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Photography Tips: Giving Shots Perspective

Photography Tips: Giving Shots Perspective - Sophie Goldsworthy shares her tips and advice on adjusting perspective.

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Landscape and Travel

Rough Guide To Digital PhotographyThis article is an extract from The Rough Guide To Digital Photography by Sophie Goldsworthy. For more information, visit Rough Guides.

Playing with perspective

Because of the way the camera sees, its solitary lens stripping away the depth perception our eyes give us, even the most dramatic setting – the Grand Canyon, say – can look flat and lifeless in your photos. If you want your pictures to show scale and depth, you’re going to have to create them yourself in your composition. Perspective in photography is all about the spatial relationship between the objects in a scene, the way they look smaller when further away, or larger close up, and how viewpoint affects what you can see of a scene – all visual cues that help convey three-dimensional depth on the two-dimensional plane of a photograph.

Giving a sense of scale

One crucial technique, particularly in landscape photography, is the ability to convey a sense of scale. Without some familiar pointers, the viewer simply can’t grasp the spatial context of the scene and your dramatic shot of a mountain range looks like nothing so much as a pile of rocks, with no way to communicate its breathtaking immensity. The most common way to indicate scale is to include something  of a recognizable size, which is partly why so many travel photographers shoot landscapes that feature people, but you can use anything familiar: trees, a car or a house. If you want to convey the vastness of a landscape, you’ll want to capture them in the middle distance, closer to the object being photographed than to the camera, otherwise the variations in perspective mean that they will seem disproportionately large in relation to the surrounding scene and the sense of scale will be lost.

Quick Tip - If you want to go for a more abstract effect, ignore the guidelines on scale, making sure there’s nothing in your picture to give a sense of context.

Including a person or other recognizable feature in the shot gives a sense of scale.
Grand Canyon
Top: 1/100, f/7, ISO 100, 55mm
Bottom: 1/90, f/11, ISO 100, 70mm

Experiment with scale by including an object in the foreground, positioned not only to give the photograph a sense of depth by its apparent closeness relative to the rest of the scene, but also to distort the scale of the scene, for example having some flowers loom large in the front of the frame and allowing them to tower over the mountain in the distance. Or you can use something large in the foreground – perhaps only showing part of it – to make your subject in the middle distance seem smaller.

Distance and zoom

Whatever type of camera you’re using, zooming in or out can also influence the perspective in the shot, as can the position from which you shoot. You can focus more closely when working at the wide-angle end of the range, making objects in the foreground seem much closer and larger than those further away; while zooming in or using a telephoto lens has the effect of flattening or compressing the perspective, making distant objects seem nearer to those in the foreground. Once you understand these principles, you can use your position and focal length – or lens, if you’re using an SLR – to change the perspective within a scene, moving closer and zooming in or out to create more or less distance between different elements, thus giving the image a different feel. For example, you could use a wide angle to emphasize the isolation of an object in the distance, or a telephoto lens to make the bustling crowd in a market scene appear even more packed and chaotic.

Here the zoomed-in top image makes the church seem closer to the camera and further from the hills behind it, while the bottom image shows more of the surroundings and makes the church appear isolated amid the hills across the lake.

Top: 1/8, f/32, ISO 100, 94mm
Bottom: 1/15, f/22, ISO 100, 30mm

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17 Nov 2011 4:52PM
Is this the lake at Ioannina, Greece?????

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