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Controlling depth

From: Foundations of Photography: Composition

Video: Controlling depth

So I am out here and I've just found another one of these, another wrecked, dilapidated building. This place is filthy with them; I love it. But this one is special, because it has this windmill further back in the next field to the right of the house. And I am so proud of myself. I am thinking in layers here, because I have got this barn layer here and I've got the windmill layer back there, and I'm seeing in my mind a picture wherein the windmill and the house can look like they're kind of next to each other or in closer proximity than they really are. In other words, I'm seeing layers and I am understanding that there's all the depth that I can work with that I can compress down to a single picture.

Controlling depth

So I am out here and I've just found another one of these, another wrecked, dilapidated building. This place is filthy with them; I love it. But this one is special, because it has this windmill further back in the next field to the right of the house. And I am so proud of myself. I am thinking in layers here, because I have got this barn layer here and I've got the windmill layer back there, and I'm seeing in my mind a picture wherein the windmill and the house can look like they're kind of next to each other or in closer proximity than they really are. In other words, I'm seeing layers and I am understanding that there's all the depth that I can work with that I can compress down to a single picture.

So with that in mind, I'm going to take my shot. Okay, here it is, and it just doesn't work. Ah, boy, the windmill's tiny. That's not what I was seeing at all. Okay, let's look at why. I'm standing right here. I'm pretty close to this building. And so to get the framing that I want, which is the house over to the left and the windmill next to it, I have to go to a fairly wide angle. And you should be familiar with this already, but let's go over it again. At wider angles, the sense of depth in a scene appears to be stretched.

I would like the windmill to appear closer to the house, so I need to use a longer focal length, which means I am going to have to go farther away. I've had to change lenses. That last lens I was using was a very wide-angle lens, and now I put a 70 to 200 mm on. Now I don't want to walk a long way, so I've actually got it at the widest angle. I am at 70 mm right now, and at 70 mm when I frame my shot, I need to be about right here. That's how I have chosen this position is I set 70 mm, and now I'm going to take my shot from here, and from here I can actually get the same framing that I had before, meaning the house at about the same size in the same part of the frame, and here is what that picture looks like.

Okay, this is getting better. The windmill's getting larger. Now it's important notice that it doesn't look identical to the first one. Here's the first one. Here is the second one. Notice the building is appearing to change shape. The perspective is changing. This is not anything I can avoid. It's simply a function of using a longer focal length and changing my field of view. In this case, I don't mind that. I wasn't trying to get a particular shape on the building. It's more about the relationship between the building and the windmill. And actually, I like the building better this way, a little bit squared up.

I am still not sure if this is the right one. Maybe I want the windmill a little bit bigger. And I've got a lot more telephoto power in this lens, so I am going to go even further back. So I've been walk away from the house, and I've gotten to a point where the ground is about to drop off, and when that happens my up-down perspective on the house changes and that's not quite right. So I am going to stay right about here and when I do that and frame my shot up the way that I want it, I'm at a little over--I am at about 120 mm. So I am going to take this shot. Now, you may be thinking, boy, you sure don't look like you're lined up properly for that shot, but trust me, I am.

And notice that as you move away and go to a longer focal length, your left/right position may change to get the shot framed the way that you want. Here's what we've got and I think I like this one the most. The windmill is a good size. It's actually coming up to the top of the roof. I maintained mostly the size of the house. Let's look at all three again. This was my first one. This was up close, at a very wide angle. The windmill looks very far away. I've got tremendous amount of depth in the scene. I pulled back and went a little more telephoto. The windmill is getting bigger. The sense of depth in the scene is compressing.

I'm trying to keep my house roughly the same size and my overall composition the same. I went further back, zoomed in even more, and got this. Nice big windmill, a tremendous amount of compression of the layers in the scene, and again my house is still roughly the same size, and my overall composition is the same. Looking back at these, again remember, perspective on the house is changing, the vanishing points are changing, the overall shape of the house may be more or less distorted. A wider-angle lens when you're really close to something is going to add a lot of geometric distortion. As I pull back, I am getting more straight up and down.

I also can't get the house precisely the same size. Don't get too stuck on mathematical perfection as you're moving around. Every time you stop and frame again with a different focal length, just build a composition that looks good to you. Don't sit there and compare to the other one to make sure it's exactly the same. Just find one that looks nice. So, longer focal lengths compress the depth in the scene; shorter focal lengths expand the sense of depth in a scene. This means that when I'm working with layers I can manipulate how big farther layers are or how small farther layers are by moving forwards and backwards while changing my focal length.

