How to Create Depth in Landscape Photos
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Creating depth in landscape photos can increase viewer involvement and appreciation, which are a valuable commodity to a landscape photographer whether selling their work or not.
How to create depth in landscape photos involves depth of field, landscape photography composition tips, exposure adjustments, lighting consideration, and contrast control, among other things. Several landscape photography techniques will assist you in creating depth.
Depth of Field
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You already know how to get more depth of field, you stop down the lens aperture. Stopping down a lens to smaller apertures means more of the view will be in focus then if shot with a wider aperture.
Interestingly, you can sometimes create more depth with shallow depth of field, also called selective focus. The method used for this technique is to isolate a foreground subject (or background or midrange) in stark contrast to the out of focus background (foreground, or both).
A lone gnarly tree in sharp focus with rocky outcrops of the mountain in the background blurred out of focus will give an impression of depth that may at times surpass what deep depth of field supplies.
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Having foreground interest goes hand in hand with the previous tip, or you can implement this technique on its own. Foreground interest tends to make a view as though they are part of the image, since the foreground element may be seen as a substitute for the viewer.
Foreground interest is one of the most used landscape photography tips for creating depth, power, balance, or all at once. See our latest article on foreground interest for an in-depth discussion.
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In addition to focus depth, compositional tricks can be used to create depth in landscape photos. Leading lines is one that readily comes to mind.
A leading line brings the viewer somewhere. Depending on intent, you can lead the viewer from one side of the image to the other or it can lead the viewer deeper into the photograph. A roadway, railroad tracks, river, or shoreline all work as leading lines.
A change of topography can also serve as a leading line, such as a hill. Perhaps use changes in vegetation, too, for instance, a forest growing up from a grassy meadow.
Combining Leading Lines with other composition tools such as S Curves or Rule of Thirds, and then combining that with other tools like depth of focus techniques can all work together to create depth in landscape photos.
Bright to Dark
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A tool for creating depth in landscape photos that may not be completely obvious is adjusting exposure and also contrast levels from light to dark or vice versa.
The way this works often depends on the percentage of light to dark, how extreme the difference, and where in the photo we place the differences. So we begin with composition but make changes in exposure to accentuate differences in light levels.
Familiarity with ND filters, GND filters, the Zone System, and dynamic range are instrumental to controlling this tip for how to get more depth in a scene that may not have obvious depth without this trick.
A bright area in the background, surrounded by darker areas, will automatically lead a person’s eye to the brightness. Likewise, a dark area in the foreground with a predominately bright scene will also draw the eye. There is a lot of leeway in how we can implement this tool for depth.
Color to Color
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This is similar to the previous tip about light to dark and vice versa, simply using color differences instead. Actually, you could employ both techniques for many subjects.
Oceanscapes are a great example. The bright yellow sand against the deep blue water. A view of a corner of Central Park qualifies. Green vegetation juxtaposed against the grays or tans of urban construction.
Juxtaposition is also a composition technique, so you could easily combine several landscape photography techniques to take advantage of this method. Depth of field control and exposure settings may also be used in addition to color contrast.
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Finally, for this time around anyways, we come to apparent perspective. I tend to use modifiers a lot when discussing photographic tips and techniques. In this case, apparent is used with perspective because of all of the variables involved.
Lens focal length, subject position, camera position, subject distance, and even contrast in color and exposure have an impact on the apparent perspective of a photographic view.
As an example, wide angle distortion shooting close to a foreground element can be used as a perspective control to make an object loom large in front of a background object, creating an artificial depth. Conversely, apparent foreshortening from a long telephoto lens can also create a sense of depth when combined with selective focus techniques.
Combine the Techniques
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As with many of the more advanced techniques and methods learned in photography, we can combine them in any number, creating a huge number of possibilities for creating depth in landscape photos.