Composition; Creating a sense of depth - ColdSnap Photography

Composition; Creating a sense of depth

Originally Posted May 2010

Composition; Creating a Sense of Depth:

Last newsletter we discussed the basics of composition and the ruleMagnolia Blossoms of thirds. This newsletter we will delve into composition a little deeper and discuss tips on creating a sense of depth in your photographs.
Depth in a photograph is an illusion it is an illusion that photographers depend upon to create three dimensional photographs. Depth is created by a careful manipulation of several elements to lead a viewer’s eye into and around a photograph.

Depth of Field

Creative use of depth of field is a very effective technique for creating the illusion of depth in a photograph. Depth is not necessarily achieved by simply stopping down to f22 and creating as much depth of field as possible. In fact in many situations this is the opposite of what you should do. Placing compositional elements in the foreground and or the background that are not in focus will emphasize the third dimensional illusion of a photograph. Using aperture settings of f5.6 or less emphasizes the object or plane that you have focused on. Careful use of just enough subject sharpness is one of the most critical decisions that a photographer can make when composing an image. I recommend getting to know how to use your “depth of field preview” on your camera, not all cameras have a “depth of field preview,” check your camera manual to see if your camera is equipped with one. A post-exposure view of the image on the camera’s lcd monitor is not adequate to critically analyze depth of field in many situations.

Placement of your subject or objects within the frame of the photograph

Last newsletter we discussed the rule of thirds and placement of horizon lines or other prominent features in a photograph. Now we are concerned with the placement of objects relative to their spacial relationship. Choosing a composition of a scene that juxtaposes two or more elements can create the illusion of space and depth in a photograph, particularly if the elements are varied in their distance from the camera lens. Placing a flower blossom 12 inches from the front of your 24mm lens and an oak tree 12 meters from the front of your lens in the same composition will juxtapose these two elements and create a sense of space between them.

Use of light and color

35mm frame
Both color and light can help create depth or space in a photograph. When we view photographs our eye tends to settle on the brightest or boldest color in the image. We can use this to create depth. If we place a bright white area near the front of the image most of the time our viewer will settle there and not bother exploring the image any further-hence we lose the viewer of our image before they have fully explored the photograph. Place that bright white area further back into the photograph-make the viewer work to get to it, now they are spending more time with the image. The same can be true for bold color. Back-lighting an image can also be a very effective tool to create depth and space. Back-lighting will separate the subject from the background of the image, it can also give the subject a more three dimensional feel.

Creating visual lines


Create visual lines in your images that lead the viewer deeper into your composition. Meandering roads, paths, walkways, fences and bridges are all subjects that can be used in your compositions to create depth and space. Just about any element can create visual lines that can be used to draw a viewer deeper into an image. Create visual lines between two or more objects in the composition this will emphasize the juxtaposition of objects or subjects in your composition that we discussed earlier.

For more about composition check out our People and Place workshop.