Thursday, January 13, 2011

Exploring with a Camera: Linear Perspective

I am so excited to share a new Exploring with a Camera today! The topic of Linear Perspective has been rolling around in my head since December for a new exploration, and I'm happy to let it free this morning.

Perspective is such a cool compositional concept! It takes advantage of how we see, the optical effects of lines over a distance. I remember learning the concept of perspective way back in my early art classes: Lines, when viewed across a distance, will converge to a vanishing point. Below is an example, from the Barcelona subway. If you were to continue all of the light lines in this photo, they would all meet somewhere at the edge of the tunnel. The perspective of the converging lines brings your eye right through the photo toward the vanishing point in this case.

When drawing, you need to make sure that your lines converge correctly or the drawing will look odd to the eye. In photography, we don't have to worry about "making" the lines converge - they do that already - we can just take advantage of the effect. I'll give you a few examples and variations on how to use linear perspective in your photographs.


To use perspective bring a sense of depth, include a long distance in the photograph so that the lines can converge more dramatically. This often means using a wide angle (smaller focal length, i.e. 24mm) instead of a zoom (longer focal length, i.e. 100mm), so that you capture the length of the diminishing lines. In the photo below from the Italian Alps, the diminishing lines of the fence give a sense of dramatic depth even though my depth of field (how much is in focus) is actually quite shallow. If I were zoomed in on the fence without the long lines moving into the distance, the photo would have a completely different feel.


The orientation of your photograph, horizontal (landscape) versus vertical (portrait), will change how perspective effects the image. In the two examples below from Parco di Monza, note how the horizontal image emphasize the lines of the path while the vertical image emphasizes the height of the trees. Both use the diminishing perspective of the path and the trees, but in different ways. Placing a figure just about in the vanishing point makes for an interesting place for your eye to rest as it moves through the photo.


You can use linear perspective in so many different ways to get good composition - this is the really fun part! You can move the vanishing point in a photo to get dramatically different effects. Look closely at the examples above and below to see how the diminishing lines are used compositionally.

The photo below is from the Royal Palace in Madrid. The composition is very symmetric, with the lines converging in the center between the left and right. It is not symmetric from top to bottom, however. The focal point of the end of the hall is around the bottom third of the photo.

Here is another photo, this time from Amsterdam, with a left to right symmetry of the linear perspective.

This image from Parco di Monza is interesting - the perspective is symmetric left to right, but the leaf (the real subject) is not centered. The perspective here is not the focal point of the photo, it's the backdrop for the leaf, but it certainly makes the photograph more interesting.

While a symmetric perspective can certainly bring a sense of peace and order to a photograph, linear perspective certainly doesn't have to be used symmetrically. This image from the Berrardo museum in Lisbon, Portugal is more asymmetric in it's lines.

Putting the vanishing point at the edge or corner of an image can make it very dynamic. I love the way all of the lines converge in the corner of this photo from Paris. The contrast of the repeating pattern of the fence provides an interesting counterpoint to the linear perspective. I've noticed in many of my photographs using perspective I also use repeating patterns, a topic I covered in an earlier Exploring with a Camera post.

You can also vary the point of view and effectively use converging lines. The lead in photograph of windows in Madrid or the skyscraper from Barcelona below are two examples of linear perspective looking up. The skyscraper below has an asymmetric composition while the Madrid window image at the top of the post is symmetric left to right. (I seem to like that composition!)

Isn't this fun? Take a look at the world and your photos this next week with an eye toward linear perspective. You can come back next Thursday to link in and Share Your View. I can't wait to see what you find!

If you would like a button to put on your blog to show your participation, you can find the code to copy and paste here. If you are participating in a 365 or 52 project, I hope you will also share Exploring with a Camera in these groups. A little creative inspiration can really help in a long haul project over the course of the year.

See you all soon!


  1. Brilliant post Kat - really useful. If you have Lightbox it would be interesting to lay the Golden Rule grids over them to see where the focal point lies in relation to those. Because they're so pleasing to the eye I suspect they would all be spot on!

  2. Love perspective. One sees things that would ordinarily be missed and allows you to see a different world. You rock, Miss K!

  3. Facinating post with some much great info! Really I want to go out and find some great lines. I adore that fence in the snow photo!

  4. great idea, I love your snow shots looking down the road and the leaf in the street

  5. Love the train pic... It might be a guy thing, or maybe just a travel thing.

  6. Wonderful post! You already have me thinking in lines and perspective.

  7. Incredible - so much hear to think about and experiment with!

  8. loving these images Kat! you've inspired me to show some of my linear shots now. =)

  9. I love the Exploring with a Camera posts, Kat! I'm finally catching up with your blog (it will take me a while today as there's so much to see and read here.) When I'm done, I'm off to see what I have in Linear Perspective, but I've added it to a new list I'm starting to help me with my Project 52. I'll be sure to share this link on my blog. (And I'll give adding the button a try, too.)

  10. Love the vanishing point Miss K! FAbulous shots and your perspective is wonderful. Am doing a 52 project this year, inspired on Vivian Maier and street photography. Crazy ready looking forward to it,thank you!

  11. WOW, just fantastic. Met you on Picture Inspiration!

  12. Visiting here from Picture Inspiration. Great, great your images!


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