(Last updated on July 5th, 2022)
Photographs are two-dimensional. But we see our world in three dimensions. Adding the feeling of depth to a photograph is challenging. But knowing how to use a few techniques well, you can create photos with the appearance of depth.
Perspective photography uses composition rules to draw a viewer’s eye through an image. This gives the impression of a flat picture having depth. I like to use lines, shapes, and other elements within my compositions to enhance the sense of perspective. This can trick viewers’ brains into thinking there’s a third dimension to what they are seeing.
In this article, I’ll lay down the basics of perspective photography. I’ll also share some great practical tips and answer the most common questions on the topic.
- Why is Perspective in Photography Important?
- Types of Perspective
- Tips to Help You Create Better Perspective Photography
- Tip#1: Take Photos Looking Up and Looking Down
- Tip#2: Use a Frame Within a Frame
- Tip#3: Look For Strong Lines
- Tip#4: Use Lines That Create a Vanishing Point
- Tip#5: Place Elements in the Foreground
- Tip#6: Use Objects for Scale and Create Forced Perspective
- Tip#7: Experiment With Different Focal Length Lenses
- Tip#8: Control the Depth of Field in Your Photos
- Tip#9: Alter the Perspective of a Photo While Editing
- Frequently Asked Questions
Using various techniques to add a sense of perspective to photos makes them look more natural and, in some cases, more unnatural. I like creating perspective in photos. But it can be challenging for new photographers. The more aware of it you are, the more effectively you can use it to enhance your photographs.
In the second section of this article, I’ve included nine tips to guide you in practically implementing perspective in your pictures. First, here’s an outline of the different types of perspective that will help give your images more depth.
Types of Perspective
There are five types of perspective seen in photographs. These are:
- Linear perspective
- Forced perspective
- Atmospheric perspective
- Diminishing scale perspective
- Overlap perspective
This technique makes use of one or more lines in a composition that seem to disappear at what is called a ‘vanishing point’. Often this works most effectively when there are parallel lines in a photo leading to the horizon.
This technique dates back to the 1400s and is the most common way artists learned to add depth to their paintings. It is popular with photographers too because it is such a simple and effective composition tool.
This technique plays around with the relative size of objects in a photograph. The sense of perspective depends on the distance between smaller and larger objects. A small object positioned closer to the camera takes on the appearance of being bigger than the large thing that is further away.
I enjoy experimenting with this technique and having fun with it. You can use it to create all kinds of humorous illusions because our brain expects certain objects to be a certain size. When we force the perspective of how these things appear in a photo, it can be a little confusing and quite funny.
This is a technique also used in painting. Landscape painters use less intense colors for parts of the painting that are far from the camera. This gives the illusion of atmospheric haze. Photographers use distance in the same way. When things far from the camera are not sharp and their color is less saturated. A subject in the foreground appears to be separated from the background.
Seasons can affect this technique. Where I live, we have a dry season. Between November and around June we don’t get much rain. During these months the atmosphere can be very hazy, so it is nearly impossible to capture landscape photos that contain real depth. Any part of the view far from the camera is obliterated by the haze.
Things that are further away from us appear to be smaller. In photography, you can use this to enhance the appearance of depth in your images. It works most effectively with repeated elements that are all the same size.
If you have three people in a photo that are standing at a different distance from the camera, the person closest to you will appear bigger. The one furthest away from you will appear smaller.
Your choice of lens focal length influences perspective. How you position yourself to take a photo also affects diminishing scale perspective. The relative distances between the things you are photographing also impacts the sense of depth.
How the different elements in your photos intersect each other affects the appearance of depth in your photos. By carefully positioning yourself and the things you photograph you can enhance or decrease the sense of perspective. Overlapping one object that’s in front of another one makes it look closer to you. Composing your photo so the objects are separated diminishes the sense of depth.
Tips to Help You Create Better Perspective Photography
Tip#1: Take Photos Looking Up and Looking Down
This tip is particularly effective when you are photographing tall things. Think about looking up in a forest of tall, straight trees. Or being on top of a tall building and looking down to the street below. The strong lines create a wonderful sense of depth and perspective in this type of photo.
You don’t always need these extremes though. Getting in close to a subject with strong lines you can lie on the ground and point your camera upwards. Or stand on a ladder or chair and look down to make good use of the lines to add perspective.
Tip#2: Use a Frame Within a Frame
Framing your main subject within a natural or created frame helps to add perspective to a photo. The frame within a frame provides the incentive for the viewer to look beyond to see what is there. Even with a subject that is relatively close to the frame, a greater sense of depth is created in the photograph.
Whether my subject is in front of or behind a frame, I will often position myself and the subject so the frame overlaps the subject. Doing this enhances the depth even further.
Tip#3: Look For Strong Lines
Whenever you find strong lines, either straight or curved, you have the opportunity to use them to add perspective to your photos.
One of the best ways to do this is by coming in close to the lines so they appear to be emerging from one side of your frame. When there is more than one line, aim to position your camera so the lines are coming from more than one edge of your frame. This enhances the illusion of depth.
