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Intro and Perspective

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In last month’s tutorial, we looked at several basic but useful compositional techniques, including the famous Rule of Thirds, camera angle, focal length, framing and the use of foreground and background features. This month I want to move on to some more advanced techniques that will help to sharpen up your photographic technique.

Photography is an art as well as a science, and in any art beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I’m presenting here are guidelines to help you take better photographs, not rules that must be followed. You’re the one with your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button, so you must decide what works best for you. Practicing these techniques will help you to get good results more often, but you should try to adapt them to your own style and artistic preferences.

Perspective

Perspective is all around us, and so naturally we take it for granted. It’s what gives us our perception of three dimensions and makes the difference between cows that are very small, and cows that are a long way away. That’s more than a gratuitous Father Ted reference by the way. Indians living deep in the Amazon jungle, where the most distant thing they can see is only a few meters away, have been found to have no sense of perspective. When they come out of the jungle for the first time, they see distant objects not as being far away, but as being very small. It takes some time for their brains to adjust to a perspective view.

In photography, we can use perspective in a number of ways to achieve different effects. Most types of perspective shots are best achieved using wide-angle lenses, since the angle of view tends to emphasise perspective by making nearer objects appear larger than they are, and more distant ones appear even smaller. This is why they’re a bad choice for close-up portraits, unless you’re a fan of giant noses.

The most common type of perspective effect is “one-point perspective”. By using a wide-angle lens, groups of lines converging on a vanishing point within the boundaries of the frame can add energy to an otherwise fairly dull scene, giving a sense of movement and drama. This effect works best for photographs taken when inside or surrounded by buildings, but it can also work on roads, railway lines, tunnels, even rivers and beaches, anywhere where long parallel lines occur.



Photographs of buildings can be enlivened by using “two point perspective”; photographing the building from a low angle pointing upward so that the parallel sides converge both upward and to the side, creating two vanishing points which are usually outside of the frame of the picture. This is also best achieved by using a wide-angle lens to emphasise the effect, however the main danger here is that many wide-angle lenses, especially the zoom lenses on compact cameras, produce what is known as spherical or barrel distortion, where parallel lines appear to curve. Better quality lenses minimise this distortion, which is why I usually mention it in my camera reviews.



Adding a third point of perspective creates a third vanishing point, and gives the building a sense of depth and volume. This effect works best on low-angle shots of large, tall buildings, but can also work from above, useful if you happen to know someone with a helicopter.



Another type of perspective view, one which is most useful in landscape photography, is known as “zero-point perspective”. Here there are no parallel lines to provide the visual cues for the vanishing point effect. Instead the scene is non-linear and is made up of organic natural curves. Only the relative scale of distant objects provides the visual information to judge depth and thus give the image its third dimension.

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