The Cure for Flat Images: 4 Ways to Add Depth to Your Photos

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Your Photos Still Not Looking Quite How You Want?

There are times when you sit back and look at an image you’ve captured and the only reaction you can muster is, “blah.” It's not that it's a terrible shot; exposure, focus, composition — you've got all that stuff right.

But for some reason, you feel your photo lacks dynamism. It's flat.

Flat photos are painfully disappointing, but the good news is they are relatively easy to avoid and remedy altogether. The suggestions that follow are four simple yet effective ways to add visual depth to any photo.

1. Use Shallow Depth of Field

Shallow depth of field is a term that could easily be interpreted as being buzz-worthy or trendy, given the way it’s used by some photographers — as if “shallow depth of field” is a genre of photography unto itself.

It’s not, and it is a visual element that’s easy to overuse. Certainly, decisions about depth of field ultimately come down to personal preference, but situational norms can help guide those decisions.

Particularly effective in portraits, shallow depth of field works by creating a difference in sharpness between an object of interest and the background.

For instance, in a portrait where you might have the eyes or the whole face in focus, the background will be blurred, thus creating some visual separation between these two elements. This is achieved simply by shooting your subject with your lens set to a large aperture (f/1.4, for example).

Uptown Daydream
Photo by Jason Devaun

 

FREE PHOTOGRAPHY BONUS TO YOU: THIS is our free Street Photography Cheat Sheet. Download it and see how you can put the tips straight into practice the next time your hit the city streets – some great tips to help you add depth to your photos. Download it here.

2. Use Leading Lines

When you hear someone talk about leading lines in a photograph, there’s a good chance that your mind immediately conjures images of train tracks or fences.

Leading lines provide a sense of movement and directionality in a photo, so yes, train tracks and fences work wonderfully as leading lines.

However, there’s no rule that says leading lines have to be straight; sure, you might encounter them most often in a linear arrangement, but leading lines can also curve and snake their way through a scene (such as a winding road that cuts through the midst of a landscape).

Additionally, the usefulness of leading lines isn’t limited to landscape photography; they can also be applied to street photography, architectural photography, cityscapes, even macro photography.

Leading lines add depth by creating a pathway for the eye to follow, while simultaneously constructing a visual connection from foreground to background.

The World I Know
Photo by Jason Devaun

 

FREE DOWNLOAD FOR READERS: THIS is our free Street Photography Cheat Sheet. Download it and see how you can put the tips straight into practice the next time your hit the city streets – some great tips to help you add depth to your photos. Download it here.

3. Alter Your Perspective

Taking a photo at eye level is easy and probably instinctual, photographically speaking. But this can also be a major culprit of flat images. Depending on the subject, taking a photo straight on fails to pull the viewer into the scene due to the absence of a foreground anchor point.

The fix is unbelievably simple: change your point of view by crouching down.

It’s up to you how low you actually want to go; the point is that a lower shooting position is an effective way to include foreground elements (objects, textures) that, similar to leading lines, give the viewer a unique and captivating starting point from which to view your photo.

To be sure, a low angle isn’t your only option.

You might also choose to shoot from up high for something of a bird’s eye view. Or, perhaps, you could tilt your camera slightly for a Dutch angle (be careful with this one).

The bottom line is that changing your perspective as a photographer also changes the perspective of the viewer.

The Grand MetropolisPhoto by Jason Devaun

 

4. Frame Your Subject

Framing is a self-explanatory technique: using the elements within a scene to frame your subject.

Framing not only serves to further highlight your subject, but also provides additional size and context clues. Furthermore, this is yet another way to make sure the viewer’s journey toward the subject is interesting the whole way through.

Architectural elements (doorways, pillars, window frames, etc.), light and shadows, environmental elements (trees, rock formations, etc.), virtually anything can be used to frame your subject.

Don’t hesitate to get creative and use framing wherever you might find it. Your goal is to use framing to endow an image with the much sought after depth we’ve been discussing.

The Color in Everything
Photo by Jason Devaun

 

Final Thoughts

Each technique is presented here in a rather introductory form, waiting to be expanded upon subject to your own creative vision. There are also numerous other ways to add depth to your photos.

There’s really no right way or wrong way or best way to accomplish this feat. It’s true that it takes a bit more effort than simply pressing the shutter to create a dynamic photo but, in all honesty, it doesn’t require that much more effort.

As you’ve seen, injecting depth into an image is quite easy. So give the tips above a try and you’ll be on your way to forever ditching those dreaded flat images.

FREE BONUS: THIS is our free Street Photography Cheat Sheet. Download it and see how you can put the tips straight into practice the next time your hit the city streets – some great tips to help you add depth to your photos. Download it here.




Add Depth to Your Photos – Top Takeaways

  • Your depth of field (particularly in portraits) should be shallow – this will add depth to your portraiture.
  • Leading lines are amazing to add depth to your photos and it doesn't mean they should be straight either. Look for ways that any lines could lead the viewer's eyes to where you intended.
  • Changing your point of view – using simple tips to compose your images differently, whether looking for ways to frame your photographs or changing your angle of view to something more unique and imaginative.

Further Resources

Further Learning

This GuideAdvanced Composition” by expert photographer Kent DuFault will teach you how to stretch your creativity, go beyond the rule of thirds and create stunning photos from subjects or situations you never thought possible…

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Profile photo of Jason D. Little
Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), writer, and music lover. You can see Jason’s photography on Flickr, his Website or his Blog.

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