Impression of Depth
With each press of the shutter-release, our cameras capture what we are experiencing as three-dimensional events, magically translating them into two-dimensional moments. Some of the most seductive elements of landscape photography are the various compositional devices we can use to mitigate this two-dimensional flattening of perspective produced by our cameras and recreate the illusion of depth.
Some of the qualities creating such an illusion are inherent in the scene itself: the overlapping diagonal slopes of distant hills are a potent creator of depth, with a degree of elevation in mountainous vistas, we benefit from ‘aerial perspective’: the exaggerated fall-off in contrast and gradual change in colour temperature towards blue with increasingly distant layers. The impression of depth from such ‘layering’ can be paradoxically emphasised by the compression created by choice of a distant viewpoint and a telephoto lens. Alternatively, scenes with strong foreground interest can appear more three-dimensional when a wide-angle lens is used to emphasise linear perspective by allowing a more intimate viewpoint. In scenes with identifiable foreground, middle-ground and background elements, the relative emphasis or concealment of each by selection of a viewpoint with optimal elevation, can also strengthen or weaken the illusion of depth.
A myriad of other instruments can influence visual depth perception: juxtaposition of colour, tone or texture, convergent visual paths and selective focus can all contribute. Local adjustments using adjustment brushes, graduated filters and radial filters that facilitate subtle but profound transformations to the mood of any image are all easily accomplished now in post-processing.
I was mindful of some of these aspects when I composed my image of this charming red-roofed cottage on the Applecross peninsula, but perhaps the most striking contribution to the illusion of depth in this image, is the vibrant colour of the roof. For centuries, easel painters have used the colour red to deepen compositions; colours at the red end of the visible spectrum create the impression that they are advancing towards the viewer and colours like blue, at the opposite end, appear to recede into the image.
Undoubtably, the hypnotising translation of a scene into two dimensions is part of the charm of the photographic process, but if we can successfully re-emphasise an illusion of depth we can elevate our imagery to another level.