How Photographs can Convey the Impression or “Illusion” of Depth

The Illusion of Depth

By Rick Hulbert


One of the essential issues of great urban and architectural photography is how to convey the impression or “illusion” of 3-dimensional space in a 2-dimensional image.

If we turn to lessons learned from the movie industry, we can learn some valuable lessons and some simple ways to facilitate techniques.

The field of cinematography has been exploring ways to portray the “real” world on the silver screen for well over half a century.

As just one of the many learning experiences offered as part of my upcoming 2013 Summer Urban Adventure Photography Series Workshop in Vancouver, BC, Canada, you will be introduced to the notion of how to recognize and use “depth cues” in photographing buildings and streets. You will learn how to use these “depth cues” to better portray the built environment including the plazas, pathways, and open spaces between buildings.

I will discuss 3 of those “cues” in this brief post. They include (a) vertical and horizontal planes, the edges of which recede to one or more vanishing points in the distance; (b) subject or object overlaps; and (c) the size progression of like elements.

Rick Hulbert - Depth 1

Think of the walls and floors of buildings and rooms as physical planes that, if composed appropriately, can make a huge difference in creating a feeling of 3D space. The location of the camera relative to building “planes” has a significant effect on the creation of the sense of depth for the prospective buyer.

Rick Hulbert - Depth 2

Overlapping objects add to the feeling of depth. The “staging” or placement of furnishings or “street furniture” in a photograph can increase the perception of depth. Windows and doorways can be used to further provide a sense of depth. Photographing through portals from one space to another can also foster a sense of movement through the 3D world.

Rick Hulbert - Depth 3

When a viewer of a photo senses like or identical elements that become progressively smaller or larger, the notion of “depth” is enhanced. These elements might be columns, windows, or repeating patterns in the floors, ceilings, and walls of buildings that can be used to advantage. The same can be said for a row of trees along a street or the people, cars, street lights, and other repeating elements that “inhabit” the street.

For a far more “in depth” hands-on photography experience covering this topic, join me in Vancouver, BC next August for a fantastic workshop on Photographing Cities and City Life (workshop has now been completed — click here for more Upcoming Workshops). From buildings and bridges, to people and parks, you will have an unparalleled opportunity to learn about Urban Photography… plus you will go home with some great images!