Changing Apparent Perspective with Lenses

Jul 31, 2017  By Dick Gilcreast

How far away are the mailboxes from the church in this small NH town?

The answer, rather surprisingly, is that in a picture you can  make it seem any distance you want by changing the perspective!

“Perspective”– in the sense of the appearance to the eye of  objects in respect to their relative distance and positions to one another — can be changed in a photograph. Any lens will show two objects at a given distance from each other, but it is possible to change that apparent distance. You can show a short row of mailboxes as a very small framing device against the church just behind them. Or you can uproot the mail boxes and move them much farther away from the church and spread them out so that they fill up the foreground and become the center of attention. How do we do that? There are two factors.

If we use different focal lengths on a subject or subjects from where we happen to be standing — as with a zoom lens — the angle of view will change, and the subject(s) will be shown smaller or larger in the picture, but the perspective will remain the same. The subjects will be in the same relation to each other, and any gaps between them will appear exactly the same. However that gets boring pretty quickly. In order to change the entire perspective, the key is to change our position also.

Changing position can produce radical changes in perspective. Moving nearer or farther away — at the same time using different angles of view to keep the subjects in the size we want for our composition — makes all the difference. Things can now begin to look very different!

image 1: With a 400mm lens, showing a gentleman and his small dog collecting the daily paper hanging from his mail box. This short row of mail boxes is quite close to the  church.

image 2: With a 135mm lens from the same camera position, but in vertical format to take in the whole church. Notice that although the frame is wider and we now see the whole of
the church, the perspective and  distance of the mailboxes relative to the church is exactly the same. So how can we change that apparent distance? We have to change our  position.

image 3: With a 50mm lens, having moved considerably closer, and using the wider angle of view. Now the mail boxes appear to be quite a distance away from the church, to the point where both boxes and church are of about equal importance in the picture.

image 4: From a still closer position with a 35mm wide angle lens. The mail boxes are now the more important feature, with the church becoming smaller and farther away in the background.

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1 Comment

Informative and nice article.

One request: could you emend the paragraph that begins with “image 6”? The second sentence reads, “Notice the red stop sign ….” I spent quite a bit of time trying to find the Stop Sign in that referred pic only to realize that you meant “red traffic light”! As there is, indeed, also a red stop sign in the image, as well as a traffic signal, it was confusing.

(Note: I did try to find you in the LHSA listings to send this as a private communication but could not find you.)

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