Creating More Depth in Your Photographs

One thing that confronts a lot of photographers is the inability to capture the kind of depth they see when looking at the scene. You may have heard others proclaim or even thought to yourself, “this image just looks flat and uninteresting.” There are many variables that might influence this disappointment, like the way our camera might record contrast in a scene or how the color is interpreted. Some of the factors could be corrected with in-camera settings or post processing tools, but not all. Remember the camera sees and records only two dimensions, and compared to our three dimensional view that’s an entirely different world. When we think about creating more dynamic images it should happen when we’re out there looking and composing in the field.

Here are a few things to consider which will help create the illusion of a third dimension and ultimately more interest and depth in your photographs.

1. Maximize form in the subject matter by using stronger side lighting.

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2. Exaggerate how we normally see depth by transforming the close and far subject relationships… meaning make the close bigger and the far smaller.

This is called Diminishing Scale and we can use wide-angle focal lengths to support this concept. The image below was shot with a wide angle lens at 12 mm. Below that I used a telephoto set at 70mm. (click images to enlarge).

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3. Minimizing Depth of Field enhances depth by creating sharp and unsharp space, which separates the closer and further subjects.

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4. One of the simplest solutions that might have the most influence on how depth is perceived is where you park the camera or its perspective.

When two subjects merge or in other words overlap in the frame a visual interruption takes place. The eyes are required to stop and figure out which one is closer or further and how far apart those subject are. If the two subjects are similar in sharpness, tone, color and or texture, they could possibly be perceived as one “thing” and very little depth is perceived between them.

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Subjects are merging and the perception that resulted is that the tree is growing right on top of the roof. In reality it’s about 10 feet from the building.

 

One important technique I use all the time before getting the camera out of the bag, which helps me visualize how the camera will record the scene is to close one eye and look at what you are photographing. This technique negates the third dimension, just like looking through the viewfinder… try it you’ll see a big difference too!

The answer is to create space between the subjects by moving the camera to a more optimal location. This allows the viewer to move much easier from subject to subject or around them to explore the background. The space you create or expand between subject elements is what directs the viewer through the frame. Also important is that when more space is created, farther distance (more depth) is perceived between the two elements.  This awareness of this perspective is why many photographers love their tripods, including me. It requires us to slow down and pay attention.

 

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In the photo on the left in the example above, the smaller trees in the middle ground appear to exist on top of the fence… meaning depth is minimized. In the photo on the right, the higher camera perspective created space between these two subjects. When we compare the before and after, notice how much more depth we perceive between these subjects in the photo on the right.

 

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In the photo above, the camera position further to the right created space between the headstones on the right, enhancing depth between these subjects.

Painters also have the same issues when working on their canvas and incorporate the same techniques to create the illusion of depth. Whether you incorporate all these concepts in every photograph is not the point, but the fact that your aware of how we can influence the illusion of depth to produce more interesting and dynamic photographs is important.

 

Want to learn more from Doug Johnson?

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