Tip#4: Use Lines That Create a Vanishing Point
Any time there is a vanishing point created by strong lines in a composition the sense of depth in a photo is very real. It is most effective when the lines leading to the vanishing point also intersect with the main subject of an image. This helps draw a viewer’s attention to the subject and creates a heightened sense of depth.
Tip#5: Place Elements in the Foreground
Elements placed in the foreground of a composition can help add to the sense of perspective. When all the elements are on the same plane in a photo, the image will lack any sense of depth and appear very two-dimensional.
I like to include one or more elements in the foreground, even if they are out of focus. This helps to draw the viewer’s eye deeper into the picture.
Tip#6: Use Objects for Scale and Create Forced Perspective
Forced perspective creates the illusion of small objects appearing to be larger than they are. This plays tricks on our eyes because the photos look unnatural.
Using everyday objects works best when you want to create forced perspective. This is because they are readily recognizable. When people have a preconceived idea of the size of an object it works best. This is because when we see something and know how big it should be we must look more carefully when the photos show a forced perspective.
Using a deep depth of field to create forced perspective in photos works best. When everything is in focus the effect has more impact.
Tip#7: Experiment With Different Focal Length Lenses
Wide-angle lenses tend to produce the most dramatic perspective photography.
With a wide lens on your camera, when you come in close to leading lines, the sense of perspective is exaggerated. Try placing elements in the foreground and background, with your subject in between. You’ll notice this looks more dramatic when using a wide focal length.
Long lenses can also help enhance perspective but in different ways. Telephoto lenses compress the appearance of perspective in a photograph. Where wide lenses make elements appear to be more spread out, long lenses make things look closer together. You can use this attribute to create all kinds of depth in your photos.
Tip#8: Control the Depth of Field in Your Photos
By controlling the depth of field in your photos you can also manipulate the appearance of depth.
With a very shallow depth of field, you can include elements in the foreground to block parts of the subject. When the foreground elements are out of focus and your subject is sharp, it helps add a sense of depth to your photos.
Combing a deep depth of field and leading lines, or other compositional techniques, you can also add depth to your pictures.
While reviewing your photos during post-production, experiment with different ways of cropping them. Think about how you can enhance the sense of perspective in your photos by how you move the edges of your frame in relation to the subject of your photos. Cropping images well that contain prominent lines can heighten the sense of perspective.
Many popular image manipulation programs also allow you to correct the perspective in your photos. This is great when you’ve had to use a wide-angle lens to photograph a tall building, for example. Looking up at a tall building with a wide lens causes the parallel lines of the building to appear to converge. In programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, there are tools to correct the perspective so the lines will look as they should.
There are many other ways, especially in Photoshop, that you can correct or alter perspective in an image. Mostly, these changes will be subtle, yet still make a significant difference in the look of your pictures. But the potential is as broad and deep as your imagination and your level of skill.
Composition rules, lens choice, and where you take your photos all enhance the sense of perspective in photographs.
To make your photos look more realistic, control the composition to add depth. Use the most appropriate composition rules, like leading lines or a frame within a frame. These and other rules when applied well produce images displaying greater depth.
The lens you use also has an impact on perspective in photography. Wide-angle lenses make elements in an image appear to be more spread out. Longer lenses tend to compress distance. So elements in photos made with telephoto lenses appear as though they are closer together. Use the right lens to help obtain the perspective you want in your photos.
Frequently Asked Questions
To show perspective in photography it is best to include elements in the foreground, the middle, and the background. Composing your pictures in this way helps draw a viewer’s attention through the image. When all the main features in a photo are on the same plane, photos look flat.
There are five types of perspective in photography. These are:
Diminishing scale perspective
Perspective in photography is critical because we see in three dimensions. But photographs display what we see in two dimensions. Producing the illusion of depth in an image helps to create more realistic-looking pictures.
In images displaying a three-point perspective, there are three different vanishing points. Strong lines lead a viewer’s eye to these points that help create the illusion of depth. The vanishing points are most effective when they are placed near the edges of the frame.
Be precise with your composition when using three-point perspective. If you do not control your composition well, viewers will find it difficult to know where to look in the picture.
A vanishing point is important to help create perspective because it helps to draw a viewer’s eye deeper into the photograph. Images that contain vanishing points appear to have more depth than photographs that have strong lines that lead the eye nowhere. How you position the lines in relation to the edges of your frame influences the effectiveness of this technique.
Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and author. He has been passionate about photography for as long as he can remember.
Kevin began his career in newspaper photography in the late 1980s and worked in editorial photography for many years. After this he interned with a commercial photographer, learning many new skills. From there he freelanced, covering many different genres of photography ever since.
He ran his own award-winning photography business before moving to Thailand in 2002. Since then Kevin has continued to work in photography and also moved into video production. For the first ten years of his life in Thailand, he focused on producing media content, both photos, and videos, for non-profit organizations. He funded these efforts primarily through the sale of his stock photography and videos. In more recent years Kevin has discovered a great enjoyment in teaching photography.
He also runs in-person workshops, develops online courses, writes, and creates videos about photography.