The “Eyes” Have It!
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- Focus On Composing Photos: Focus on the Fundamentals
- Bryan Peterson's Understanding Composition Field Guide
The Perspective of Lines
Creating Perspective with Secondary Objects
A Practical Use of Depth-of-Field
Check Your Angle
Flat Ain’t Bad
Do the Work!
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One of the biggest challenges of photography is creating a three-dimensional representation of the world in a two-dimensional medium. Our eyes and, therefore, our minds see a world with depth and perspective, not the flatness that is often evident in too many beginner, and even intermediate, photographers’ images. Simulating that depth and perspective in your photos not only make them more “creative,” but also, and maybe more importantly, are critical methods for attracting more people to your images and drawing their eyes (and minds) deeply into the visual story you are telling.
The following tips should help you understand the concepts of depth and perspective and how to use them consciously whenever you survey a scene to photograph and put your eye to the camera.
Flat images are the result of failing to think about what you are shooting, and how, instead of taking a minute or two to look for opportunities to add depth and perspective to your photos. This is what experienced photographers do that have developed their “photographer’s eye” (and mind). They understand that recording an image is a process and not the single action of depressing the shutter button.
Your eyes see the depth and perspective because that is how they work. Now, you must help the camera see depth and perspective too by first “scouting” what you want to shoot. When some vision does catch your eye, walk around it, walk closer and farther and look at it from low and high angles. As you gain more experience with this scouting exercise, you’ll begin to recognize at what position and angle your camera will be able to record the depth and perspective you see…and that is where you’ll place your camera because you thought about your image first.
Here is an opportunity to exercise your photographer’s eye by looking for a rather simple example of objects in the real world, which should help you understand depth and perspective quite easily. Stand to one side of a row of trees, fence posts, parking meters, etc. and you’ll see the repetition of like objects receding into the distance. For example, you could use that side angle as a good place to start a series of images showing depth and perspective. Position your camera low and high, at different angles to the repeating objects and close to the first. Study the images carefully and remember which positions and angles reveal depth and perspective in your images, better, more creatively.
Lines are similar to repeating objects, as the objects create a line into the distance. Look for the more definitive lines in nature as well as those manmade: a shoreline, dried wave lines in beach sand, train tracks, painted road lines, etc. Again, you want to take the time to view these lines from various positions and angles. You should find that a low angle exaggerates the beginning point of the line and allows you also to include the point in the distance where the line disappears.
You’ve spent a few minutes looking at a scene to find the best position to give a photo maximum depth. You like what you’ve see and your photographer’s eye has revealed exactly how to shoot it. The problem with your composition, however, is that it has plenty of depth, but no perspective. Perspective helps to define the scale of the image for viewers, which is also important to attracting them and drawing them deep into your photo. One of the best methods to add perspective is to make sure secondary objects of known size are also included within the frame. You might add objects or simply reposition yourself until secondary objects appear. This relates directly to one of the “standard” techniques for landscape photography: shooting with a secondary object in the foreground and the grand vista across the background. The secondary object gives the mind a sense of perspective for the image as well as the starting point for viewers’ eyes to be drawn into the photo.
During your few minutes of investigating a scene to photograph, try to visualize the layers of the scene that help to define its depth. The foreground and background come to mind almost immediately, but it’s the multitude of layers between the foreground and background where you are apt to find the best opportunities for creating depth. Typically, the different layers represent different tones. Think of an object in a middle layer that is isolated in sunlight. The layers behind are in subdued light or maybe misty while the foreground may be in partial sunlight. A series of puddles may recede into the distance from the foreground, each with a slightly different tonal quality. Finding and capturing these multiple layers will give your images great three-dimensionality and interest.
You can also control and create with depth and perspective with the focal length of the lens you use. Many of the tips presented above produce the “best” images with a wide-angle lens. From a low angle, the foreground object in a landscape image and objects and lines receding into the distance are highly emphasized. A telephoto focal length will create the opposite effect, causing the layers to be pressed together until all the depth has been removed and your image is flat.
Adding depth to your images is where depth-of-field becomes a practical tool and no longer a vague concept. It’s another point of creative control you have to manipulate the perception of depth. Use a wide aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/4, and fewer of the receding objects and layers within a photo are in focus. You could choose to focus on just the first object or the foreground or focus on a point “deeper” into your image, defocusing the foreground and background, thus emphasizing the narrow layer that is in focus. To make the entire depth of your image appear to be in focus, choose a narrower aperture, such as f/16 or f/22. This is a technique most landscape photographers know well and use often; plus, it renders all repetitive, receding objects in focus, which emphasizes the great depth of your image.
A sure sign that you are not thinking about the image you want to create before tripping the shutter is when you walk to a spot, stand, hold the camera at eye level and take the picture. That’s not to say this could be a good position for some photos, but it’s more likely the best photos of what you see will come from different angles: low, high and at various angles to the scene, subject or object. This is why your photos deserve some thinking time before shooting time. Somewhere among all those positions for your camera are the best ones: you simply must spend some time looking for them.
As so often is the case in photography, the opposite of what we think as the “best” approach or technique is not necessarily “bad.” Depending on what you are shooting, purposely eliminating the depth and perspective from an image can result in something quite creative and interesting. Without any elements, such as lines, layers of different tonal qualities or secondary objects of know size to help viewers’ eyes see depth and perspective, an image can become surreal or abstract, giving it a totally different kind of appeal.
Of course, none of these tips will be helpful and appear in your photos unless you commit the time necessary to put them into practice. You can read all the articles and books and view all the how-to videos you want, but until you go into the world with your camera and try to duplicate these depth and perspective techniques you haven’t actually learned much of anything. When you do, however, you will feel great and more people will want to see your photos.
Image credit: mycola / 123RF Stock Photo
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