As you may have noticed, we live in a three dimensional world. With apologies to Albert Einstein and his work on time as the fourth dimension, let’s keep it simple and just stick with height, width and depth for now.
Sculptors always take advantage of their chosen medium to express their vision while employing all three of these dimensions. But we two dimensional artists including photographers, painters, etc. do not have that luxury. We are confined to our flat media having just height and width. (Nope, canvas wraps don’t really count here.)
Alas! What to do? Use the foibles of the human visual system to enable it to trick us into seeing depth that, while present in real life, does not actually exist in our prints or on a screen.
And just how do we do that?
I’m glad you asked.
With a little creative forethought and some effort, we can often add a feeling of depth to our images by providing a visual cue or two to be interpreted by our somewhat gullible brains as depth.
This is a skill that has been known to painters for centuries, but with the birth of photography in the nineteenth century someone had to be the first to apply the idea to this fledgling medium.
A few decades ago, well after photographic pioneers such as Ansel Adams and his contemporaries had made their major contributions to the photographic arts, legendary landscape photographer David Muench grappled with the challenge of creating depth while lugging his 4×5 cameras, lenses and film holders into just about every nook and cranny of the American West. With lots of hard work and a considerable amount of out-of-the-box thinking, he came up with his now trademark “near-far” concept.
In essence, he began using an extremely strong foreground ahead of what is often his main subject well behind. Not only did this technique make for some really stunning photographs, but his use of perspective in this way led the eye to see the third dimension – depth!
If you look through some of the 50+ large format books of his work that have been published over the last half century, you will see and perhaps learn from the many photographs that so effectively employ this technique.
Yes, it sometimes looks a little exaggerated, but that’s his imagination at work. We can borrow from this concept and use it as the starting point for our own unique artistic creations.
Let’s not forget depth of field, or more correctly, depth of sharpness. In point of fact, no matter what we do, the very sharpest spot in any image is going to be the actual distance at which the lens is focused. Everything else falls into the realm of “acceptable sharpness” which is a relative term. Much has been written about the falloff in optical performance when using very small apertures such as F/22 and 32. I concede that at these small openings there may be a reduction in the performance of most lenses, but it is largely theoretical and not readily apparent to the naked eye.
More importantly, if your aperture is too large to deliver adequate sharpness throughout your composition, selective focus excepted, the final image will simply not work.
My solution has always been to simply stop down and not worry. I’ve never had a problem using that solution. As a matter of fact, I often close down an additional stop for insurance and a little extra buffer to the normal mathematical formulas.
My advice is – F/32 and full speed ahead!