They say a photograph is worth a thousand words. Photographers know that some of those words are lies. There are ways to deceive your viewers and trick their senses, and they're fun to try and play with. Movie directors and producers use these tricks all of the time. Have you ever seen a film where a normal-sized actor plays a tiny person? Or how about a giant?
If you've ever wanted to be a giant, a Lilliputian, or have superpowers, then this article is for you.
Let's look at a few ways to trick our viewer's senses and play with their minds. But don't worry, it's not all about deception and trickery. Sometimes it can be used to make a fun photo or to make a dramatic scene more meaningful.
What is Forced Perspective?
Even if you don't know what it's called, chances are you've seen examples of forced perspective photos or seen it in movies. The classic example from movies involves making one regular-sized actor look bigger than another, like they're a giant. It also works the other way around, to make one look small. How do they do that?
Another great example comes from photographs you've probably seen on your newsfeed or Instagram feed. A seemingly regular person is holding the sun in their hands; a not-too-strong girl is keeping the Leaning Tower of Pisa from tipping over. How do they make that happen?
Forced perspective is simply a visual trick used by a photographer or a filmmaker to make things seem different than reality. They use the fact that the human eye relies on several easy-to-trick clues to gain perspective in a film or photos.
How to Create Forced Perspective Photography?
If you know a little bit about perspective in photography and how it is communicated, it becomes easy for you to use them to trick your viewers.
Since objects presented in photographs are two-dimensional, our eyes look for clues to connect the dots and make them three-dimensional in our minds. One of the fundamental ways that we do this is by comparing sizes. We know how big the average human is, so if a human appears in the photograph, we have a basis for comparison. We do it with all sorts of objects without realizing it, from trees and houses to cars and animals.
But we also use distance to determine how big something should appear. The farther away something is, the smaller it will be–regardless of how big it actually is. A 747 is an enormous airplane, but it looks tiny at its cruising altitude when viewed from ground-level. On the flip side, something diminutive can look enormous if you get close to it. In a macro photograph, a small ant can look like a giant mutant insect from outer space. If you are interested in learning more, here is a Guide to Macro photography.
And that's precisely how it's done. When you're making a 2D image, you can figure out how your viewers will perceive the photo and turn it around to fool them. They can't see what you, the creator, can see; they can't see what lies outside the frame. If they saw the scene in its totality–how the camera was positioned and how the objects were stacked far apart–they would instantly be on to you. But in film or on camera, they can't tell.
Ideas for Forced Perspective Photos
Play with Scale
Nearly all forced perspective photography plays with scale in some way or another. You use the distance something lies from the camera lens to change the viewer's perception of its scale. You can make people or things look either really small or big. With this superpower, you can turn your friends into gnomes or giants. Use it carefully.
It's also fun to combine the two. With one friend close to the camera and one friend far away, the effect is magnified. If they interact with each other, the composition is tied together. Make someone hold someone else in their hands, or lean on each other to emphasize the apparent size difference.
Another great way to play with scale in your photographs is to incorporate every day small items into the real world. By keeping small knick-knacks close to the lens, they'll appear gigantic. They can then be set into a familiar backdrop.
Action figures are a great place to start. Any sort of miniature toy can be used to make some cool effects. You can make small model cars drive anywhere you like. Action figures can smash through downtown buildings, or monster trucks can cross the Rocky Mountains.
Travel souvenirs or printed photographs are another fun prop to use. You can hold models of famous landmarks next to the real thing and make them appear the same size. Printed pictures or paper cutouts can lead to amazing results too. The neat thing about using old photographs is that you can merge timeframes, bringing the past to the present.
Pick Your Location
Many of these images use what nature, or at least what a specific location, provides. Certain landmarks lend themselves to the effect. For example, you could take a selfie and be the fifth president on Mount Rushmore. Or you could hold up the Eiffel Tower in the palm of your hand. These are fun snapshots that you could easily take with some planning.
Similarly, if it's a sunset or sunrise location, you could use the sun. Your model could hold it in their hands, or flick it like it's a bright marble. The same could go for the moon.
Rainbows are another great example since you could position your model to look like the rainbow is coming out of their mouth or wraps around their heads. Waterfalls are a great element since they can look like they're being poured out of a cup or caught in a saucer.
If your spot is next to an airport, you could hold up planes with your bare hands like they’re models. Or if you're near the railroad tracks, you could climb the tracks like they're a ladder. The possibilities are limitless; you just have to look around and see what works. Some of it is trial and error, but mostly it is a lot of scouting locations and finding just the right spot to make your vision a reality.
Related to your location is the use of buildings and architectural elements in your photo. Many famous landmarks come to mind, like the Saint Louis Arch or the Washington Monument. Whatever is built nearby that is identifiable and distinctive can play a fun part in your photography. Stairs and entranceways are great places to set up, and you can position your models as if they're at the building when, in reality, they are much closer to your camera. As you explore this exciting and varied subject, do read our article with 15 great tips on Architecture photography.
8 Forced Perspective Tips
Plan the Shot
Even though images like this have a fun off-the-cuff look, they are the product of planning and forethought. Like all other types of photography, it's the composition and planning that will set great images apart from quick snapshots.
