Perspective in Photography

excerpt from PHOTO DESIGN: Image Design and Composition for Photographers

by Gloria Hopkins

Photography terms relevant to perspective are italicized

The lightening or obstruction of the visibility of objects as they recede into the distance is a function of aerial perspective. That which causes objects to appear to diminish in size the farther from our cameras they are is a function of linear perspective. The photo at the end of the article illustrates the effects of both linear and aerial perspective. If we were to extend the edges of the walking path the lines will eventually meet and that intersection would be called, appropriately, the vanishing point.

The Picture Plane
The picture plane is a vertical plane which is, for most photographs, perpendicular to the ground plane. It is comprised of the contents of the field of view and its borders are defined by the edges of our viewfinders. You can think of the picture plane as a vertical slice of the scene before you. A good example of the picture plane is a print. This ‘slice’ of two-dimensional information is a visual representation of the picture plane.

The picture plane, being a plane, can only capture a two-dimensional rendering of visual effects that reveal evidence of three dimensions. These effects are created by object and light positioning (reveals forms) and the effects of linear and aerial perspective (suggests space and distance). It is important to select the lens that will most effectively capture the sense of depth that you desire. Because super telephotos will compress the appearance of space they are often the culprit for the perceived flatness in a photograph. Care should be taken when we select our lenses lest the choice defeat the purpose!

Line of Sight
Line of sight is the path the eye takes from camera to subject matter. Some scenes won’t have an obvious line of sight like a visual path, while others, a forest, for example, will have many items (trees, rocks) situated along a clear, well defined line of sight.

The Ground Plane
The ground plane is, in most photographs, a horizontal plane on which rest the items in the line of sight. The main areas of a scene on the ground plane, from front to back, are referred to as foreground, middle ground and background.

  • Foreground: Objects in the foreground are usually closest to the bottom edge and situated in front of other objects. In many specialties of nature photography the foreground is a popular place to situate objects that are complementary to, support and guide the eye to the main subject.
  • Middle ground: The middle ground is the space between the foreground and background. When using long lenses with wide apertures, objects on this plane will be in focus while the foreground and backgrounds are softly blurred. This is often desirable in wildlife photography because our subjects appear isolated and our focus stays on the subject.
  • Background: The importance of the background is usually dependent on the scene. While in many landscape photographs the background is part of the subject itself such as mountain ranges where clouds and sky merge with land, some close-ups and wildlife images rely on uncluttered backgrounds for their success.

Many photographers strive to photograph their singular subjects against backgrounds of pure color and little texture. This can really make the subject pop out of the background, especially if the background contrasts the subject in value or color.

Many photographs have a foreground, a middle ground, and a background. Some photographers are able to use key elements such as lines and focal points to lead the eye from the foreground through the middle ground, on to the background and around again. These are usually interesting and complex compositions that a viewer can spend a long time appreciating.

excerpt from PHOTO DESIGN: Image Design and Composition for Photographers

Text and images copyright Gloria Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.