1 Apr 2008

Photographing aerial perspective

I came across these photographs of mine this morning as I was sorting and cataloguing some of my old travel images. The top photograph shows two people strolling along the Roman wall at Antalya on the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey. The bottom photograph is of a fishing boat with the mountains in the distance behind. They seemed such good examples of ‘Aerial Perspective’ I though it might be worth explaining something about it.

There are two very different types of perspective, and an understanding of both can be of fundamental importance to the photographer when creating a sense of depth - the third dimension - in our two-dimensional photographs.
Firstly, of course, there is linear perspective – that’s when objects nearer the camera appear larger than those further away. Photographers can exaggerate the effects of linear perspective by using different focal length lenses, painters and artists simple move their ‘disappearing point’ to create similar effects or distortions. More about all that some other time.

Aerial perspective has nothing to do with flying and looking down on your subject, in fact it would be more accurately described as ‘atmospheric’ perspective. It is the phenomenon that creates a sense of depth in a photograph by capturing the way the atmosphere makes distant objects appear less distinct and more bluish than those nearer the camera.

Aerial perspective is particularly noticeable with backlight (what nice photographers often refer to as contre-jour or ‘against the light’) in a slightly hazy atmosphere, and you can see its effect very clearly in the photograph above. The figures on the wall are in strong, black silhouette. The mountains behind get gradually lighter the further away they are. This gives a very powerful sense of distance and depth.

Painters and artists have been using this effect for many centuries. In particular, Leonardo da Vinci was fascinated by it and I believe he was the first to use the term. I can bring to mind at least one of his paintings – Virgin of the Rocks, in which he has used it to great effect to give the illusion of tremendous depth within his picture.

I found this interesting techy page about aerial perspective and I suggest you give it a click and learn more…


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