A big part of planning your shoot is to make sure you don't give away the visual trick. The models should not be looking at one another. You've got to go through every element of the composition and make sure that everything tells the same story. For your models, it's much closer to acting than to modeling. They need to pretend to be interacting with each other as if the trick is real. That will mean turning their heads in an unnatural direction to look at each other or look at the camera.
The visual trickery is what you want people to notice or not notice, whichever the case might be. So it's essential to make sure that the rest of your composition is flawless. You don't want distracting elements in the frame, and you want everything to work together to tell your deceiving story.
While you can play with your subjects' spacing and do what you need to do to make the illusion seem real, it's vital to maintain all the usual photo-taking techniques you know and love. The Rule of Thirds is just as valid here as in any other photo, as too is good exposure and use of lighting. Don't try for anything too complicated or jazzy; just keep it clean and simple. The goal is to make a visually attractive image that fools the viewer but is still a great photograph.
If you're working with multiple models, you must work to communicate the vision. They should have a rough idea of what you're trying to do behind the lens because it's going to look very odd in front of it. The only way for them to know how to act and where to look is to tell them. So bring some examples, show them some test shots, and communicate your directions clearly. It might take time to get it all just right.
Pick the Right Space
For the shot to work out as you have envisioned, you'll need lots of space. The more significant the difference in relative size is supposed to be, the farther apart your subjects will have to be positioned. If you're working with a long telephoto lens, you might need even more space. It certainly can be done in a studio, but it might take quite a bit of tweaking to get the positioning right.
Generally, these photos are more comfortable to do outdoors. With a big field or a vast open space, you can get your subjects as far apart as you want them. And being outside means that you can quickly move in every direction and position everyone just how you need them.
Shoot With Narrow Apertures
Since the shoot is so spread out, it's essential to have everything in focus. That might be a problem depending on the exact distance things are from your lens and the focal length at which you're shooting. The wider-angle the lens shoots, the easier it will be.
Regardless of your setup, shooting with a narrow aperture is the key to maximizing your depth of field. Small f-stop numbers correspond to small aperture openings, and these are precisely what you want. Be sure to use your camera's Live View feature or depth of field preview button to make sure everything you need in focus is sharp and clear.
These things will combine to require a slow shutter speed, so make sure you aren't at risk of camera shake from hand-holding it or wind vibrations. A tripod is a good idea because not only will it reduce the likelihood of shake in the image, but it will also make positioning the subjects in relation to the camera easier. Exposure triangle photography is an easy way to understand the interrelationship of three crucial elements. To understand the triangle, you need to understand the individual elements of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO first
As hinted at above, the lens choice plays an integral part in your perspective photos. Wide-angle lenses less than 35mm are usually the best. Wide-angle lenses have a broader field of view, and they will have fewer depth of field issues. Furthermore, they let in more light, so even with deep depths of field, you can still shoot at relatively fast shutter speeds.
But telephoto lenses have their place too. If you're looking for photos that include the sun or moon, those things appear much too small in a wide-angle lens. You need some zoom to get them big, and then you need your model or subject to be standing a long way from the camera.
Another excellent option for perspective images is a tilt-shift lens. These lenses allow you to control the angle at which the image is refracted onto the camera's sensor. The most common example of their use is in architecture photography, where images can be taken of tall buildings from street level. The linear perspective caused by the building getting taller can be removed. Even though the camera sensor is angled up to get the building in view, the lens corrects for that angle and makes the image appear shot straight-on. Tilt-shifts can be used in miniatures photography, or to create the look of miniatures with life-sized objects.
Altering the perspective of an image and fooling your viewers requires a creative mind. You've got to imagine the scene, figure out all the typical stuff like where and when to shoot it, the technical camera aspects, and what camera angles and subject positions will lead to the effects you want to create.
Getting low near the ground is a great way to make things look huge like they are towering above you. Think of photos of dogs shot from their level. With some visual references so that the viewer knows the camera is down low and looking up, then even the smallest items can look big. This technique works great with small animals, kids, or tiny props. A bonus can be finding plants and vegetation that looks like bigger stuff only miniaturized. For example, some weeks might look like huge bushes from the right angle. Or a field of tiny grass could look like towering columns in a field.
Another perspective to try is shooting straight down. Most of this fun trickery comes from the fact that your image is two-dimensional, so you can alter reality even further by shooting straight down. You can also position your models to look like they're walking around, even though what they're doing is lying on their sides. Flat painted lines or ground textures can be used in this way, and you can make a world of different images based on what you see at your feet.
Lighting can also affect the perspective of the image considerably. You can make tiny fairy lights appear like an entire city skyline, or you can make a distant down look tiny.
Lighting is also an element of the photo that will take some planning. With your subjects so spread out, it might be harder to get them all appropriately exposed. Portable lights and beauty dishes might work, but you will need a lot of them with some creative placement. In the end, this comes down to trial and error to get the scene lit just right. It's probably best to stick with natural light at first and work up. Don't hesitate to use lights for special effects in the photos, though. Rim lights can emphasize subjects or elements in the photos, and long exposure night photos can be done with all of these techniques.
Playing with perspective in your photos is a fun, creative exercise that can become useful when you least expect it. It's a composition trick, yes, but it's fun to use and add interest to an otherwise dull photo. Best of all, you don't need any special equipment to try it out.
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