower until it disappears completely.
While the sides of the bridge don’t truly meet, you as the viewer perceives their convergence as proof of distance.
One of the common ways photographers add linear perspective in their compositions is with leading lines.
Some examples of leading lines typically seen in photography are roads, river, ripples of water and ray of light.
Two-Point Linear Perspective
With a two-point linear perspective, two vanishing points are positioned on the horizon line.
For example, imagine that you’re position looking at the corner of a building.
The walls of the building will gradually diminish in either direction, eventually vanishing at the horizon line.
The more the building walls stretch outward, the greater the appearance of depth.
Three-Point Linear Perspective
Three-point linear perspective is a little different from the other two linear perspectives mentioned.
While two of the vanishing points are placed on the horizon, the third is not.
The third vanishing point is positioned either above or below the horizon to create a unique viewpoint.
The added vanishing point enhances the sense of depth to the composition.
Think about looking upward at a sky-high building. Or, think about looking down from the top of that same tall building.
These perspectives often give the viewpoint of three-point linear perspective.
2. Diminishing Scale Perspective
Our brains perceive objects that are smaller to be farther away than close ones.
As such, varying the sizes of elements in a composition can effectively add depth.
Consider the example image above. The buildings in the foreground are larger and perceived to be closer by the viewer.
As the buildings gradually become smaller, they start to seem farther away.
But the reality is there is no depth. The images are two-dimensional, and the buildings are the same distance from the viewer.
The shift in size from the foreground to the background make the composition appear three-dimensional.
To emphasize depth using scale in your images, use a wide-angle lens.
Wide-angle lenses distort images in a way that makes objects in the foreground seem larger and objects in the background smaller.
3. Forced Perspective
This technique involves strategically positioning objects on a single plane at various distances.
A classic example of forced perspective in photography is an image of someone pretending to support the Leaning Tower of Pisa with the palm of their hand.
The person isn’t doing so in reality but, with forced perspective, it can appear that they’re completing an incredible feat.
To create the illusion of forced perspective, you’ll need to have two varying points of interest.
Place one point in the foreground and the other in the background.
Make sure these two points of interest are aligned. Once positioned, photograph your scene with a telephoto lens.
The telephoto lens creates the illusion that the points are closer in distance than they really are.
Two of the most classic telephoto lenses are the 70-200mm or the 100-400mm. These are great lenses that allow you to cover a great range.
Below are some recommendations based on the camera you are using.
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Keep in mind, for this illusion to be effective, you’ll need to use a small aperture. This will ensure that most of your image will remain in sharp focus, emphasizing the appearance of objects being close together.
4. Atmospheric or Aerial Perspective
When light waves move across the atmosphere, air molecules and particles interpose and scatter them. This phenomenon affects our vision in two ways.
It makes objects appear lighter when they move farther away from us. And it makes all colors, except white, fade into the distance.
Atmospheric perspective is a technique used in visual arts that utilizes these effects to influence the viewers’ sense of depth.
There are two main ways you can use this technique in your images:
The first and perhaps the most obvious way is to photograph scenes where many of these particles are present, like a foggy body of water.
Fog clouds blur the details of objects, making them appear to be a greater distance away from the viewer than they are.
Keep in mind, to effectively use fog to enhance depth; there needs to be at least one area in the image unaffected by the fog. This contrast between obscured and unobscured detail is what creates the illusion of depth in an image.
The other way you can apply atmospheric perspective in your images is by mimicking it in Photoshop.
One of the most popular techniques to do this is the Orton effect.
You can apply the Orton effect using the Gaussian Blur filter in certain parts of your image. This is a fitting choice if you’re unable to find a subject with fog or mist in real life.
We’ll talk about the Orton effect in more detail below.
Another way to increase the three-dimensionality in your images is by adding overlap within your frame.
The more layers of overlap you have in your composition, the richer the three-dimensionality.
When an object is closer to the camera than other objects, it will often cover up a portion of objects further back in the frame.
This gives viewers information on the distance of objects in relation to other elements in the scene.
Know that overlap is often a small contributor to the depth of a photograph.
Other techniques, such as vanishing points and diminishing scale, must be used in conjunction with overlap to convey depth to the viewer.
