Ever seen photos of people holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Then you’ve seen forced perspective photography. And it’s easy to re-create. You don’t even need to go to Italy to do it.
In fact, you can try forced perspective just about anywhere using all sorts of props you can find. Follow these few simple tips. And you’ll get started making your own forced perspective photos.
1. Check Out the Most Common Forced Perspective Poses
If you don’t know where to start, you can always find creative photography ideas online.
Search “forced perspective” on Google, Instagram or even Pinterest. You’ll find hundreds of forced perspective examples to inspire you.
People who appear like dwarves or giants, and even small toys that appear large and realistic.
Take your time to look at different pictures, and pick out which ones you like. You can use them as a reference for your forced perspective photo project.
2. Plan Each Shot Before the Shoot
Every visual element in your frame has to work together to make your forced perspective photo convincing.
So before you go out and take pictures, figure out how to execute every single shot you want to create.
Look at some of your reference photos and scout for the best places to do them. If one of your forced perspective ideas involves a bench, choose a location with plenty of them.
You should also list down the necessary props you need for your project.
If you can’t find the right area or accessories, consider tweaking your forced perspective concept.
And you need to think of how to set up your photos. You’ll need to know where to place your camera, and where to position your subjects.
Before doing the real shoot, take some test shots at home to help you visualise your idea better.
3. Why You Should Use a Zoom Lens
You can use just about any lens to create perspective distortion. Your most ideal option would be a zoom lens.
You’re playing around with perspective. Expect to adjust your framing and composition a lot.
A zoom lens allows you to re-frame your shot without having to move closer or farther away. Unlike a prime lens.
When using a zoom lens, try not to go lower than 35mm when possible.
The perspective distortion in the wide range could diminish the outcome of the illusion.
4. Which Settings Work Best for Forced Perspective Photos
Forced perspective photography typically involves two points of interest. These work together to create an illusion.
There would be one subject in the foreground, and another in the background. You’ll need to make sure everything is sharp from the front to the back.
Set your camera to Aperture Priority and choose a small aperture between f/8 to f/16 to keep a deep depth of field.
Try not to go any higher or you’ll encounter diffraction.
This issue arises when the opening is too small (such as f/22 or smaller), and light struggles to get in. The disturbance in the light waves causes your image to lose detail.
Meanwhile, there are also situations when you’ll need to blur the background. If so, select your aperture between f/1.2 to f/2.8, instead.
The narrow depth of field will guarantee you a beautiful, soft bokeh.
Since you’re using Aperture Priority, you don’t have to worry about shutter speed. The camera chooses it automatically for you.
Check your settings every once in a while, especially when you’re starting to lose available light.
When it’s getting dark, the shutter speed will dip down to less than 1/60th per second. Your image might end up out of focus due to motion blur.
To counter this problem, you can either open your aperture more or bump up your ISO.
5. Having a Partner Can Simplify Things
It can be quite challenging to do forced perspective photography by yourself. In most cases, you’ll need at least one willing participant to execute a good optical illusion.
Apart from taking photos, it’s also your responsibility to tell them how to pose and where to go.
Before you shoot, discuss your concept with your partner beforehand. Describe what the final image is going to look like, and show them what they’ll need to do to make it work.
Feel free to show reference photos to give them a general idea about what you want to create.
Since your partner can’t see what you see on the screen, you’ll need to communicate with each other a lot. Ask them to move forward, back, or sideways until they’re in the right spot.
You should also reposition your camera until everything is lined up.
This process requires a lot of trial and error, so patience is key.
6. Composition Is Key to Creating the Illusion
The composition is the most crucial part in forced perspective photography. You need to place your subject in the exact spot, or else people will notice the illusion right away.
If you want something to look bigger than it is, put it in the foreground. To make it smaller, put it in the background.
Then find the sweet spot where your partner appears to interact with your prop. Feel free to zoom in and out, or move the camera if necessary.
Your goal is to line up the background and the foreground to make them look like they’re parallel to each other.
Also, try some basic composition rules to keep your shots balanced. Turn on your camera’s grid line and use the Rule of Thirds to frame your image.
Align your subject to one of the sections where the lines intersect, and you have a well-composed frame.
7. Angles Can Make Your Image Look 2D or 3D
When it comes to forced perspective in photography, you’ll need to think beyond the eye-level.
In fact, most forced perspective shots mean you have to either lay low on the ground or to take photos from above.
First, consider what type of shot you need to create. Do you want the foreground and the background to merge?
Then shoot at the ground level. If you’re going to add depth to your image, then take photos from a higher vantage point.
Also, make sure you line up everything correctly. If you want your image to look two dimensional, then make your subject and prop look as flat as possible.
In other words, don’t position it sideways because it gives away its real height and depth.
8. How to Interact With the Environment
The most common backgrounds for forced perspective include flat surfaces, streets, sidewalks, and buildings.
In most cases, people use each location for specific purposes. Forced perspective photographers often look for flat surfaces for big/small illusions. Or they use streets and sidewalks to create an illusion of depth or height.
As for buildings (e.g., the Leaning Tower of Pisa), pretending to hold or carry them is a common trick.
You can also think of other ways of interacting with your surroundings. And you can apply these to almost every architectural feature you find.
You’ll realize that anything from boardwalks to corridors could be used to trick people’s senses.
9. Try Different Props to Add Character to Your Photos
Props are crucial when it comes to turning your ideas into reality. You can use pretty much anything from toys to real objects.
As mentioned, you can place a small item in the foreground to make it look bigger.
Just remember that the smaller the object you use in the foreground, the farther you have to move your other subject.
Of course, toys aren’t the only props you can use. You can also find ways to incorporate real objects. Try benches, lamp posts, and fire hydrants to add to your illusion.
There are plenty of ways to interact with them as well. You can hold on to them, lean on them, or place them in the background.
10. Make Viewers Wonder How You Got That Shot
Context is king when it comes to forced perspective. Your image is just an illusion. But you should make it easy for viewers to understand what they’re looking at.
Get rid of any unnecessary visual elements in your frame to help them get the point of the picture right away.
At the same time, you should make it fairly difficult for them to figure out what makes the illusion works.
People often recognize if a photo has been manipulated. But what makes forced perspective fun is when you see people puzzle over how you got the shot.
These tips are merely a starting point to help you create forced perspective photos on your own.
Open your mind and feel free to experiment with your surroundings.
If you look around, you’ll find opportunities to create optical illusions everywhere.
Interested in trying some more creative photography ideas? Check out our posts on spiral light painting or surreal photography.
Now check out this cool video about forced perspective in Lord of the Rings.