Tag Archives: Visual elements

Simple ideas about perspective in photography

Perspective is all about using visual clues to emphasise dimension

Perspective is all about using visual clues to emphasise dimension. Your picture needs to use defined edges, lines and direction to give the eye something follow into the image.
• Perspective • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

The concept of perspective is related to visual clues.

What we see in the world around us is created in our heads. We see things in the environment and from that build up a picture. Here we look at the sense of perspective.

Visual clues

Previously in ‘The easy way to give depth to landscapes’ and Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs I introduced ‘visual elements’. These are strong signals in the world that help us see. They are mostly edges, lines, curves, shapes, form and so on. We see things because the edges of objects have a detectable contrast with something beside it. Our eyes spot that change and, in doing so, see depth. Edges give us strong clues about the nature of our world so our eyes are trained to follow them.

The nature of perspective

Our innate sense of perspective has always been there to enable us to function as biological animals. Perspective in art is a different matter. In terms of human history reproducing perspective has been a late arrival (see: Perspective – compositional ideas). What made the difference was understanding the relationship between lines, or in natural terms, edges.

Three dimensional geometry explained the way lines created depth. This geometric depth also mimicked form in nature. On mastering the idea of a cube or other geometric forms we see how the lines work. If you look at a cube corner you see three edges trending away from you. You are looking at depth created by the edges.

Parallel lines provide strong perspectives. In the picture above there are lots of parallel lines which give depth to the picture. The main red line – the bus lane – is a vanishing point perspective or ‘single point’ perspective. It is notable by its coming together (convergence of the lines) near the horizon. By experience we know this is a long distance away. The convergence has created distance into the picture.

In the bridge there is ‘two point’ perspective. You can see depth because the darker underside is defined by its lighter up-edge (the wall of the bridge). This two-point perspective exists for us even though we cannot see the roof or the other side to confirm ‘form’ (3D) rather than shape (2D).

Of course the glass stairway to the bridge has three point perspective. Like the cube we can see depth – the top edge of the building, the bottom edge of the building both converge (two point). The convergence imparts depth. However, the width of the building (shown by the top and bottom edges), and the height gives us the three dimensions. Our visual clue for this. on the front-face. is the non-convergence of lines in the width/height plane. Although this front-face is a curved glass wall we can still see it does not have a distance perspective away from us.

All the clues are there

You now have the clues, or visual elements to determine depth through perspective. Converging lines with distance from the eye impart a feeling of distance away from you. Parallel lines with no convergence give you flatness or non-distancing when they face you. This works with both height and width.

I chose the picture above for the strong perspectives that it imparts. The powerful lines make it easy to see the almost exaggerated proportions that contribute to perspectives. Sometimes its not so easy in nature. Have a look at the picture below…

Looking up the River Thames from Marlow, Bucks, UK

Looking up the River Thames from Marlow, Bucks, UK. The perspectives are not as clear as direct straight lines. Yet the picture has depth because we are adept at seeing ‘edges’ and trends in lines when we look at nature.

Click image to view large.
• Looking up the River Thames • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

The edge on the right hand side looking up river barely exists – it disappears off the side of the shot. Yet the small part that is there at the top implies there is a bank all the way down the right. The left bank on the other hand is not well defined as a line. However, our eyes are trained to see it as a ‘trending’ line. The line of trees (left) and the implied line (right) therefore creates a converging pair of lines in the distance to where the river rounds the bend.

Despite there being no strong lines in this picture we can see a converging point perspective. Dimensionality is added by the height of the trees and the width of the river. The width diminishes between the two banks as we look progressively up stream, more evidence of distance and convergence. The height and width we intuitively know because our eye determines sizes by measuring them against boat and people sizes (known element sizes). Perspective is all in the visual elements.

Understanding is not precise

We do not all understand perspective in the same way. Some notable art schools have denied our innate understanding of perspective and space. The Cubists are an example of this, notable among them Pablo Picasso  External link - opens new tab/page the famous Cubist painter. Nevertheless, we all understand depth in the world around us. We don’t live in a two dimensional world. However, in our images we have to create the sense of depth in a two dimensional medium.

The second picture, the river scene, shows us how to define depth. We need, as photographers, to become observers of lines and trending lines. Similarly, we should be able to spot shapes and forms that are both defined and ill-defined. Then we need to be able to view them as if a geometric model. If we can see these lines, in nature and in man-made things, then we can find ways to compose our picture to bring them out. It is this last part that is the most important part of the composition process.

