Taking a photograph that you can ‘walk into’ is a fun challenge, especially as the most important principle to remember is that a camera records a landscape on media that has only two dimensions. Our binocular vision gives us three-dimensional vision, but a camera sees with only one eye, and there is no sense of depth in a photograph unless we create it using lighting, composition, or both.
Perspective lines, shadow lines, and the relative size of objects, help provide a sense of three dimensions. The Abbott School, Castine, ME
ƒ/18 | 1/200 sec | ISO 400 | 12mm focal length
The main thing to remember is this is simply an illusion created by the placement and the perspective of objects and details within the image. It’s about creating a composition that places subjects in relation to one another in a way that will trigger the brain to react as if it were taking in the actual view. Place your hand over one of your eyes and look around you—this is how the camera ‘sees’ things. Much of what you look at with one eye will completely lose it’s three-dimensional sensation, although certain combinations of objects might still be perceived as having depth. Look closely at the parts of the view where you get a sense of depth to see what makes these specific elements different to the rest. The composition may be simple or complicated, but is most likely based on just a couple of basic features.
Lighting, lines, and lenses
Low angle side lighting—when the sun is less than about 30 degrees in elevation above the horizon—creates shadow lines and contrast on the landscape that help give a sense of depth. The difference in light and dark areas draws the eye from one area of contrast to the next, pulling you deeper into an image. In soft light, tonal shifts in the objects themselves can create a similar effect, as gently contrasting tones and colours pull the eye from one object to the next.
All it takes is the simplest of lines, tones, and perspective in sizes to create a sense of three
dimensions. The sun draws the eye from the foreground footprint to the background. Natural Bridge, Arikok National Park, Aruba
ƒ/22 | 1/125 sec | ISO 100 | 100mm focal length
Each subject in the view also has its own energy, based on its shape, relative size, and the intensity of contrast with its background and similar nearby objects. Colours, details, textures, and flowing or straight lines also have an energy that can pull the eye farther into the ‘distance’ of an image. The eye also reacts to the size difference of similar objects, and we understand that those in the foreground will be larger than those in the background, especially when they are placed so that one leads to the next.
Wide-angle lenses are the most effective for creating compositions that offer a three-dimensional effect. The wider field of view makes it easier to work with a larger number of eye-catching subjects, while the greater depth of field makes it possible to work with subjects up close. This offers increased perspective between near and far, and with an ultra-wide-angle lens a tiny flower can be quite large in the foreground, becoming a main focal point that draws you into the rest of the view.
Acclaimed photographer Carl E. Heilman II has been photographing the landscape for more than thirty years. In this comprehensive guide, he shares the latest techniques for capturing professional-quality digital images in the field. Bursting with hundreds of inspiring images and a genuine passion for the natural world, Advanced Digital Landscape Photography is the definitive guide for today’s outdoor photographer.
Advanced Digital Landscape Photography
Carl Heilman II
Buy it now! RRP for print edition: £15.99