Photographs with depth draw the viewer in, helping them to feel like they are in the scene themselves, rather than a spectator looking at a flat image from outside.
Experienced photographers know a variety of ways to achieve this, although with practice they all become second nature when assessing a shot. For those starting out though, trying to remember too many methods can easily result in remembering none.
Here then is an easy to remember trio of ways you can learn to achieve depth in your photos. This list isn’t designed to cover every technique out there. It isn’t exhaustive. It’s bite-sized, digestible, and will help you to achieve depth in your photos from today on.
I give you, in order of difficulty, The Three Ls.
The use of leading lines is one of the most basic ways a photographer will get depth into a photo. The classic train track picture, with the rails starting somewhere toward the bottom corners of the image and narrowing down to a point in the center of the shot, is a fine example of this.
These lines draw the eye along them and into the picture, which stops the viewer from seeing the image as a flat scene. One reason it’s a common technique is that leading lines can be found almost anywhere; you don’t have to risk your life on the railways.
Try seeing how you could use the sidewalk, the shoreline, a fence, a river, a bridge, a windowpane, or a fallen tree as a leading line yourself.
Repeating subjects can produce more abstract leading lines as they become smaller in the shot, as this row of Buddha statues demonstrates.
Like lines, layers can be found in more scenes than you might have been realizing. Think about foreground and background, and anything in between.
In the mountain scene, we have the tree in the foreground with the white water behind, the greenery further back and finally on to the mountains and their mist.
When objects in different layers overlap, the feeling of depth can be heightened.
Finding natural frames in your scene adds another layer, as does a misty background. Using a shallow depth of field is another way to accentuate different layers in an image.
The most difficult of our three Ls, light is our final way of adding depth to a photograph.
While the picture of the castle interior does make use of leading lines from both bottom corners, the shadows really separate the dark front of the image from the illuminated back.
Another way of using light to give depth, again by finding shadows, is on the aforementioned repeating objects. At the right time of day, the light will fall on this kind of subject in a way that allows you to alternate between light and shadows, provided you are standing in the correct place.
Certain elements of our 3 Ls do overlap, and some photographs will have more than one of them in there, a situation that should really signify a great image.
Again, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are other ways to achieve depth in your photos, but if you keep in mind lines, layers, and light, you should often be able to find a scene with depth worth shooting.