Tips for Using Perspective in Photography
Vary Your Vantage Point
Switching up your vantage point is a wonderful method for using the perspective techniques previously listed.
The shape and form of your subjects will shift depending on your vantage point, making for numerous opportunities when you’re shooting.
If you take a photo of a statue from eye level, for example, the depth of your image will be constricted.
The level of perceived depth in an image you take from eye-level will be different than the one you choose to take from a low vantage point.
The image of the statue taken from eye-level will likely appear flat and stagnant. But, by shifting to a lower vantage point, you can make the statue appear taller and grander.
By moving closer to the ground, you can also make objects in the foreground appear larger relative to the background.
This will further enhance the perception of depth for your viewer.
For example, imagine photographing a mountain range with wildflowers in the foreground.
By shooting from a low vantage point, you can make the wildflowers appear larger, emphasizing their closeness to the viewer.
When finding compositions, always experiment with different vantage points.
Try rotating 360 degrees around your subject to find different ways you can enhance depth in your image.
A great way to vary your vantage point is using a tripod.
Tripods give you the ability to keep your camera steady in any position you want.
Whether you want to get close to the ground, or capture an image from high up, or at a tilt a tripod will help you do so.
I recommend the Manfrotto Carbon Fiber with Horizontal Column.
This tripod is great because it allow you to go low to the ground, and with the horizontal column you can get angles and perspectives that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Don’t Leave Your Foreground Empty
Placing visual elements in your foreground is a great way to exploit perspective in your image.
The objects don’t have to be rare or spectacular – a rock or interesting plant will work well.
Objects in the foreground look larger in comparison to the other elements of your composition. Our brains will interpret this difference in size as depth.
In particular, viewers will perceive larger objects to be closer than smaller ones. So, by placing elements in your foreground, you can give your composition a boost in three-dimensionality.
Foreground elements can also enhance depth through overlap. An object in the foreground may easily overlap an object in the background or middle ground.
This layering of elements helps viewers understand the relative distance between objects in the scene.
Having overlays in your image is one of the most effective ways to provide depth clues to your audience.
Your foreground is also an ideal place to apply linear perspective. Perhaps the most common way photographers do this is by utilizing leading lines.
Leading lines are two parallel lines photographers places in their foregrounds to draw viewers’ eyes towards the chosen focal point.
But, beyond guiding the viewer’s eyes, leading lines are also a great compositional tool for perspective.
Physical objects, like rivers and roads, can be used as leading lines. When strategically incorporated into an image, these lines will create the perception of a third dimension.
Frame Your Subject
Adding an extra frame to your composition is a useful trick for injecting more depth into your work. Your second frame could be a window, door, or a natural frame like two parallel trees.
This technique is commonly referred to as “frame within a frame.” Your second frame will create the appearance of overlap and effectively provide a sense of depth.
Experiment with shooting through an object to capture your subject.
A simple example of this is shooting through a window, but you can also try shooting through glass, a fence, or rocks, to name a few options.
Besides adding depth to your image, a secondary frame can also help you draw emphasis to your subject.
This is especially useful when you’re taking a wide shot but don’t want your viewers to lose a clear visual focus.
Vary Your Focal Length
Photographers make use of the different focal lengths to influence perceived depth in their images.
A wide focal length enables you to capture broad scenes, which exaggerates perceived depth. Using this focal length, you can make closer objects seem bigger, and distant objects look farther away.
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A telephoto lens has just about the opposite effect. It lessens the space between objects, creating the perception that they are on the same page.
You can use a telephoto lens to make two objects in the frame seem more similar in size than they actually are. For example, you could make a person seem similar in size to a building.
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By varying your focal length, you can find creative ways to utilize perspective in your images.
Vary Your Focus
We mentioned how the atmosphere affects depth perception by influencing the degree of contrast and detail in an image.
That is, objects with more contrast will appear closer to the viewer, while objects of lesser contrast will appear farther.
Besides photographing fog and mist, you can vary the contrast of elements in your images by adjusting your focus.
Objects that are in focus will have more contrast, while objects that are out of focus will have less.
To influence perspective in your images, consider which objects to keep in focus and which to blur.
A varied focus in a composition can lead to a greater depth.
