What is diminishing perspective? How can it improve your photography? :: Digital Photo Secrets

What is diminishing perspective? How can it improve your photography?

by David Peterson 1 comment

During the renaissance, painting went through a distinct revolution. Gone were the medieval two dimensional paintings. Artists had figured something out, something significant about the way we perceive the world around us. We call that thing “perspective,” and it’s just as important in photography as it was in painting. The use of diminishing perspective can add an extra sense of depth to your images. Here’s how you can harness its power.

Things far away get smaller

The world we perceive is not flat. We live in three dimensions. The same object, when placed far away from you, appears smaller. The world gets smaller and smaller the further it gets from you. This isn’t rocket science. It’s simply the way visual perception has to work if it is going to work at all.

Imagine a winding road that gets tinier and tinier until you can’t see the yellow lines that differentiate the lanes. Up close, the road practically fills up the entire frame. Far far away, it is but a speck on a much larger canvas. This is how you need to think of diminishing perspective.

In a certain sense, we photographers are nothing like those medieval painters. No matter how sloppily we shoot, our images will still have some sense of diminishing perspective -albeit very small. So to say we’re introducing some new element into this whole process is rather absurd. We aren’t. We are simply enhancing what is already there. We are using our camera to bring out the natural sense of depth in the world around us.

Use objects with patterns

Our brains are programmed to detect patterns. We are extremely good at it. As a matter of fact, patterns are some of the most visually interesting things you can incorporate into any photo. A good pattern will immediately engage your viewer, forcing the eye to follow it. Pay attention because we are going to use patterns as a way to create a sense of depth and diminishing perspective.

Let’s get back to the road. Your eye follows the road far into the distance because the road has a certain pattern. The yellow lines repeat over and over again, and you pay attention to them as they get smaller. A simple photograph of a road going into the distance is a fantastic example of something with diminishing perspective.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most played out examples. There are plenty of roads in this great world of ours, and there are even more photographers excited to make use of them. You don’t want to be like everyone else. You want to create something unique.

So you need to think of different kinds of subject matter with similar patterns. What about the honeycomb of a bee hive shot at such an angle as to produce a sense of diminishing perspective? How about a long illuminated walkway between two buildings? There are plenty of patterned subjects when you stop to think about it. The world is yours for the taking.

Define a horizon line

Diminishing perspective doesn’t work unless you define a horizon that everything must follow. The horizon line is the space where everything you see gets so small it’s practically invisible. Horizon lines do not even need to be present on the frame itself. They can reside somewhere off of the frame, and you will still have an interesting image. The closer the horizon line is to the center of the frame, the larger the sense of depth you will create (until it is exactly centered, creating no perspective whatsoever).

Here’s a simple exercise you can do at home. Take a baking rack and hold it up in front of your face at exactly 90 degrees. It is totally flat with zero diminishing perspective. Now start to tilt the rack away from you, and you will notice the holes getting smaller and smaller the further away they get. Once the rack is totally horizontal, you can’t see the holes at all.

I suggested the use of a baking rack because it has a natural pattern to it, thus making the perspective more visible. Notice that you could stop at any one angle, and you’d still have a sense of diminishing perspective. That’s how you define your horizon line.

With a camera, it’s a slightly different task. The camera angle you use will define the horizon. So will the orientation of your subject. You ultimately have to play with both of them until you get something you like. There are many cases where you can’t adjust your subject, so you might try to get lower or higher to create a more interesting angle.

Use objects with patterns to create a sense of depth.

Take a look at this spiral staircase. You can only create a sense of diminishing perspective when you photograph it from above. In this case, the horizon line is straight in the center. Were the staircase to go on further, the circle in the middle would be nothing more than a single point.

Consider the depth of field

On your camera, the depth of field is the amount of the scene remaining in focus. If more of the scene is in focus (and not blurred out), your image is said to have a greater depth of field. Your aperture setting defines your depth of field. The wider the aperture (i.e. smaller f-number), the smaller the depth of field. The smaller the aperture, the larger the depth of field.

Landscape photographers prefer large f-numbers and small apertures because they create the largest possible depth of field. They ensure that the entire scene remains in focus. For the purpose of creating a sense of depth and using diminishing perspective, it really depends on what you are shooting. If you are taking a picture of a large object like the stairwell above, you will need a larger depth of field to capture it. However, if you are taking a picture of something much smaller than that, it’s okay to use a shallow depth of field for effect.

A guitar close up. The shape still creates a sense of diminishing perspective.

Those renaissance painters were onto something. By using diminishing perspective, you can give your images more depth while making them appear more lively. Use patterns to hijack your viewers’ senses, and then define a clear horizon line. It’s as easy as that.

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  1. Daniel Bartley says:

    I'm gay and I absolutely love love love the pic with the guitar. Like O.M.G!!!!! I NEED IT!!!

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