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All photographs, like all paintings, are flat, or two-dimensional representations of the three-dimensional world. Historically, there is some evidence that the ancient Greeks had some understanding of the concept of perspective, or rendering objects on a two-dimensional surface, as appearing closer or farther from the viewer, thus giving drawings depth, or the third dimension. It wasn’t until the Renaissance of the 15th century that artists were able to apply the geometrical concepts that gave so many of their paintings depth, or perspective, that had been missing from most prior works of art.
Without delving too far into the math of perspective, the essence of the concept is to add a horizon line to a painting, drawing or photograph. The horizon line is the place where objects become so small that they are essentially invisible. Strangely, more depth is added to a photograph when the horizon is as close as possible to the center point of the frame without actually being on the center point. When it is, the third dimension disappears and the image looks two-dimensional again.
An interesting experiment that will help you understand this concept quite easily is to find a flat object with uniform holes or spaces in it. This could be a cooling rack in your kitchen on which you place cookies from the oven, or you could even drill holes in a piece of flat wood. Hold the flat object in front of your eyes as if it was a horizon line, so you only see the straight line created by one edge. Then, start to tilt the flat object either up or down, so the holes are revealed. With very little tilt, the farthest holes will appear smaller than those closest to you. This creates more depth, or perspective. As you continue to tilt the flat object, the holes start to appear to be the same size, until the flat side of the object is parallel with your eyes, eliminating any perspective.
In a painting or photograph, this three-dimensionality is most easily shown with a road or railroad tracks, either diminishing in size into the distance or as a winding path. Even though your mind knows the railroad tracks or the sides of the road are parallel, perspective makes it look as if they join in the distance at the point on the horizon line where they essentially disappear. This is another reason you often want to look for lines in a scene that will help viewers see depth or perspective easier.
Landscape photographers use the perspective concept to create interesting images, with a smaller object in the foreground that is balanced with the grandeur of a mountain range, for example, in the background. Both the foreground and background are in focus with the use of a narrow aperture (large f/stop number) to give the photograph as much depth of field as possible. Remember, depth of field is also controlled by the distance between you and the object or scene you are photographing, so if you want to show a diminishing row of objects all in focus, you must place more distance between you and your camera and them.
You can learn more about how to control and use perspective in your photography creatively when you first explore the world around you, finding the angles and positions from where the third dimension is easily noticeable, without actually taking any pictures. Being able to recognize perspective with your eyes first will make it easier to see it when you are deciding how to compose a photo.
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Allan Ray Vallada
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