Dimensional Space


This post picks up from my former post on Diagonals, the strongest and most fundamental compositional element which describes how lines were decisive in photographs. My path to become a better photographer has always followed the path of strong Compositions. It is important to understand how lines create a perception of space for the beholder.

Space is a place

We are always in some kind of space, some kind of place, yet we often don’t think about it. We might be reminded when we see a majestic landscape, or a photograph that takes you mind beyond the two dimensional representation. Think for a moment about characteristics of a specific space, or place. Every place is different. It might be inviting, welcoming, cheery, bright, and colorful. It might be bleak, overwhelming, dark, foreboding, mysterious. It might be expansive and open, or it might be cramped and crowded. With each of these informs the photographs works in a different way.  

Add the fact that we are 3-dimensional beings. Objects around us exist in 3 planes, but on photographs we work in only 2 of them. The lack of the one dimension means our compositions appear less than lifelike. Adding back the illusion of the missing dimension will add back a sense of reality, a sense of the physical.

So to please the eye we can apply a number of techniques, creating the illusion of space.

Illusion of space

As a photography is a two dimensional representation of a reality, is any perception of a third dimension an illusion our brains plays on us. there are many ways to create an illusion of space (implied space) in photography.

  • Difference in size comparison and the position of objects has impact. Larger objects appear closer and smaller objects appear further away. By placing different sized objects near each other we add a clue that the difference in size comes from a difference in depth. This is fairly interesting as we can portrait a series of similarly shaped objects giving our viewer a perspective of how deep our composition is.


  • Occlusion, Overlapping objects, is the strongest communicator of depth. It will override any other cue of depth. When one object obscures part of another object its clear there must be a depth of space between them. In order for our brains to understand this is it important that we recognize the shapes as objects.


  • Color, cooler colors (blue, violet, and blue-green) tend to recede, while warm pigments (red, yellow and orange) to bring features forward towards the viewer.


  • Texture and Shadows. By definition texture a sense of depth as they aim to let you feel the surface of a visual element. Cast shadows, a shadow cast by one element on another gives cues about their relative distance. Drop shadows are perhaps the most common way one adds depth. Reflections work similarly in that a reflection appears on a different surface. When the shadow is smaller, darker, crisper, and nearer the object casting it, the nearer the object is to the surface holding the shadow. You can increase the depth by making the shadow larger and lighter and placing it further away from the object. Blurring the edges of shadows also increases the illusion of depth.

Perspective Systems, there are also perspective systems that can be used: linear, isometric, and atmospheric.

Linear Perspective creates an illusion of space according to how we see, with a limited and fixed point of view. Lines appear to come to a point on the horizon and then vanish into space. There can be any number of vanishing points but, but in photography its most common with either one or two.

In One-point linear perspective there is one vanishing point, all lines converge at the same point on the horizon. In photo below is the poles converge at the same vanishing point in the horizon. Notice how the distance of the poles adds to the impression of depth. Linear perspective assumes a fixed and limited point of view of the observer.  Any shift in position of the observer would result in an entirely new arrangement of elements, which would require a new composition altogether.


Gary Plummers “Pier”


It two-point linear perspectives there are two vanishing points on the horizon line. Lines converge at one or the other of the vanishing points. This illustrated below in my crude drawing, where a house is perused in perspective of two vanishing points at the horizon line.


In Isometric Perspective systems
are there no vanishing points and no horizontal lines. All lines remain parallel, or equidistant.  In my panorama photo below is it possible to shift viewpoints throughout the entire composition.


Atmospheric perspective (aka. aerial perspective), reflects how we see objects in the distance compared to objects that are close. Obviously this is yet another trick our brain plays on us, where the effect of the atmosphere on the appearance of objects in the distance is comprehended as a spatial phenome. Imagine yourself in front of field. In the middle of the field is standing a lonely tree. It is somewhat clearly defined: edges are sharp and colors are more intense. Further away in the distance are a number of trees, they are smaller, and less distinct: edges are blurred; colors are muted, and seem to blend in with each other.

Gary Plummer “Foggy Morning

Imagine receding lines of mountains. With color changing from a deeper, more intense blue through several tonality of color, each layer lighter and more muted. 

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