Images that have a sense of depth and perspective are more interesting and engaging to view. Depth in photography is the act of using photographic and compositional techniques to give the appearance that objects are three dimensional in a two dimensional photograph.
In this article I will teach you some of these techniques to help you communicate depth and dimension visually to the viewer.
1. Create depth with a shallow depth of field.
Within your images, there is an area called a “zone of sharpness.” This area contains everything that is in focus in your image. Outside of this zone of sharpness, everything is blurry.
You control the zone of sharpness, or depth of field, through the f-stop number on your camera, and by selecting a small f-stop number, you get shallow depth of field. The graphic below shows f-stop numbers with the corresponding depth of field. The lower the number, the more shallow the depth of field.
SMALL F-STOP = SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD
Be careful when using these small f-stop numbers as your depth of field can become so shallow that your subject becomes blurry as well Check out these images that demonstrate how the use of shallow depth of field can create depth in your images.
Keep in mind, that your lens determines the lowest f-stop you can choose, therefore you may need to purchase better lenses to be able to hit these lower f-stop numbers. My favorite inexpensive lens that allows you to achieve very shallow depth of field is the 50mm 1.8 lens. You can check them out by clicking the following the links below.
These lenses cost between $100-$200 and will deliver results usually only found in much more expensive lenses.
I’ve written an extensive article on understanding aperture which will help you learn more about depth of field and how to achieve it.
2. Create depth with foreground.
The next technique for adding depth to your images is the use of foreground. Rather than taking just an image of your subject, by adding foreground you help the viewer to understand better the story you are trying to communicate with your pictures.
What is foreground?
Foreground is any object you include in your image that is between you the photographer, and the subject. When taking pictures, always look for foreground, and consider including it if it strengthens the story you’re trying to tell with your image.
Sometimes you can enhance the photograph by including foreground, and sometimes it will distract. In these two images, the image with foreground tells an entirely different story, then the image without foreground.
Create foreground by raising the horizon line.
The easiest way to add foreground to your image is to raise the horizon line. You accomplish this by pointing your camera more towards the ground which raises the horizon line in the picture. Especially in landscape photography, this technique works well to add depth to your image.
Take a look at the photographs below. These images communicate depth better to the viewer by adding foreground.
Create foreground by getting close.
Another great way to add depth to your image through foreground is by getting close to the objects that you include as foreground.
In the first image, I created depth by using a shallow depth of field and blurring the background.
In the second image, I used BOTH a shallow depth of field and foreground.
I took the first image, and then both she and I stepped into the pine tree to the right to create the next image. Both are good, but the foreground gives the image an entirely different feel.
In these images, the horizon is raised by getting close to the foreground. Laying on the ground, or getting the camera close to the ground is a good way to add foreground and give the viewer of a feeling of depth.
Getting close to the foreground coupled with a shallow depth of field is the number one way that I create depth in my images.
3. Create depth with light.
Light is the most important aspect of photography, after all, photography is simply the capture of light. Knowing this helps you understand that how you capture light is of the greatest importance.
This is why learning how to see light, understanding how to add light, and even knowing how to create light, is so essential to photography. If you’re interested in learning more, I have book, “Seeing Light” A Photographer’s Guide to Mastering Light,” that will help you harness the power of light. Check it out.
Our minds are completely familiar with light and how it operates, thus by adding directional light to your image, you create a sense of depth. The image above is simple enough, but the light helps our minds see three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional photograph.
Create depth with light by focusing light on your subject.
In general, our eye tends to go first to the brightest spot in an image, and therefore it would make sense to have your subject be at that spot.
However, the exception to this rule is when shooting a high-key image, or an image that is predominantly light. In that case, the viewer’s eye will go to the darkest point in the image first. Take a look at the two images below to see what I mean.
These images are also very minimal, which helps to draw the viewers eye where you want to go. Most images you have much more going on, which means light becomes even more necessary.
Take a look at the image below. What is my subject?
Obviously, it is the mountain range, while the car and road are there as foreground to tell the story.
What if I was to say to you, the car was meant to be my subject; – that I wanted the viewer to think more about the vehicle than the mountain? To do this, I would need to draw attention to the car, and that is done by making it brighter.
Look at the image below. Do you notice the car more? What is my subject?
You may still notice the mountain first, but your eye moves quickly to the car and your mind intuitively knows that it is the subject of the image. I adjusted the light on this quickly in Photoshop to focus the attention on my subject. I do this often in pictures of people to help draw the eye of the viewer to my subject. It is called a vignette.
In this reception leaving shot below, notice the difference between the first image and the second.
As you can see that I have darkened the edges to draw the eye of the subject into the image. It’s a subtle way to add depth while still focusing on my subject. This was done in Lightroom, awesome software to help your images look great.
Create depth with light and shadow in landscape photography.
In landscape photography, light and shadow are two key elements for adding depth and interest to your images. Light and shadow bring form and definition to a picture causing our brains to see three-dimensional objects. Because of this, the time of day you shoot becomes critical in landscape photography.
As the sun moves, so do the shadows causing the scene to look different at various times of the day. Mornings and evenings generally provide the best source for beautiful light and shadows in landscape photography.
During midday, you can still shoot landscape, but it is best to shoot when there are clouds in the sky that allow the light to filter through creating spots of light. In the images below, you’ll see how the clouds are creating patterns of light on the ground that create depth and interest in the images.
Create depth with light and shadow in people photography.
Look how light and shadow come together to create beauty in this picture of a bride. The shadows are soft and help our eye to discern depth and dimension. In her dress and in her hair, shadows bring out the small details giving these areas depth as well.
These are subtle, yet important pieces of this image that come together to form beauty. Being mindful of them, and knowing how to create this look is important. Let me show you how I shot it with this awesome diagram below. She is being lit mainly by the window to camera left. I have a light behind her to camera right to lift the shadows on her shoulder and add light to the top of her veil and head.
The images below show how different types of light show, not only depth to the human face, but also evoke a different mode or feel.
4. Create depth with converging lines.
In art, there is a term called vanishing point, and it is a point in space at which all receding parallel lines converge. These converging lines give the impression of depth and allows the eye to perceive objects as though they three-dimensional.
The image below is a good example of how converging parallel lines convey depth. Notice also that the lights across the top of the tunnel appear to get smaller the further away they get. In reality, the lights are all the same size, but perspective causes them to appear smaller and smaller. This visual cue that occurs in real life allows you to convey depth in your images.
Lines do not always need to be straight to convey depth. This picture shows how curved lines create depth, but the idea is the same. As the parallel lines get farther away from the viewer, they appear to get closer together.
Adding depth to your images is something that when thoughtfully done, will add a tremendous amount of impact to your images. If you are trying to become a better photographer, than doing simple things will help you add that depth and create a more impactful image. As a portrait photographer, the way I add depth most often is:
- with a shallow depth of field
- getting close to the foreground
- creating dimension on the human face with light
These three allow me to impact to my images in an easy way. If you’re looking to shoot other types or images, then find which technique works best for you. Then work to add depth to your images.
If you want to learn more about composition, check out my book “Create!,” that teaches compositional techniques and will inspire creativity.
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