Creating ‘Depth’ in a photograph can be achieved by using parallel lines to create the illusion, and making sure when taking the photograph you stand in the correct place to give the right perspective. Depending on what you want to achieve in the finished photograph, will depend on what shapes you use to create the depth. There are different ways to create depth or an illusion in a photograph or image. Julian Beever, is a street chalk artist, who is a master of illusion when it comes to visual art. He specialises in trompe l’oeil images. Trompe l’oeil, meaning deceive the eye. Below are two photographs, one taken from the from the right angle and the other from the wrong angle. The difference is quite eye opening….
So getting back to our sense of perspective and depth, we can use lines and vanishing point to achieve depth. What is a vanishing point? The definition is “the point at which parallel lines appear to converge”. Thinking about a very long road or about railway lines, the further they go the more closer/narrower and smaller they get.
In this photograph (on the left) taken recently when I visited my family in Malta, notice how the cars get smaller and the buildings don’t look as tall. This is one way in which depth can be achieved. The parallel lines of the buildings, cars and road, almost meet at the end of the road, giving a sense of depth, a far off look. In Malta, especially in our village, we have many long narrow roads, and I am always fascinated with the photo opportunities I have when visiting family.
The photograph on the left was taken at The Tarxien Temples in Malta, stones that are akin our own Stone Henge, but which are considerably older. The line of the walkway leads you in, then under the stone doorway to the opposite side of the ancient circle. Using lines to lead you to a shape of interest are another way in which you can create a sense of depth. Moving the spectator/viewer through a path to experience that which is at the other end.
Using lines and perceptive in this way, is like leading a person by hand and saying, come this way, this is what I want you to look at.
The subject/shape at the other end becomes something almost tangible, there is something there they can see and almost touch.
Thinking back to Julian Beever’s chalk drawing, and the importance of where you stand to portray the image as you want, can also be applied to photographs. For example, the two photographs here where taken on the Bridgewater Canal of the Barton Aqueduct Bridge. This is a swing bridge that spans the Manchester Ship Canal. In the first photograph on the left, I was stood up in the bow of our narrow boat when I took it, and it gives a sense of depth, deceiving the eye into thinking that the other end is further away than it actually is. In the next photograph I was sitting down. These two photographs were taken seconds apart, yet because I changed my position, they differ in the perceived distance from me to the end of the bridge. So it is important to plan and make sure you are in the right position to give the strength to line you want to portray. How deep do you want your image to look?
You can alter the perspective by moving around, moving to the left or the right, even,holding the camera higher up or lower down as in the example I gave of the Barton Aqueduct Bridge. Another way is to move further away, this also changes the perspective of the shot. But its important to note that, if the shot is taken with the foreground close, a wide angle lens will fill the frame, but if you are further away, you will need to think about using a longer focal length to fill the frame with the image.
Altering the focal length will alter the image, I have heard people say, I look fat in that photo, or that photo slims me down. Believe me when I say the photo does lie. I like to think of it as the ‘tall and thin’ and the ‘short and fat’
Below is an example from this website http://nofilmschool.com/2014/11/primer-focal-length-lenses which shows the difference in the shape of the girls face.
But this is not the only way to create depth, the parallel lines that are used to give perspective to an image may end up in oblivion, into a nothingness, because it ends up being too far away to see.
The tow path in the photograph on the left taken on the Grand Union Canal, leads you to the High Bridge and beyond, till the view disappears and you cant see any further. This is another way to add depth to photograph, this is also achieved in the examples below of the tunnel and locks.
The Hatton locks are among the longest continuous locks a narrow boat can navigate and seem to go on for ever. The photograph needed to portray this. The lines takes down the locks to the trees and church, then moving past the church to the mountains, creating distance and therefore depth in the image. In the case of the tunnel, not only are we drawn by the water line, but also by the arching roof as it gets smaller till at last we end up in the light at the end of the tunnel.
In the image on the left, taken at Market Drayton in Shropshire, we are guided to the top of the street where the building become almost a blur. Not only are we increasing depth from the line created by the buildings and the narrowing road, pointing, till they form almost a triangle, the pattern made by the cobbles also lead us in to the far distance. Triangular shapes act as an arrow beckoning us forward to the furthest point.
In my younger days when I attended art college, we were taught perspective in a simple way. We took a pin and placed it in the centre of a board, then we were given string and told to attach a number of lengths of string to the pin in the centre. We where then given a photograph, similar to the one here, and asked to replicate all the lines we can see, by taking the string form the centre to edge of the frame. I can still hear my tutor nearly half a century later saying, ‘and my dear students, that is perspective!’
