The Elements of Visual Design – Perspective

Posted on Updated on

This is the last in the series on the elements of visual design, the final element being perspective. A photograph is a two-dimensional object that represents a three-dimensional space and perspective is the element that can help us create the feeling or sense of depth in an image. Perspective uses the other elements (space, lines, texture which of course rely on tone and colour) to increase or decrease the sense of three dimensions in an image. Remember that we use visual elements to create stronger compositions and as the photographer you are in control of what you want to create in your image. It can be more—or less—representational depending on what you are trying to communicate and perspective can be used to show a scene the way is appeared to you or you can use it to distort the scene if that is what you need.

Yellowstone National Park USA

To create the feeling of depth in an image, you can use a shorter focal length (24mm or less). Most cameras these days come with a zoom lens whether you buy a point and shoots or a DSLR with a kit lens. Try standing in one spot and playing around with the focal length to shoot the same scene and you will notice the distortion that happens at the shortest focal length. You can also create the perception of depth if you lower your camera to the ground and tilt it down. Notice what happens to the parts of the image closest to you and those that are the furthest away from you. Another approach usually favoured by landscape photographers is to place an object in your frame close to you in the foreground. This gives the viewer a sense of the size of the foreground object relative to the expansive space behind it. When you combine all three of these approaches i.e. use a short focal length, shoot with your camera close to the ground and tilted down, and include an object in the foreground, you will create the greatest feeling of depth in your photograph. There are no rules in photography so it is best to experiment with these different approaches to see how the camera renders the scene and which comes closest to what you are trying to communicate.

Using light will also give the viewer a sense of depth. The intensity and colour of light and the resulting contrast will give us the perception of depth. It is why many photographers prefer to shoot early in the morning or at twilight into the evening. Mother nature helps us with our compositions at those times of day but if you learn to see using the visual elements, you can recognize those same conditions even at the brightest times of the day.

In the second post on the elements of visual design, we talked about the quality of light. This can also help us with perspective. The more harsh the light, the more we are able to perceive depth. Soft light flattens a scene and creates a more two-dimensional image. We also discussed the direction of light and again this can help create perspective. Backlit photographs feel more three-dimensional because of the contrast that is created through the use of shadows and light.

This closes out the series on the elements of visual design. Think of them as Lego blocks and use them to make photographs with stronger compositions. Spend more time understanding the elements by making pictures to see how you can combine them or use them more simply to communicate your ideas. Visual design is important especially when you are starting out but they are only the beginning of making good photographs. Don’t rely on just the technical aspects of design. To grow as a photographer, you will need to know how to use these elements effectively to communicate. If you are starting out, think about joining our Beginners Class starting May 28th or if you are more advanced, join us for a private workshop where we can help hone your visual skills. Contact us for more information; we’d love to hear from you.