Beginning Photography

The Many Meanings of Perspective

The Many Meanings of Perspective

What does perspective mean to a photographer? It can mean several different things, each of which is a vital tool for adding depth to your photography.

As photographers, our work revolves around perspective. Day in and day out, we use this tool to improve our images. But, we don’t always think about all of the meanings attached to “perspective.” Likely, the word makes you think of the angle at which you take your images, but there is more to it than that. Perspective is not only the angle that you take relative to your subject but also, your own personal perspective — your personal views or thoughts about the subject. And, there is the subject’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences to consider, their perspective.

Each of these three types of perspective are vital if you want to create beautiful, meaningful images. So, I’d like to dig a bit deeper into this subject and show you what each type of perspective entails.

Perspective is the Angle at Which You Take the Photograph

This is the simple meaning of perspective: The angle you use to portray the subject when you take a photograph. There are all kinds of ways to put this to work. Shoot from above, below, in front, behind or head on. Different perspectives highlight different aspects of the subject and apply different meanings to the final work.

When talking about this type of perspective, it is important to note that it is based on your location as well as the angle at which you shoot. So, for instance, one kind of perspective is to shoot through a window in such a way that the viewer of the image feels like they are looking through the window. Or, perspective could mean using leading lines — like a road, a path or a fence — to lead the viewer through the image.

It’s all about angle and the location from which you are shooting, so in order to utilize this type of perspective, it helps to experiment with your subject material. Stand nearby, or far away, kneel or climb up on a ladder. Look for leading lines or interesting places from which to view the scene. It is up to you to choose the physical perspective that best complements the message you are trying to send.

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Perspective is the Subject’s Thoughts, Feelings or Experiences

The greatest photographers know that simply creating an image of a subject at a complementary angle is not enough. In order to properly document the subject, you’ll need to put something of that subject’s perspective in the image. Think about what a subject may experience, think or feel in its lifetime. A statue, for instance, may commonly have pigeons sitting on it. Perhaps it is more meaningful to wait for a pigeon to land so that you can create a photograph of this experience rather than of the statue alone.

If you are photographing people, this means that you should be looking for clues that can add a bit of their perspective to the image. Can you photograph them doing an activity, or with the subject facing in the direction that they are looking? What thoughts or feelings might they have that you can express within the image? And, how can you express those thoughts or feelings? Facial expressions are a common way to do this, but body language, gestures, the activities the person is engaged in, and even things like color and lighting can help express these fleeting details.

Perspective is Your Thoughts, Feelings, and Experiences

Finally, there is your own perspective to consider. Your experiences, your life — all of it is unique to you, and as such, it gives you a unique viewpoint that can never quite be replicated. What’s more, these days, originality in photography is key. Sometimes it feels like every image has been created and recreated hundreds of times. So, how can we create original images of the things around us when everyone else has already tried to do the same? Originality comes from your perspective.

To that end, when you look at a scene, evaluate it, not just for its physical attributes, but for how it makes you feel, or what it makes you think about. To you, watching a dog and a child play fetch in a park might be a happy, beautiful thing. Another person may feel wistful for their own childhood, while a third person feels wistful for the family that he or she hopes to one day build. And so it goes — we each experience these things somewhat differently than everyone else. This is why you need to use your perspective, your thoughts, and feelings, to enrich the image.

To build on this, you can use your own perspective along with the perspective of your subject, the physical perspective, and all of the rest of the tools of the photography trade to give an image meaning and depth. In other words, if a subject puts you in awe — let’s say it was the statue that I mentioned above — then perhaps you can photograph it in a beautiful, inspiring way. Maybe you can use beautiful bright lighting and photograph from low to the ground in order to make the subject seem larger than life. If you are including the subject’s perspective, that pigeon that likes to sit on the statue, then maybe it is worth your while to wait and capture the image as the pigeon lands or takes flight.

In this way, you can see that by looking at an image with all three types of perspective in mind helps you to add a little something more to the final photograph. Speaking of your own personal perspective, it is important to note that there are all kinds of ways to add it to an image. Color, light and darkness, shadows and bright spots — these are just a few of the tools that you can use to add your thoughts and feelings, your perspective, to the image.

Perspective has a variety of meanings. Use it to the fullest extent possible to add depth and originality to your images.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.