Using Perspective

Perspective is one of the most important aspects in creating an picture. A unique perspective can take an average "common" picture and make it dramatic and "better".

For the purpose of this article I am combining "perspective" and angle together. Strictly speaking perspective is the apparent relationship of objects in an image and it is controlled entirely by working distance. The closer you are the more relative space will be apparent in the image. And the opposite is also true, work from further away and there is less relative space between objects. 

One of the "selling points" of the 35mm (for crop sensor) and 50mm primes (full frame sensor) is that their perspective is "normal". What the camera captures is "what you see". The field of view of a "normal lens" is approximately the same as your primary filed of view; the area that is not "periphery". This field of view is around 45 degrees. 
The other defining factor of a "normal lens"  is that it's focal length is equal to the diagonal measurement of the sensor. That's why it captures a "normal field of view". And it's why the 35mm is normal on a crop body, a 50mm is normal on a full frame body, and an 80mm is normal for 6x6 medium format. This same field of view comes into play when determining "normal" based upon print size and viewing distance. 

But none of that really matters. "Why" a lens is normal doesn't matter as much as the fact that it is "normal".

So, the normal lens with a normal filed of view and perspective. What does this mean for you the photographer?
The good: It captures what you see. You don't have to think about what the camera is capturing. 
This is "good" because it can help make your photography more "instinctual". 

The bad: It captures what you see. You don't have to think about what the camera is capturing. Yes, the same things that make it "good" also make it "bad". Why is this "bad"? Because it takes you away from "creating a picture" towards "capturing a picture". It's bad because everyone else sees the same thing you do. A picture of the same stuff I see every day is boring.

But it's not the lens itself that is bad, it's how you use it.

Let's get back to using perspective and angle to create better pictures.

This is just a picture of my neighbor's maple tree. It has nice colors in the fall, but just a picture of the tree in the yard would be boring. By using a unique angle and working from very close it makes the image "better". It also causes the branches to become "leading lines" and causes the sky to become the background color. 24mm on a crop body; a little wider than "normal" used from a shorter distance.

By using a low angle and getting down to the level of the subject this image has much more "intimacy".  The low angle also causes things that are further away to become the background which helps throw them out of focus. 800mm on full frame body; much longer than "normal" with a longer subject distance.

By using a lower angle and close working distance I have maximized the spatial distance within the image which makes the fin and emblem seem much larger and "more important". That was the whole point, the fin is what "defines" the car and makes it particularly unique. 
26mm on a full frame body; much wider than "normal" from a very short distance.

This is just a large rock in a river. If I had taken a picture of this rock with a normal perspective from a normal angle it would have been bad. The close perspective makes the rock and it's details/colors come out as the focus of the image. There's no other reason to take a picture of this rock. 
24mm on a full frame body; much wider than "normal" with a much shorter subject distance.

Typical pictures of pets and children don't usually work very well. That's because the viewer doesn't have the same connection to the subject that you do. To make a pet picture better, there needs to be something unique or dramatic about it. 10
mm on a crop body; much wider/closer than "normal."


By working from relatively close I have used perspective to exaggerate the height and difficulty (stretch) of the move she is making. 12mm on a full frame body; much wider than "normal."

Another climbing example of using perspective to emphasize height/distance. 12
mm on a full frame body; much wider/closer than "normal." Believe it or not, my wife was only about 6ft away.

By lying on the ground I was able to emphasize/exaggerate the height of the jump being made. This also placed the sky as the background for the subject which minimizes background distractions. 6mm on an advanced point and shoot (same as 28mm on full frame).

And one just to show that I do occasionally use a "normal" focal length. 5
6mm on a full frame body; about "normal."

Note that the focal length does not change the perspective in these images. It is the change in working distance that changes the perspective. The change in focal length only allows me to include what I want in the image from that perspective.


Find a subject and experiment with various angles and working distances. Change the perspective. This is what is called "working the subject" to make an image that is "different."

The 18-55mm zoom kit lens is going to be much more useful for this assignment than a prime lens will. You can still "work the subject" with a prime lens, but as you change the perspective by changing the working distance you also change what is included in the image. This can be modified to some extent by cropping the image afterwards.


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