Its also important to remember that the lines you are using to guide the viewer to the point were the lines converge or almost converge, should not carry on out side the frame, if you want to give a sense of depth to your image, they have to lead to something, be it a shape, subject or oblivion with in the frame, otherwise it would seem that there is nowhere to go once you have reached the edge of the frame.
Having something prominent in the foreground will also add to the illusion of depth in a photograph. Above, (left) we have a fairly short path, that really looks longer than it actually is. Its a short cut from the carpark in Market Drayton to the main street. Besides having the two posts to mark the start of the lines in the foreground,which are quite big, taking up a lot of the space in relation to the rest of the image, we also have the old cobbles directing us to the other end.
The next photograph was taken with St Marys Church behind me, The gates are the entrance to the church, with the walls on each side taking us upto and through the gates. As we look down through the gate, the road takes us to the Tudor House Hotel. Here we have the yellow lines as well as the pavement and buildings, working together and leading us to the final destination. So adding something prominent in the foreground will also work when you want to add depth to your photographs.
When we use a prominent shape in the foreground, the ‘triangular’ shape leading up to the converging parallel lines is not so obvious, it starts after our eyes have navigated through the foreground image.
Exercise 1,3 (1) Line
Take a number of shots using lines to create a sense of depth, Shooting with a wide angle lens (zooming out) strengthens a diagonal line by giving it more length with the frame.
My initial thoughts were keep away from railway lines and roads, I wanted something different. My thoughts were to go out and take a number of shots in the fields showing ploughed lines, or trees in lines, or maybe the escalators in the shopping centre, but it was not to be. Instead I had to think of something I could do indoors.(See Blog research and Reflection dated 04/12/2014)
The stage was set. 4 place mats, one salt cellar, a number of cloths pegs set up to resemble columns the like of which would be found in Rome or Athens, and a sheet as the background. Camera and tripod set up level with the kitchen table.
I wanted to portray the effect you would have got if your were a roman coming back from a victorious battle and making your way down the long parade to the big villa at the end.
Starting far away and with a wide angle lens I took various shots which looked like pegs on a table mat and not like columns in Rome!
I changed my position with each shot which gave the different perspective to the respective images. The lower I went to become level with the kitchen table, the better the shot was, getting me closer to the image I want to end up with. I needed to move in closer and try again.
As can be seen in the image to the left, after moving closer to the table I was getting there. The lines seemed longer and I was now getting the narrowing effect I wanted.
In the end I achieved my goal. Having the camera level with the table and looking straight down the columns on each side I got the desired effect. Now I can lead the spectator down the parade past all the columns to the Roman building at the end in triumph.
As I had all these pegs in place i wondered what would happen if I placed a mirror at the end, would it lengthen the column of pegs of have some other effect. Would it have the reverse effect of the perspective we see from the front?
When I places a mirror at the end of the column, it didnt seem to have a big effect, till you look at the place mats reflected. They did, quite increasing, carry on getting smaller and narrower. Maybe if I had carried the peg columns further on we would have seem a difference in the way the pegs were perceived.
In the final image on the right, I have added the salt and pepper sellers, filling the foreground, I think this added to the image and leads the viewer straight down towards the pegs at the far end. I have achieved depth in the image, (and the pegs don’t look like pegs anymore)
So onto the ploughed field visit that I had planned. A chopping baord, kitchen work top, natural light form the window (without the reflection from the window pain) and ofcause the soil, in this case, a jar of mixed herbs from the kitchen cupboard.
Learning my lesson from the previous shots, I lined the camera on the tripod, level with the kitchen work top, and I got the desired effect, but something was missing. So I added a backdrop, first the monkey plant holder then the kitchen roll.
So I added a backdrop, first the monkey plant holder then the kitchen roll. This seemed work better, adding a focus in and giving an increased perception of depth.
Finally I decided to move around a little and took more shots from different angles and positions as can be seem in the shots below.
The final shot was what I wanted to achieve. Lines reducing in size and having the focus in the foreground.
I even have a tractor in this shot, on the upper left of the frame, but to everyone else it may look like an empty herb jar!
Another shot I wanted to take was, to lie down in the middle of a road, surrounded by tall buildings. But for health and safety reasons this was not practical. So, I decided I would lie down under some tall trees, and see how they would appear. But as I was working indoors today, the door frame had to be my cancellation prize. The result of lying on the floor in the doorway is below
Below are some other attempts of shots I took for this exercise
The spoon end of the wooden spoons, in the images above, certainly reduce in size. The middle photogragh has the spoon end nearer the camera, thereby increased in the perceived size, whereas in the last wooden spoon photograph, the spoon end looks smaller
Further Reading on Perspective and Distortion