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Flattening perspective

Flattening perspective - Ben Boswell shares his tips on compressing perspective.

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General Photography

Words and images by Ben Boswell.

Big Ben

One of the things you can play with in photography is perspective: you can use a wider lens to accentuate it or you can use a long lens to compress it. During this month of looking at ‘Towns and Cities’ you have the perfect subjects for compressing perspective. When you look with your eyes you are rarely aware of the perspective; what makes it stand out is the frame that photography puts around the scene.


Olympic Stadium

To take pictures with compressed perspective you need be further away and this is what changes the relationship between things in the picture. Since you are further away, you need to have a narrower angle of view to fill the frame so ideally you need a long lens. Even a short tele lens will compress the perspective, but to get the real flat look you will need at least a 200mm lens on 35mm. I used a 300mm, sometimes with a 1.4 converter on a Nikon D100 which has an APS-C sensor, so very long. If you don’t have a long enough lens then read on. You will need a tripod, or to be able to support the camera steady in some other way.


Compressing perspective

The constant in flattening perspective is that you need to be far enough away from the subject that the different elements of the picture are relatively closer to one another than they are to you. The little animation demonstrates this: the Victoria Monument remains just as far from Buckingham Palace in all the frames but the further away you get the closer they appear to be and the flatter the perspective. However, if you don’t have a long enough lens you can crop into the image to create the same effect, though obviously with lower resolution, the picture of Centrepoint with the cranes was shot with a standard lens and cropped.

Once you have understood the concept, it is time to go out looking for suitable subjects. You will need to train yourself to look further than normal. Sometimes the things you are photographing will be miles away, but if you have a subject in mind then it is well worth sitting down with a map and figuring out how you may be able to frame it so that you know where to go. When things are a long way off you may also need to move a long way to align things in the way you want them.

London Eye

You need to keep your eyes open because as you walk around things will appear that you could not have anticipated: Nelson appearing over Earl Haig’s shoulder, the particular view of St Pauls behind the Millennium Bridge. You should also look out for strange angles on big subjects where the perspective will make a good picture.

St Pauls and the Millenium Bridge

I chose architecture in London (there are a few more examples of what I took on my website, but with a keen eye and a little imagination compressed perspective can be utilised on a wide variety of subjects as long as you can get far enough away from them.

Parliament building

You've read the article, now go take some fantastic images. You can then upload the pictures, plus any advice and suggestions you have into the dedicated Photo Month forum for everyone at ePHOTOzine to enjoy.

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