This is a basic lens function, and you can learn more about it in my Foundations of Photography: Lenses course.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Composition
Foundations of Photography: Composition

86 video lessons · 53210 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 12m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 47s
    2. Using this course
      7m 27s
    3. What you need to know
      2m 50s
  2. 2m 47s
    1. What is composition?
      2m 1s
    2. All form, all the time
      46s
  3. 12m 34s
    1. How your camera is not like your eye
      2m 52s
    2. Looking vs. seeing
      2m 25s
    3. Vision and attention
      2m 13s
    4. Dynamic range
      1m 59s
    5. Seeing exercises
      3m 5s
  4. 36m 48s
    1. What all good compositions have
      1m 8s
    2. Subject and background
      3m 5s
    3. Balance
      7m 20s
    4. Point of view
      3m 22s
    5. Simplicity
      2m 59s
    6. Finding and capturing a good photo
      2m 11s
    7. Working the shot: Why one is never enough
      6m 41s
    8. Practicing
      3m 24s
    9. Why black and white?
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Practicing the fundamentals with points
      4m 17s
  5. 41m 48s
    1. Lines
      7m 7s
    2. Analyzing lines
      6m 35s
    3. Exploring a town
      4m 7s
    4. The Franklin Hotel
      2m 7s
    5. Shapes
      10m 13s
    6. Repetition: Arranging the elements
      1m 37s
    7. Rule of threes
      1m 36s
    8. Perspective
      1m 47s
    9. Symmetry
      1m 10s
    10. Focal length, camera position, and depth
      2m 27s
    11. Intersections
      1m 41s
    12. Exercise: Practicing fundamentals with geometry
      1m 21s
  6. 10m 38s
    1. Working a shot, revisited
      3m 21s
    2. Understanding the photographic impulse
      2m 58s
    3. Warming up
      2m 16s
    4. Exercise: Get your feet moving
      2m 3s
  7. 35m 7s
    1. Thirds: How rectangular frames are weighted
      2m 20s
    2. Tonal balance
      3m 52s
    3. Content balance
      1m 20s
    4. Squares: Weighting the corners
      2m 24s
    5. Composing people
      3m 42s
    6. Composing landscapes
      3m 53s
    7. Sometimes you can't get the shot
      1m 12s
    8. Practicing thirds with points and geometry
      1m 45s
    9. Practicing squares with points and geometry
      1m 12s
    10. Image analysis: The work of Steve Simon
      13m 27s
  8. 19m 6s
    1. It's the light
      1m 50s
    2. Direction of light
      8m 30s
    3. Texture
      2m 7s
    4. Shadows and negative space
      1m 19s
    5. Exposure concerns
      2m 44s
    6. Keeping one eye on post
      58s
    7. Light as subject
      1m 38s
  9. 18m 59s
    1. Introducing the workshop location and instructors
      1m 2s
    2. Assignment: Finding light
      5m 17s
    3. Shooting the light
      3m 14s
    4. Critiquing the light assignment
      9m 26s
  10. 22m 11s
    1. The basics of color
      1m 4s
    2. When to shoot color
      3m 56s
    3. How to shoot color
      2m 47s
    4. Practicing color composition
      1m 4s
    5. Image analysis: The work of Paul Taggart
      13m 20s
  11. 16m 48s
    1. Entry and exit
      5m 41s
    2. Framing
      2m 17s
    3. Examining the composition of this set
      2m 28s
    4. Narrative
      1m 55s
    5. When the scene doesn't fit in the frame
      3m 13s
    6. Guiding the viewer's eye
      1m 14s
  12. 13m 36s
    1. Assignment: Foreground and background
      3m 4s
    2. Shooting foreground and background relationships
      2m 19s
    3. Critiquing the foreground and background assignment
      8m 13s
  13. 34m 24s
    1. Planes
      5m 13s
    2. Controlling depth
      4m 54s
    3. Juxtaposition
      2m 58s
    4. Fear
      4m 3s
    5. Layers
      55s
    6. Image analysis: The work of Connie Imboden
      16m 21s
  14. 41m 21s
    1. Recomposing an image with the Crop tool
      7m 23s
    2. Resizing an image
      8m 9s
    3. Tone
      8m 54s
    4. Altering the perspective in Photoshop
      4m 38s
    5. Changing composition through retouching
      6m 16s
    6. Vignetting to drive attention
      6m 1s
  15. 10m 22s
    1. Workshop wrap-up and exhibition
      3m 13s
    2. Workshop students' final thoughts
      7m 9s
  16. 1m 0s
    1. Final thoughts
      1m 0s

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