When we take a photo with our cameras, we are turning a 3D image into just 2D, something that can causes problems when you’re trying to display depth.
It has advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re trying to convey with your photo but, ultimately, it holds you back when you’re trying to add depth to a photo.
If you’ve read many of my tutorials on composition, you’ll know by now that, by implementing some of these techniques, you can add depth quite easily. We’re going have a look at them now…
The most important thing to do is to make sure you have a foreground and a background. A great way to do this is to include the rule of thirds.
This rule basically dictates that photos should be split into nine equal sections, divided by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. The important features within the frame should intersect with these lines at some point.
If you place the foreground to the right of the image, space is left for the background on the left, creating a clear sense of depth. You can read more about how to use the rule of thirds here.
Using natural frames in a scene is a great technique if you want to add a sense of depth without having to include an obvious foreground subject.
The depth of field also comes into play here; even with a deep depth of field, it’s quite likely for the background scene to be much further away from the frame in front, producing a difference in focus.
Another way to reinforce a sense of depth is by repetition, clearly demonstrated in the photo below.
It’s easy to create a sense of depth in a photo using two or more objects (like the door frames below) that we know to be the same height: place one further away than the other. As we well know, this makes the object appear smaller and, in doing so, provides us with a sense of depth.
Read more about this here.
Placing yourself in the frame like this allows multiple lines to converge at a single point when given enough distance to do so. This creates a very strong feeling of depth; the lines draw your eyes into the frame, to a seemingly infinite destination.
Converging lines are good at creating a feeling of depth but they do so at varying degrees of effectiveness depending on their placement. Placing yourself in the scene, like in the photo above, has the strongest effect and I tend to use this the most.
Thanks to Mark Stewart at ScramShots for the photo below.
When the lines start at one side of the frame, the feeling of depth is lessened but they start to draw your attention to a single point, as shown below.
We now get into the realms of basic diagonal lines which are great for leading the eye, as demonstrated in the photo below.
The line draws your eyes down the path and into the distance, providing a strong feeling of depth as the line diminishes into the distance.
Distance and Focal Length
It sort of goes without saying but the farther away you are from your subject and the wider the field of view is, the higher the sense of depth.
This is because more of the foreground is included, leading up to the subject, whether it be additional elements such as a frame, or just the ground itself.
Believe it or not, the use of vertical lines can be incredibly effective when it comes to producing a sense of depth in a photo.
It’s easy to create depth using vertical lines: taking two or more ‘vertical’ objects that we know to be the same height (or roughly so) and place one further away than the other. The more distant vertical line appears smaller, providing a sense of depth.
Have a look at the trees below and you’ll see what I mean – the trees start to appear shorter.
You might not have heard of this term before and, for those of you who haven’t, here’s an overview:
Dynamic tension is a way of using the energy and movement available in various features of the frame to draw the eye out of the picture in contrasting directions.
“Contrasting directions” is the important part of that sentence because this is where we start to see depth. Because we’re taking a photo of a 3D scene, the lines come under one of the other categories of lines listed above, diminishing the further away they get: the depth.
Have a look at my photo below. It draws your eyes down two different paths, trying to see into the distance.