Photography Composition Essentials: Depth or Perspective

If your photograph engages a viewer for more than five seconds, it means it has something for the viewer to look into. If we brush aside the story part and strictly look into the aesthetic aspects of a photograph, what composition rule or principle is actually responsible for all that viewer’s attention? It’s depth—or perspective—in a photograph.

photography perspective

Depth or Perspective

As we all know, a photograph is a two dimensional plane and normally it doesn’t fully recreate the actual emotions of what we saw at that time (and it never will). That’s why we should enjoy the process of taking photographs whether we get a shot or not). If anything can help a viewer to feel a little bit of reality in a photograph, it’s depth. It’s the third dimension of a photograph and one of the key composition rules in photography.

What depth really offers to the viewer is an artist’s preferred way to look into the picture. The user starts from the foreground, moves toward the subject, and then the rest of the information is filled in by the background. The only thing that is important is actually the relation of all these elements to fill in all the missing parts.

I actually didn’t notice that much about depth before I decided to write a post on it. I was merely using it for the aesthetic aspect of my photographs. But when I actually started thinking in more detail, I started to embrace its value even more. It grounds every picture and convinces the viewer that this picture is a piece of artwork and not just another snap. It separates a good luck artist from a photographer who is consistently producing good pictures.

I’m a landscape lover and I do agree that a lot of the time I get good photographs by chance; instead of taking consistently good pictures by doing my homework, I’m used to increasing my chances by taking more pictures. That’s how I used to cheat my luck because it gives me the same net results. But this approach actually hurts you when you try to go pro because you can’t come again and again to the same location and try your luck when you do professional work. That’s why people are willing to hire professionals—they give them sure results the first time they get a chance.

So if you want to be a pro, start taking it more seriously and try to conceptualize the photograph before lifting your camera to your eye. Check whether you’ve got enough depth in your photograph to engage viewers, and if not, move to a different angle or location until you find a decent spot to convey a reasonable amount of depth.

Now I’m going to show you some of my images that—in my opinion—have decent depth aspect. Keep in mind that I’m not a pro and I’m still working on my skills.

showing three dimensions in photography

Muttrah Corniche , Oman

It starts with a boat (foreground) moving through the restrooms / parking (middle ground), all the way to the distant trees, mountains, and beautiful clouds (background). All these things are related and complement each other. They depict the typical setting of a beach-side resort. The shoreline here is connecting all these levels together, making it one complete picture.

depth in a sunrise photo

Sur Sunrise, Oman

Here the road is leading toward the main subject, the sunrise (background), but instead of just a plain sunrise it leads toward it through a person standing (foreground) and town houses (middle ground). So it conveys enough details for the viewer to observe. The on-going street light gives a sense of distance between all these levels.

road used to add perspective

Sidaab Street , Oman

This is Sidaab Street in Oman, which leads to the Royal Palace. The main subject of this picture is actually the road and the journey (middle ground) but to create enough interest I included a car tire (foreground) and mountains and clouds (background). The street lights provide a sense of distance among the foreground/middle ground and background.

using roads to add depth to images

Why So Serious , Quryaat Road, Oman

I guess by now you know that I’m obsessed with roads, and I accept that I love roads. I find them to be a very attractive subject when it comes to depth and perspective. Here of course that car with a smiley spare wheel is the subject (middle ground) along with the road in front (foreground) leads toward the subject and all the way to the mountains (background).

OK, enough of landscapes and roads. I have some examples from street/people photography, too.

showing dimension in photography

The Fisherman , Sifah Beach, Oman

Here there are no leading lines but from the proportion it is clear that the fisherman on left is our subject (foreground) which is complemented by the boats (middle ground) and the sea where he fishes. All levels are perfectly related and gel together.

third dimension in photography

Muttrah Fish Harbor, Oman

The people here are either fishermen who came from fishing trips or the buyers who want fish. The composition is simple. It starts with the harbor (foreground), moving toward the subject (which are fishermen in the middle ground) all the way to the water and the ships (background). No need to explain further.

I hope I made my point pretty clear now that when I am talking about depth or perspective in a photograph, I’m referring to all these levels (fore/middle/background) and their relationship with the entire picture. That makes a photograph complete and it makes people believe what they’re witnessing. It makes the image more interesting and entices them to look into each and every detail of a photograph.

About the Author
Imran Zahid works as a software consultant in Oman and is originally from Pakistan. He didn’t learn photography from anywhere; he’s a self taught photographer. It’s his lifetime passion.
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