Most of us see pictures in two dimensions. This is because the lens of our camera (or smartphone) is directly parallel with the scene we’re trying to capture, so we ‘see’ the scene as the plane directly in front of us.
But seeing can change. We can learn to see in multiple planes, to create a three dimensional rendition in an image that is two-dimensional.
It’s like ‘fooling’ the eye looking at an image, much like a sketch of a building using perspective fools the eye into thinking it is three-dimensional. The transformation in imagery comes from a change in seeing multiple planes in an image we want to capture.
Multiple planes in photos create the illusion of depth.
One of a photographer’s challenges is to see multiple planes, and make two-dimensional photos that look like the three-dimensional scene that has been captured—with volume, with mass, alive in all its dimensions.
Here are a couple of things I’ve tried that you might like to, and give depth to your compositions.
Make an image that identifies different planes
This photo of the doorway to Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai opens directly to a courtyard encircled by Buddha images. By taking the photo of the doorway and including the Buddha statue in the background, the image identifies two planes, one of the door diagonal to the camera, and the Buddha on an intersecting plane, like in the illustration below.
In a similar composition below also of a door to a temple in Bhutan, there are three planes identified. The first plane is the door itself, parallel to the camera. The second plane is the ground leading the eye inside the door to the courtyard, and finally the third plane is the building beyond the open door.
What I did to achieve some more dynamism in the composition was to stand a little diagonally to the plane of the red door; this position added a tilt to my wide-angle lens, and gave the composition a bit more interest.
Use perspective in the background
Perspective is useful to create 3D effect in a 2D image, and we can create this in several ways.
Standing at an angle to the subject achieves depth in the photograph. In the example of the daisies, I stood at an angle close to the row of flowers, making sure I had a shallow enough depth of field to create blur in both the foreground and the background. The combination of the angle at which the photo was taken and the blur from a shallow depth of field created the depth necessary to make the photo a bit more interesting than just a straight shot of lines of flowers.
Another way to create perspective is to use the background lines. In the photo below of the path around a crafter’s village, I stood behind some merchandise and included the lines of the road leading into the horizon. This instantly creates depth.
Still another way to create perspective is to include the natural perspective that is created by lines in a landscape. In this photo, the river snaking through the Punakha valley leads the eye from the foreground to the background. Lines in the frame can help us use perspective which gives the image depth.
Suggest other planes in the image
Planes gives the audience ‘layers’ of information in a photo.
In this photo of a temple, I used the reflection of some of the temple elements to suggest its presence. Although the only clues the viewer gets of the temple are the spires reflected in a lotus pond, the viewer can figure out its location, toward the back of the pond, and those clues expand the image to encompass a mysterious part of its story within the frame.
Composition can be an interesting source of projects you might give yourself as you travel chasing light, and visualizing the frames within the images to give your images dynamism is a way to keep your vision fresh and tickle your imagination.