Communicating Depth in the landscape
This article is about ‘Pictorial Depth’ in a photo, it not really about DOF (Depth of field), although DOF can be important for communicating ‘Depth’. Pictorial depth is a third dimension in a 2 dimensional image. Being able to communicate depth in an image will increase the sense of space and using pictorial depth cues is a composition skill. Being able to communicate Depth will also help to convey size and distance and the relationships of objects with each other. Learning how to recognise ‘Depth Cues’ will help you to use them in your photography.
Depth perception in a photo is created with a number of ‘Pictorial cues’.
- Converging lines
- Texture gradient
- Atmospheric degradation
Occlusion – overlap
If one objects overlaps another, we assume that the overlapped object is further away. In my waterfall photo, there are many examples of nearer objects overlapping further objects. This is a very powerful depth cue because it can’t be wrong! The fragments of rock on the moss overlaps part of the river – there is no question that this object is closer. There are other points of overlap. Can you spot them and explain how they communicate depth?
Height in the scene
Until you get to the height of the horizon, object which are higher in the scene are assumed to be further away. The usually are. That moss and rocks are low in the photo. There are 2 levels of waterfall in the picture. They probably are higher than the river and moss stones, but it is easy to see how the upper waterfall is further away because of the more powerful ‘Occlusion’. Above the horizon, the opposite becomes true and objects lower in the scene appear further away. This can be seen with the clouds. The clouds at the top of the image are seen as being closer.
Texture and Colour
Textures and colours change as they get further away from us. Can you see 2 examples where the colour has changed in the distance? The orange landscape above the waterfall changes in a number of ways. Similar gradients of land get darker a they get further away, but there is also sunlight on the land which communicates the depth of the clouds. The near textures on the moss and stones have much better clarity and contrast than those rocks across the river.