What is Perspective in Photography?

Most of us understand the general concept of "perspective", and we might have learned how painters use it to create the illusion of depth, but what is perspective in photography? When we look at a scene, our eyes try to make sense of the distance between objects. If an object is far away from the camera, it may seem smaller than other objects in frame, and this can be used in photography for all sorts of creative results. Below, we've outlined how to use perspective to emphasize your subject and create a stronger composition.  

How Does Perspective Work?

In photography, the only way to change your perspective is by doing it, literally. The camera angle, distance to your subject, and style of lens all have a dramatic effect on the final image. Every situation calls for a different perspective, and knowing which position or lens to use can only come with practice. For example, if you're shooting a massive subject (say, a skyscraper or large statue), you have the option to capture it at street level, from a window, or even from the roof of a taller building. Each perspective will create a totally unique result.  

Relative Size

We all know that buildings are taller than people, which is why we can see a distant building in a photograph and imagine how far away it is. This scaling effect allows the audience to understand the relative size of objects in a photo, instead of assuming that the objects are actually that small. 

However, photographers can also take advantage of relative size to create a "forced perspective". Tourists often use forced perspective to make it seem like they're leaning on the Leaning Tower, or lifting up the Taj Mahal. In these silly photos, people play with perspective to make themselves seem as tall as these iconic buildings.  

Vanishing Point

Perspective can also be used to make two parallel lines seem like they're stretching off into infinity. This is known as a vanishing point. To create the effect, the photographer needs to point the camera lens at a perpendicular angle to those parallel lines (i.e. a tunnel, street, runway, etc). This perspective can result in some truly mesmerizing images, especially when the parallel lines extend to the horizon. 

How Does the Atmosphere Affect Perspective?

On a clear day, if you're shooting close to your subject, the atmosphere shouldn't have any effect on your images. When shooting long-distance landscapes, however, the composition of air can start to affect visibility. Air has water vapor, dust, and many other particles that can change the direction of light. In photos, this atmospheric effect can appear as a haze that covers the distant landscape.  

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