One of the biggest challenges thrown up by photography is the fact that it is done in two dimensions. While that can be a draw back, it also presents some wonderful artistic opportunities. Working to add a sense of depth for the viewer is one of the things that, as a photographer, you have a lot of control over. It can improve the vitality of the image and it is also fun to experiment with. But how do you do it? As it turns out, there are a lot of ways!
When a person looks at a two-dimensional image, they unconsciously look for clues in the image to render it as three dimensional in their brain. By knowing what clues the brain is looking for, the photographer can take control of those elements of the image. The more of those elements there are, or the more obvious an element is, then the better the sense of depth to the image will likely be.
Foreground – Most photographers know that a good foreground can really make an image pop. To take it a step further, ensuring there is a foreground, mid-ground and background to your images is a common way (especially in outdoor photography) that you can take control of the sense of depth in an image.
Frame With the Foreground – A variation on the above tip is to use elements of the foreground to frame the scene in your photograph. A very common way that photographers do this is by using the trunk and branches of a tree, though there are an infinite amount of other ways you can do it. The only limit is your imagination and what is in front of you when you shoot!
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve by alantankenghoe, on Flickr
Aerial Perspective – Landscape photographers will be familiar with the fact that when photographing distant scenes, often the further the distance, the hazier the area. This is an excellent way to give depth to a landscape scene in those circumstances.
2008 08 15 – 2358-2363 – View from Hoverla by thisisbossi, on Flickr
Overlapping Forms – If one shape in a photograph is blocking the view of another shape, then obviously that first shape is closer to the viewer. That is the basic explanation of overlapping forms and it is used widely by photographers to add depth to a scene.
Converging Lines – This is especially easy to do in landscape photography, but lines that converge to a distant point give the viewer a sense of distance and therefore add depth to an image. Crop rows and roads are common subject matter with which this is done in landscapes, but once again there is no real limit to how a skilled photographer can do this.
Now, these are by no means an exhaustive list of ways to add depth to a photograph, but they should give you a few things to think about for your next shoot. Use each as a short photography project and you will be seeing these opportunities as second nature whenever you go out shooting!
I second these tips, especially using foreground interest, such as this panorama of Carcassonne in the south of France that frames with foliage:
And this use of flowers to add depth in the Roman Forum:
Although you can also frame even in cramped quarters, such as this snow hut below the Arctic circle, where there are three planes in the one image: