Creating depth in your photos

·2 min read

A few weeks ago I wrote that, in photography, painting or other 2-dimensional media, the sense of depth is an optical illusion on a flat surface. So, how do you go about creating that 3-dimensionality?  There are several compositional tools that can help you in doing so.

U.S. Forestry employees Claudia Funari, left, Mike Stroude, and volunteer Dan Quayle hike into a portion of the Eldorado National Forest at Corral Flat with a team to take a snow survey. This is an example of leading lines to create depth. The hikers' tracks create leading lines to help draw the viewer into the scene.
U.S. Forestry employees Claudia Funari, left, Mike Stroude, and volunteer Dan Quayle hike into a portion of the Eldorado National Forest at Corral Flat with a team to take a snow survey. This is an example of leading lines to create depth. The hikers' tracks create leading lines to help draw the viewer into the scene.

Leading lines

This technique relies on elements in the frame that lead the viewer's eyes into the frame or directly to the subjects of the image. They can literally be lines painted on the ground, such as lines on a road or they can be figurative lines of objects such as lines of trees or telephone poles that recede into the picture. They can be straight as an arrow or they can be curved and meander through the image. You can use partial lines but the more complete the line, the stronger the composition.

Almond grower Rick Veldstra looks at blossoms on a tree in an orchard on Carrolton Road and Dodds Road near Escalon. This is an example of framing to create depth. The tree's branches in the foreground frame Veldstra's face.
Almond grower Rick Veldstra looks at blossoms on a tree in an orchard on Carrolton Road and Dodds Road near Escalon. This is an example of framing to create depth. The tree's branches in the foreground frame Veldstra's face.

Framing

This is just what it sounds like. By using something in the foreground to frame your subject, you can enhance the appearance of depth. The use of tree branches is most common but you can use anything such as window frames, doorways, ore even people standing in the foreground. Not only can framing create depth but can isolate and emphasize your subject.

A bee lands on a sunflower near a safflower field along Highway 4 near Woodsboro Road in San Joaquin County just east of Stockton. This is an example of having a strong foreground element to create depth. The single sunflower with a bee is prominent in the foreground.
A bee lands on a sunflower near a safflower field along Highway 4 near Woodsboro Road in San Joaquin County just east of Stockton. This is an example of having a strong foreground element to create depth. The single sunflower with a bee is prominent in the foreground.

Foreground of interest

By placing your subject in the extreme foreground and having every other element fall off in the background you can create a 3-dimensional scene. In this technique the subject is dominant in the frame and everything else is secondary. It helps to use a shallow depth of field which will cause the background to go out of focus, giving more attention to the main subject.

A crew from Diede Construction works on the foundations for new bus shelters on Hammer Lane and Kelley Drive in Stockton for the upcoming expansion of RTD's Metro Express. This is an example of having a foreground, middle ground and background to create depth. The lone worker is a strong foreground element, his co-workers are the middle ground and the horizon is the background.
A crew from Diede Construction works on the foundations for new bus shelters on Hammer Lane and Kelley Drive in Stockton for the upcoming expansion of RTD's Metro Express. This is an example of having a foreground, middle ground and background to create depth. The lone worker is a strong foreground element, his co-workers are the middle ground and the horizon is the background.

Foreground, middle ground, background

Similar to a foreground of interest is creating visual interest in the foreground, middle ground and background in a single scene. By placing elements of interest in each of these three zones you an create a sense of death and help bring the viewer into the image. You can get away with using just two of the zones, foreground and background, but all three will be most effective.

A pair of kayakers, seen through some shoreline tule reeds, paddle their crafts on the waters of Lodi Lake in Lodi. This an example of layering. The reeds are one layer and the kayakers are another.
A pair of kayakers, seen through some shoreline tule reeds, paddle their crafts on the waters of Lodi Lake in Lodi. This an example of layering. The reeds are one layer and the kayakers are another.

Layering

Layering is similar to both the framing and fore, middle, background techniques. With layering, objects that are father away are placed behind ones that are closer to the camera. The overlapping of two or more objects can create visual depth in your photos.

You can use each of these techniques singularly or you can combine them to create depth for a sense of 3-dimensions in your images.

Record photographer Clifford Oto has photographed Stockton and San Joaquin County for more than 37 years. He can be reached at coto@recordnet.com or on Instagram @Recordnet. Follow his blog at recordnet.com/otoblog. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.

This article originally appeared on The Record: Creating depth in your photos