Photography Composition Tip: How to Use Perspective

There’s obviously a lot that goes into creating an eye-catching photo. You have to consider the subject itself and whether it’s strong enough to command attention in the frame. You also have to think about the lighting and how it does or doesn’t improve the quality of the shot. Naturally, the composition is a key component as well, and among the compositional considerations you have to make, perspective is one of them. Let’s review exactly what perspective is and how you can use it to create a more compelling shot.

Perspective Defined

Perspective can be defined on two planes. First, perspective refers to the relationship between objects in an image in space. That is, objects in the foreground of an image will seem larger than objects of equal size that appear in the background. In the image above, notice how the bridge in the foreground appears quite large compared to the buildings in the background, even though we know the buildings are much larger than the bridge in reality.

Second, perspective refers to the positioning of the camera in relation to the elements of an image. That is, if a camera is placed near the ground, the image has a low perspective. If it’s placed high above the ground, the image has a high perspective. Naturally, when a photographer takes a low perspective, viewers won’t be able to see as much of the scene as they would if the photographer takes a high perspective.

Additionally, a low perspective typically highlights size – objects in the shot will seem larger – while a high perspective tends to highlight scale – individual elements in the shot will seem smaller, but viewers have a better view of the larger scene.

As noted above, the further an element is from the camera, the smaller it will appear. But perspective can also impact how lines appear. In the image above, note how the straight lines of the road appear the come together in the distance. This is called convergence, and it will occur regardless of the eye level of the shot. In short, perspective determines a number of visual qualities of an image. Manipulating perspective can make objects seem larger or smaller, you can highlight size or scale, and you can create a sense of intimacy or drama depending on the perspective you use.

Manipulating Perspective with Angles

Perspective can completely change the way that objects look in a photo – even if they are quite familiar. As mentioned earlier, taking a photo from a low perspective exaggerates size while taking a photo from a high perspective – as was done in the image above – highlights scale. But beyond that, changing the angles from which you shoot changes the spatial relationship between the objects in the scene. By doing so, you can create a unique and compelling image, even if the subject has been photographed a million times before.

Think about it – most of the photos we take are from our eye level at a 90-degree angle to the ground. But by getting down very low or getting up above a subject, we can take photos at much different angles that offer a completely different view. Take the photo of the trees above as an ideal example.

Rather than seeing the forest in a “normal” way – looking straight ahead on a plane level with the ground – the extreme upward angle gives us a totally different viewing experience. Note how the tree trunks now act as leading lines, directing our eyes up toward the forest canopy. This has the effect of lengthening out the trees and making the trees seem taller.

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