Create Depth in Your Images

Tips for how to achieve the illusion of depth
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A photograph captures a three-dimensional scene but is displayed as a two-dimensional object. This leaves photographers scratching their heads wondering why the scene that looked as if it was never-ending, appears flat and lacks depth in their pictures. In a two- dimensional world, unless the illusion of depth is portrayed, the image will look flat. Ways to achieve this effect are by lens choice, composition, lighting, use of color, placement of subject matter and aperture choice. Two or more of these factors can be used in combination.

Lens choice is key to create depth. Long lenses compress distances and make everything seem as if all subject elements are much closer than in reality. The classic example of layers upon layers of mountains that recede into the distance comes to mind. Many miles exist between the fore and background peaks, yet in a photograph they seem very close to each other. While depth is compacted in this example, the layered effect is created by the light. The foreground row is darker than the lighter row out in the distance. On the other hand, wide-angle lenses use their exaggerated perspective to convey depth. Place the camera low to the ground and compose the picture with a strong foreground element. The implied depth is due to the effect the lens has of pushing back all the subject elements.

The strategic use of color can convey depth especially when strong contrasts are part of the composition. Warm tones such as yellow, orange and red tend to come out from the image while the cooler tones of green, blue and purple recede. Place a red subject in a green or blue environment and the red element pops off the page.

A well-composed landscape can demonstrate depth using compositional and subject placement techniques. For instance, strong foreground elements such as boulder fields or mounds of flowers lead the eye to key subjects in the mid ground. The mid ground subjects in turn direct the viewer’s eye to a distant focal point. These three layers work together to unify the sense of depth.

Selective focus is a great way to depict the illusion of depth. A sharply focused key subject surrounded by out of focus elements in the fore and background allows the viewer to clearly identify what part of the image is the most important. Long lenses combined with wide-open apertures are often used to create the effect.


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