perspective and the illusion of depth

Perspective, by our definition, is the art of creating the illusion of depth in a photograph. The more you study it, the more intriguing it becomes. Why, for example, do we accept 'classical' or 'vanishing point' perspective (a late mediaeval invention) in the horizontal plane (railroad tracks meeting in the distance) but not vertically (or we wouldn't need 'perspective correction' lenses)? Nor is vanishing point perspective the only variety. We also have perspective of scale (or size); perspective of receding planes; aerial perspective; and arguably even lighting perspective, usually via chiaroscuro, the interplay of light and shadow, most especially the 'limb effect'. Then there is a strong argument that the rendition of fine texture and detail also plays a strong part in creating the illusion of depth, and differential focus is arguably a uniquely photographic form of perspective which also shades into that buzz-word of the early 21st century photographers, 'bokeh'.

All of these varieties of perspective can be manipulated to various degrees, by choice of viewpoint, focal length, focus, degree of enlargement and viewing distances, as well as by lighting and choice of format.

Yet another form of perspective, often known as 'sculptural perspective', is applied to three-dimensional objects and can be of considerable interest to those who use Adobe Photoshop and similar programs to 'true up' verticals in buildings and indeed large sculptures. That's a total of eight different kinds of perspective.

This module is a comprehensive look at what perspective is and (more importantly to the photographer) how to use and manipulate it. It refers particularly to the 'magic distance' for viewing a picture, where the illusion of depth is most convincing. The only thing that is deliberately omitted is the control of perspective via camera movements, which are merely touched upon in this module: there will be another (paid) module on these in due course, not least because if the subject were covered here it would make an already long module very unwieldy indeed. There are 27 pictures, though three of them form a set showing perspective manipulation in Adobe Photoshop, and they are split more or less equally between black and white and colour.

go to perspective at $3 (or free to subscribers)

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© 2005 Roger W. Hicks