Friday Foto Talk: Depth   6 comments

Beavertail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Beavertail cactus grows abundantly in Snow Canyon State Park, Utah.

Although I don’t like much structure in my life (understatement of the day!), I’m going to force myself to introduce a regular feature in this blog.  Although I won’t drift over to a photography education blog (already too many), just as I won’t drift over to a blog strictly focused on travel, I’m feeling the need from time to time to share some of the more interesting things I’ve picked up about photography.

But please do not think me some sort of expert who is passing on his considerable (in his own opinion) photography knowledge.  That’s exactly the sort of mis-impression I want to avoid.  Instead, please feel free to use these posts to give your take on the subjects covered.  I would very much like feedback on the images as well.  Enjoy!

The four images here were taken on my recent photo sojourn around the American West.  The subject today – depth – is one that’s near and dear to my photographic heart.  To this point I have been sticking with my passion, that is landscape and nature photography.  Perhaps if I ever wish to make a living at this I will need to change that focus, but for now I’m in my comfort zone, and depth is very relevant to this kind of photography.

Ancient sand dunes, petrified and laid bare at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah.

Ancient sand dunes, petrified and laid bare at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah.

One of the most rewarding yet challenging things about landscape photography is introducing a sense of depth into your images; 3-dimensionality if you will.  Think about it: you are taking a three-dimensional scene and rendering it on a two-dimensional medium.  So it’s not easy.  But it’s no where near impossible to accomplish either.  Here are a few tips:

  • Firstly, try to include at least two out of three of the following: foreground, mid-ground, and background.  All three are best.  When you’re starting out, you might forget about foreground.  But then you learn that it’s important, and end up going to the opposite extreme.  So while it’s important to have detail in your foregrounds, don’t forget about the mid-ground and background.  Don’t let your foreground overwhelm the rest of the image, at least not all the time.
  • The closer you can get to your foreground, the better, up to a point.  The foreground has to be sharp, and it’s usually best when the background is in focus as well.  What this means is a small aperture (say f/22) and focusing on a point in your scene that will provide the sharpest results front to back.  This point varies depending on your focal length and the characteristics of your lens, but is always somewhere in the front third of your scene (sometimes only a few feet in front).
  • Also, it helps if there are details in each of these parts of your images.  Don’t confuse detail with texture.  Texture is always nice of course, but I’m speaking of things that are interesting to look at.  Things that draw the eye are good for depth, but you want to keep your image as simple as possible too.  It’s a balancing act.
  • Light is important.  This is difficult to pin down, but if you’ve been taking pictures for awhile you probably are well aware of the difference between flat light and light with depth.   Unfortunately, good light is not always light that will provide depth.  In fact, flat light can be good for some scenes/subjects.  Sorry I can’t be more specific; my best advice is to try getting pictures with depth in different kinds of light.
  • Leading lines can help with depth.  The classic is a one-point perspective, like the railroad tracks merging in the distance, but your lines don’t have to be this obvious!
  • Dramatic clouds in the sky (as in the second image above) can really help.  It can put a sort of “roof” on your image.  Make sure to include enough of the sky to accomplish this.

Back to these four images.  I chose them because of the varying combinations of light and depth.  In addition, they are all desert scenes and so easier to compare.  The light in the first two, and to a lesser extent the last image, is fairly hard, as is typical for deserts.  The first two were taken around mid-morning, so we’re not talking classic golden hour here.  The second image has better light because of a filtering effect from the clouds (a storm was approaching) but neither has truly excellent light.  The third image has nice soft sunrise light, but little depth.  And the fourth has a great combination of depth and beautiful dawn light.

Gorgeous dawn light greets me as I enter Death Valley from the east.

Gorgeous dawn light greets me as I enter Death Valley from the east.

The first image has, at least in my opinion, nice depth.  It has a detailed and interesting foreground (the cactus) plus a mid-ground (the angled sandstone formation) that leads the eye deeper into the scene.  The background is a fairly detailed skyline plus clouds.  It would have been even better if the clouds were more dramatic (in which case I would have included more of the sky).  Note that the background rocks are not too far away, and so have some detail.  This can help with a feeling of depth.

The second image is dominated by leading lines and so can’t help but have decent depth, but the dramatic clouds really help put a roof on the image (even though they take up a fairly small part of the frame).  The third image was taken during the first rays of light in Death Valley.  Although there are much better images from this place all over the web, the light here is unusually soft (for a desert) and thus demonstrates that an image without much depth can still work well.

The last image has a lot going for it depth-wise, despite its weaknesses.  It lacks leading lines and the foreground and mid-ground are not delineated well.  It has a good sense of perspective from the decreasing sizes of the polygonal cracks in the salt.  It also benefits from interesting detail both in the foreground (the salt) and the background (the moon).  The moon helps to give the already somewhat 3D clouds even more depth.  Lastly, the image is topped off with a beautiful pinkish glow that results from the sun (which is still beneath the horizon) reflecting off clouds close to the eastern horizon.  It’s no surprise that this is one of my favorite images from Death Valley.

A full moon sets over Death Valley's salt flats as a pink dawn approaches.

A full moon sets over Death Valley’s salt flats as a pink dawn approaches.

Thanks so much for reading.  If you have interest in any of the images, they are available for purchase either as a download or beautifully printed (framed or unframed).  Just click on an image and the rest is easy.  Note that they are all copyrighted and not available for download (the versions here are too small anyway).  Again, thanks for your cooperation and interest.  Please don’t hesitate to ask questions, add your thoughts, or give feedback (positive or negative) on the images.

6 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Depth

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  1. Pingback: Friday Foto Talk: A Sense of Place | MJF Images

  2. Pingback: Friday Foto Talk: The Wide-angle Lens, Part II | MJF Images

  3. Pingback: Friday Foto Talk: Foreground | MJF Images

  4. It’s great to hear someone talk about passion and their comfort zone. Those things show through in the wonderful photos you have presented here. I also like to read about your thot process behind the photos so your new discipline is good.



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