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Creating Dimension Within a Photo

written by: Zoe Van-de-Velde•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 12/11/2009

Make your photos come to life by creating dimension, all by using a few elementary camera techniques.

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    How to Create Dimension Within a Photo

    A photograph is a flat, two dimensional surface. However, there are a few simple camera techniques you may use in order to mimic a three dimensional scene within your photos: light & shadows (contrast); depth of field, focal-length, and perspective.

    Light & Shadows

    Imagine photographing a globe. A globe isn’t just round, it’s a three dimensional sphere. Therefore, if you’re wanting to create a three dimensional object, light the globe (or subject) from an angle AND avoid flash light and/or direct frontal light (these types of lights will certainly flatten your subject(s).) In addition, avoid using even bounce or fill light (use a lighting ratio other than a 1:1 ratio). A round object, such as the globe, if evenly lit on both sides in the frame, will lose it’s shape and appear as a flat two dimensional circle.

    the light and shadows give dimension 

    Also, when you’re lighting a subject, consider not only the angle at which your light is positioned, but the shadows you’re creating. Remember, you’re trying to create dimension; therefore, considering the contrast between the light and shadow(s) will significantly make a difference. It takes both, lights and shadows, to create dimension.

    Depth of Field & Focal Length

    Depth of field (DOF) refers to the certain plane, or planes, that are in focus (background, middleground, and foreground). Selective focus is focusing on any one of the planes (or objects in the plane). When creating dimension in your photo with DOF, these elements need to be considered: aperture setting, type of lens (wide, telephoto, or zoom), distance at which the subject(s) are from the camera, and the available light. You create more depth when there are interesting subjects on each plane. Also, separation between subjects from the other planes creates depth of field. With a long depth of field, the foreground, middleground and the background will be in focus. With a short depth of field, the foreground or object(s) is in focus, and this will produce a blurry background, thus isolating the subject from the rest of the layers, creating dimension. In addition, using a large aperture setting will intensify this effect. Contrast and sharpness will naturally bring viewers’ attention to the object in focus.

    example of long depth of field 

    Consider the focal length. Are you using a telephoto lens or a wide angle lens? Telephoto lens, such as a 200 mm lens compresses and crowds the planes, as well as the objects in the frame. When shooting a broad landscape, most commonly a wide angle lens is used; however, using a wide angle lens on an extreme close up of an object(s) will isolate the object from the others, causing the other layers to become blurry, another way to create dimension. Likewise, using a telephoto lens on a landscape photo can blur (bokeh) the background and create dimension by focusing in on the subject in the foreground. When considering focal length, also consider perspective (next paragraph) when creating dimension.

    Helpful hints with DOF:

    Depth of field increases when:

    Greater the distance between camera and subject, greater amount of light, smaller focal length, smaller the aperture size (greater the f-stop number)

    Depth of field decreases when:

    Less distance between camera and subject, less amount of light, larger the focal length, larger the aperture size (smaller the f-stop number)


    Perspective refers to the placement, size, and angle of view of the subject(s) in the frame. The focal length of your lens will play an important role with the perspective (wide angle lens will make the subjects appear farther apart and a telephoto lens will compress them). You create dimension by placing or capturing subjects on different planes (background, middleground, foreground) in your photo. Think of a row of palm trees, with one palm in the foreground, others in the middleground, and even more in the background, all disappearing toward a vanishing point. The row of palms create perspective with an asymmetrical balance. Quite naturally, the palm in the foreground will appear larger than the other palms. This is perspective. You create perspective by overlapping objects on different plane of views, which creates depth within the frame--and even dimension.

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