Despite all the advances in technology, without proper care, the photographs that we shoot today are as flat as the ones that were taken by the earlier pioneers of photography. We still take pictures of a three-dimensional world—and, with few exceptions, turn them into two-dimensional representations.
Whether you look at the picture on a computer monitor, on your camera’s LCD display, or printed out on sheet of high-gloss, premium photographic paper, the image is flat; it has no physical depth.
For this reason, creating an illusion of depth is all- important in photography. We frequently want to add the missing third dimension—to make our pictures more representative of the subject matter itself.
There are numerous ways in which you can do this. The human visual system uses two eyes to provide a stereoscopic view of the world, helping us to judge distance. However, many of the clues about depth that we use subconsciously when we look at the real world come from the content of the image itself. By learning to include as many of these clues as possible, photographers can create a better three-dimensional experience in their pictures. Many of these telltale signs will be there in the composition anyway—but making the most of them will make your images come alive.
Some of the tricks have been covered already, such as using lighting and tone to reveal three-dimensional form, or including dominant and recessive colors. But there are many other techniques for creating a sense of distance.
Perspective is one of the most important properties that you can manipulate in order to create a stronger feeling of depth. Perspective is, actually, a series of different tricks that are used by the human brain to judge distance—to work out which objects are closer, and which are farther away.
It is linear perspective that obsesses the art student, because it is necessary to draw parallel lines so that they converge convincingly on the paper. As a photographer, you have no such problems—the lens and imaging chip do everything for you. However, the feeling of linear perspective can be accentuated through viewpoint and the choice of lens setting; it can also be purposely reduced, to make objects look much closer together than they really are.
Other forms of perspective that can be used to a photographer’s advantage are: diminishing size (things look smaller the farther they are away); overlapping forms (from certain viewpoints, closer objects obscure more distant objects); and aerial perspective (particles in the atmosphere make distant objects look less sharp). Additionally, depth of field and image composition can be used to control the feeling of distance in a picture.