Composition (3): Distance and Perspective

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Distance and Perspective


The previous two articles of our series “Image Structure” have dealt with the view frame and the (empty) space in a picture. In conclusion, it now gets a little less theoretical. In this article we want to inspire you to intensively deal with two main aspects of photography: Shooting distance and perspective. Both have a great deal of influence on the effect of the picture. They are both also criminally neglected as a design medium by many photographers.

When you photograph something, often the distance to the motive determines how strongly the observer emotionally reacts to the picture. Robert Capa (1913-1954) photograph-reporter and
co-founder of the magnum agency has encapsulated it in his famous quote: “Wenndeine Bildernicht gut genugsind, warst du nicht nah genugdran.” (If your pictures are not good enough, you were not close enough).

Proximity arouses emotions

He's absolutely right. If the photographer is too far away, the photographed motive is too small on the picture. Even the most exciting motive will not fascinate anyone if it isn't viewed in proper size on the picture. Otherwise a naturally ordinary detail can suddenly arouse emotions, if it gets put in the picture from a close perspective.

There are two ways to accomplish a greater proximity

  • Firstly you can enlarge the motive in the picture with a greater focal distance, without having to approach the motive. This is the lazy way – and moreover the worse, because you are giving away undreamt scopes for design. Furthermore the angle of view becomes smaller due to the telephoto lens. This causes the picture to seemingly lose depth (everything appears more flat). This effect can be counterproductive if you want to shoot an emotionally charged motive.

  • Secondly you can approach the motive physically. Photographically, this is definitely the more exciting version. Actually “zooming with the feet” is unbeatable, when it comes to your development as a photographer. The closer you are, the more you inevitably deal with the motive yourself. You see it from a different angle and you literally gain a new perspective.

Zooming with the feet

Now it's your turn! Leave the camera aside for the moment and practice with a small picture frame (e.g. an empty slide frame).  Take the frame to your motive and try to compose an attractive picture.
Hold the frame closer to your eye to achieve a wide-angle effect, and further away to simulate the tight field of view of a telephoto lens. Don't avoid uncommon poses, you will soon get used to the strange glances from other people.

Concentrate completely on “seeing the motive”. That is very important, because this is the only way to train your photographer eye. Don't put the camera in front of your eye until you have found your perspective – and with that your viewpoint as a photographer. With the lens and the according focal distance, you now can work out the desired field of view.

Get yourself into the change of perspective! You are going to be surprised, how often you gain an unexpected and interesting visual impression due to a new perspective and field of view.

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