|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
A photograph is a two-dimensional object. To create depth, a photographer must portray an illusion that the viewer can walk into the image, see objects on multiple planes or feel as if he or she can reach into the picture to grab a compositional component. This is accomplished via lighting, composition and strategic use of lenses. The deeper into the image the viewer can "look," the more successful the technique.
Leading Lines: Incorporate lines that begin along the bottom of the image that guide the eye into and through the picture. The more the lines flow, the better. They channel the viewer through the image, which in turn portrays depth as the person courses through the photo. In the image of the road that winds through the fall-colored trees, the road travels the depth of the photo and recedes into the distance. It brings the viewer's eye straight through the back of the photo.
Depth of Field: The more depth of field you can achieve, the more you can imply depth in the image. Narrow depth of field is reserved for times when you want to draw attention to a single element on a single plane. Incorporate a lot of depth of field and everything from the foreground to infinity is rendered sharply. Stop the lens down to ƒ/16 or ƒ/22 to achieve the effect, and use a wide-angle lens.
Prominent Foreground Object: Include an object in the foreground that's deliberately emphasized. This sets an entry point for the viewer. As stated above, stop the lens down to create infinite depth of field. Make sure the foreground piece is in harmony with the rest of the compositional elements. Place it so it creates a layer, which in turn provides a three-dimensional look. Make sure it's in keeping with the mid and background components. In the accompanying image of the Gifford Barn in Capitol Reef National Park, I used a foreground layer of volcanic rock that became its own plane. This connotes depth in the photo.
Wide Angles: Wide-angle lenses help imply depth as they emphasize the magnitude of foreground elements and change the reality of scale. Any object that is close to the front element of the lens appears bigger than life size. This phenomena is used by photographers to "trick" people into thinking there's a huge amount of separation between the prominent foreground and distant background elements. This huge separation is what imparts depth to the scene. (See image of Gifford Barn.)
Use the Light: Simply put, avoid front light. It's flat, no texture is revealed and shadows fall behind the subject. On the other hand, sidelight provides a tremendous amount of dimensionality and depth as shadows and highlights overlap. Exploit sidelight in the early morning or late evening when the sun is close to the horizon. Another way to use the light is hunt out a brightly lit highlight and have it overlap a dark shadow. In that lit items come forward and dark items recede, the illusion of depth is created. In the accompanying image of Mexican Hat just outside of Monument Valley, take a look at how the brightly lit foreground rock formations jump out against the dark shadows caused by the strong sidelight of sunset.