Perspective. It’s a concept that has somewhat variable significance depending on the context in which it is being discussed — literature, geometry, or psychology for instance; but regardless of whatever specialized meaning “perspective” takes on, we all have a basic understanding of what it is.
When it comes to photography, perspective is just as important as it is in any other field that deems the concept to be of particular importance; in fact, perspective in photography sort of synthesizes the psychological, philosophical, and geometrical uses of perspective to affect how we create, perceive, and interpret photographic content.
In short, perspective refers to the relationship of objects in an image — the space between them, their relative size, their placement within the scene. If you’re thinking that this is ultimately just a fancy way of talking about composition, then you’re right. Becoming more familiar with different perspective styles can be invaluable in your pursuit of creating visually arresting imagery.
Parallel lines that extend away from a given viewpoint appear to converge at the horizon of a scene. You’ve probably seen this countless times in photos of railroad tracks that seem to merge in the distance. The space between the tracks (side to side) is fixed, of course, but it seems to get smaller the closer the tracks get to the horizon.
Photo by mookitty, on Flickr
The location of the base of an object in a photo serves to give the viewer an idea of how far away from the camera the object is. The farther up in the horizontal plane of a photo the object is located, the farther away it seems; objects lower in the horizontal plane appear closer.
Photo by shlomp-a-plompa, on Flickr
The appearance of objects at long distances is altered by the effects of atmospheric conditions between the camera and the object being photographed. Objects become less distinct as more atmosphere is placed between them and the camera; dust, smoke, water, and a variety of other factors conspire to diminish contrast in an image. Ironically, this haze serves to create depth, particularly in landscape photography.
Photo by llamnudds, on Flickr
If an image features multiple objects placed on the same visual plane, the objects closer to the camera will overlap and partially hide the objects that are farther away. From this, the viewer can more easily ascertain the relative distance of one object from another.
Photo by liber, on Flickr
Diminishing Size Perspective
This effect is best demonstrated through repetition of objects such as rows of trees. The first tree will be closest to your camera and, thus, will appear larger, with each subsequent tree in the row appearing smaller.
Photo by Space Ritual, on Flickr
Forced perspective relies on the purposeful, strategic placement of a subject/object in such a manner that it appears farther, closer, larger, or smaller than it is in reality.
Photo by beckstei, on Flickr
So how do you go about actually changing perspective? There are a few ways to accomplish this.
Change Lenses/Use Different Focal Lengths
To affect distance, wider focal lengths emphasize linear perspective, while longer focal lengths have a compressing effect and reduce the illusion of distance. Choose your focal length according to how you want to portray distance in your image.
If it’s depth you want to play with, shooting with a wide angle lens while close to your subject has the effect of enhancing apparent depth. On the other hand, a shot taken with a telephoto lens from a greater distance will appear to have less depth.
Change Your Viewpoint
Perhaps the most convenient way to alter perspective is to simply move; change your viewpoint. Get down low, go up high, step to the right or to the left; any viewpoint other than eye level (the most commonly used viewpoint) can make a significant difference in perspective.
Perspective as a compositional tool will have a powerful impact on the images you produce once you gotten a hang of how and when to use different types of perspective. The best part is that these techniques are free. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you are using; absolutely anyone can improve their photography this way.