Process Your Images
Photographic technology has advanced dramatically since the days of the camera obscura and analog cameras. Cameras are now able to produce tack sharp images even in low light conditions.
This has created greater artistic possibilities for photographers and is beneficial on many fronts.
But, along with the level of detail modern cameras can capture, there comes the issue of lack of depth.
In many cases, our camera’s ability to capture everything in sharp detail has made producing images with a sense of three-dimensionality more challenging.
One method photographers use to help alleviate this issue is post-processing.
Photoshop is one of the most powerful tools that you can use to edit your images.
To preform the following techniques you will need powerful tools that other software may not have.
Using editing software, you can make shifts to contrast, brightness, and saturation in your photos.
You can do this through post-processing techniques, such as focus stacking, Orton effect, and dodge and burn.
Orton effect is one of the most popular post-processing techniques photographers use to influence an image’s perspective.
When we look at objects that are farther away, we see less color, contrast, and saturation. This loss of information happens gradually with distance.
You can use the Orton Effect to mimic these depth clues.
One of the main objectives when using this technique is to cast a dreamy glow over certain areas of your image, subtly blurring its appearance.
This glow minimizes tonal contrast, texture, and detail by casting a blur over your picture.
This will create the impression that the blurry elements in your image are far away, while others are closer to the camera.
You can use the Orton effect to add softness and a subtle glow to images. This creates both depth and an ethereal tone over the entire image.
Steps For Applying The Orton Effect in Photoshop:
1. Create a Copy of your image. (Command + J or Ctrl +J)
2. In the layers section, set your blend mode to screen. (This will give you the glow)
3. Apply the Gaussian Blur Filter: Select filter→Blur→ Gaussian Blur.
4. Choose your desired radius. The radius will determine the strength of the blur.
5. Create a copy of the Gaussian Blur layer (Only necessary if you want to intensify the blur of a single Gaussian Blur Filter)
6. Press and Hold Control/Command while selecting all the Gaussian Blur Layers.
7. Combined the Gaussian Blur layers by selecting the highlighted button in the image below.
8. Create a layer mask for the Gaussian Blur group. (Hold down Option/Alt when pressing the layer button to invert the layer)
9. Select the Adjustment Brush and brush over any areas you want to apply the Orton effect.
Focus stacking involves bringing together two separate photos with two distinct areas of focus.
Generally, one focus point is in the foreground of the image, and the other is in the background.
We’ve mentioned how the contrast between tonalities and color within an image impacts its perspective.
In particular objects with high contrast will appear closer to the viewer than objects with less contrast.
We’ve also said that you can alter the contrast in an image through focus.
Objects that are in focus will have more contrast than objects that are out of focus.
Focus and contrast work together to enhance the depth of an image. And you can control both with focus stacking.
I use this technique to heighten the details in my foreground without sacrificing a significant amount of detail in the background.
This way, I have more control over the level of depth in my image.
For example, I used focus stacking on the image above.
You’ll notice that the subjects in the foreground contain considerable detail and definition. This detail and clarity lessen significantly when you look at the background of the image.
The objects in the background are generally blurry and small, with minimal texture. The shift from subjects in focus to subjects out of focus emphasizes depth in the image.
Dodge and Burn
Dodge and burn allow you to manipulate the level of contrast between the lightness and darkness in a composition.
As you shift these contrast levels, you will also change the perception of distance for objects in your image.
You can apply dodge and burn in your images in a variety of ways. The most common, and perhaps the easiest way to do it is by adjusting your clarity, contrast, and sharpness sliders.
Use the clarity slider to adjust only the brightness in mid-tones of an image.
Use the contrast slider to adjust the tonal range of an image. The light aspects of the image will lighten, and the dark aspects will darken.
Use the sharpness slider to shift contrast in the pixels. This slider will increase or decrease the contrast between each pixel.
If you’re using photoshop, you can also use levels and curves to alter the contrast, and therefore the perspective, of an image.
While perspective may seem like a daunting aspect of photography to master, it will make an incredible impact on the quality of your images.
From highlighting your main subject to constructing the overall mood of your image, you can use perspective to influence your compositions in a powerful way.
So, keep these tips in mind the next time you go to shoot and experiment with the power of perspective on your images.