If we give the viewer a perspective in our shots, we create a world. We want it to be a three dimensional world that the viewer can imagine going into. When we choose compositions that emphasise these lines we dispose of the two dimensional picture and create an image to look into.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.

The easy way to give depth to landscapes

'Reflections on a lake' - Landscapes need to have depth to be effective. Layering them is the key.

• ‘Reflections on a lake’ •
Landscapes need to have depth to be effective. Layering them is the key.
Click image to view large.
“‘Reflections on a lake'” By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Everybody loves an autumnal landscape.

Come autumn we are all making great images of the colours and the changes. To be successful a landscape has to look like it has some depth. In this post we are going to look at the simple way to impart depth to a landscape.

Layers

The easiest way to create depth with a landscape is to trick the eye. You are not trying to defraud your viewer. You are simply convincing the eye there is more than two dimensions. This is easy to do because your eyes expect to see depth. What you need to do is to enable the eye to actually pick up significant markers that would lead them naturally into a landscape.

There are lots of markers that you can use in composition. In fact in Easy introduction to ‘visual elements’ in photographs we identified lots of compositional markers called visual elements. When you compose a landscape using layers you are working with lines that create the markers for depth. The lines themselves are visual elements in the picture. They create boundaries for the layers in the picture.

The example picture above is chosen for its simplicity. In the immediate foreground there is a patch of rock strewn grass. Not of great interest in itself, but it provides two elements. The larger boulder provides a bit of interest drawing the eye into the picture. It also seeks to divide the picture providing a visual balance either side. I will come back to this later.

The grass-lake boundary is the first line we cross. It is a major visual element in the scene. Its existence creates the foreground layer out of the grass and marks the mid-ground layer as the lake.

The lake itself is the central interest. In this picture it’s also the mid-ground layer. Great reflections always draw the eye. Then, on the far side of the lake is the next significant element/marker – the far lake shore line. This is the demarcation for the background layer – the trees. It is where the reflections originate.

The three landscape layers, foreground, mid-ground and background create depth. As the eye, in 100ths of seconds, penetrates the picture your eye/brain system sees the lines marking the boundaries of these clear zones. Immediately, the visual elements become markers for the eye to measure its travel into the picture. Depth has been established. You now see into an image, rather than at a picture. Visually creating layers in your composition, like these, will impart depth to your landscape shots.

More after this…

What’s next?

Once the eye/brain system has seen depth it remains in the minds eye. Of course if you want to sustain the viewers interest you have to find other things of interest. In this picture there are other ways the eye works through the image. The colours and tonal range are important, especially in autumn. The eye loves reds and russets. So that helps, as does the eye working to sustain an interpretation of the reflections. The ‘principle‘ there is the visual harmony between the reflections and the background layer.

Two other compositional elements control the eye. Normally a central feature of a picture, like the boulder, would draw the eye and hold it there if it was substantial enough. In this case our boulder is of small visual weight. It is not a major compositional feature, but more of a visual element (a ‘form’). You will recall from Simple ‘Principles’ of photographic composition that the ‘Principles’ control the way the eye uses the visual elements. Here the eye flows into the picture by being drawn through the middle, having established depth the eye does not go out the other side of the picture. The trees hold the eye in the picture – they form a barrier. Naturally, the eye is now drawn to cycle around the reflections. Eventually the eye will pick up the next clue.

This spot was chosen for aesthetics as well as the point of view for the shot because a central entry for the eye established the emphasis of both depth and a major point of focus on the middle ground. If you look carefully the lines that create the lake sides are narrower at the left side than the right. This funnel-effect will eventually channel the eye out of the picture on the right. The eye has a natural tendency to follow trending diagonals – no matter how slight – toward the wider ‘escape’ end. Yet, the boulder maintains a balance in overall visual terms between left and right. Eye movement is therefore under a tension to stay central as well as wishing to follow the flow to the right. This tension keeps the eye focused around the centre of the lake.

Fickle!

Yes, it is not a surprise that composition is a fickle thing. This is how I see my picture. In reality we all see it different ways. I have shown you how I rationalised the shot when it was taken. It may not work that way for you. If you have a different view why not discuss it in the comments. I would love to hear your interpretation.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.