What is forced perspective photography?
Forced perspective photography is an interesting technique used in both photography as well as video making. It involves placing the objects in the frame in a way so that they appear bigger or smaller than they actually are or closer or farther away than they are.
Chances are you have already seen forced perspective photos. It’s just that you may not have realized what they are called.
This technique is simpler than you think it is. It is nothing more than an optical illusion created using a photography technique that is about the placement of objects in the photo. Because we look at them from the standard point of view they appear different.
In this discussion, we shall study this technique in detail, analyze some actual field examples and find out how to use the technique in order to produce stunning compositions of our own.
Common examples of forced perspective photos
Have you seen a tourist touching the tip of the Statue of Liberty with her hands? Perhaps you have seen a person holding the setting sun in the background? These are all examples of forced perspective photography.
Then again you may have seen a person trying to grab a mountain or two individuals you know for sure to be of the same height, but one appearing taller than the other in the photo. These, too, are compositions capturing forced perspective.
How do you do forced perspective photography?
The million-dollar question is how forced perspective is achieved in photography (as well as in video)? Do we use special effects? Like software or any expensive post-processing techniques to achieve such an effect? The answer is nothing of that sort. Forced perspective is an in-camera photography trick. You don’t have to do anything that involves special effects or using photo editing software. Everything is done in-camera and using nothing more than a photographer’s visualization and camera skills.
Choice of lens for a forced perspective photo
Which lens is the best for shooting forced perspective photos?
The best lens for shooting forced perspective is a wide-angle unit.
Why? Because with a wide-angle lens you can capture a large slice of the scene and that gives you the ability to play around with the elements inside the frame.
Also, a wide-angle lens will push the background back and that can help in certain situations and certain types of compositions including forced perspectives.
Does it mean you cannot shoot forced perspectives without a wide-angle lens? No. That is not true. You can do that with any lens. It all depends on your skills and how you visualize the final image before reaching out for your gear.
A telephoto lens has the effect of pulling things in the background closer to the lens and that can create some interesting opportunities as well. Such as making objects appear larger than they are.
Telephoto lenses can be used to pull objects in the background that are very far away, such as a mountain or a tall building or even the sun, and bringing it close to the plane of focus and therefore help in the forced perspective.
Best camera to use the forced perspective technique
Along with the choice of lens is a certain type of camera more suitable to capture a forced perspective photo?
You can shoot forced perspective photography with all kinds of cameras. Even a smartphone can be used to create forced perspective photography.
It all comes down to your creativity and how you can work the equipment in your hands.
The type of camera you use is not important. What’s important is the kind of lens that you use. And in that sense, interchangeable lens systems are better placed to experiment with because you can change lenses according to your need.
Plus, with these cameras, you can control the aperture. We will learn later on in this discussion how important it is to be able to control the aperture of the lens for forced perspectives.
Plan your shot
We learned how planning is important in forced perspective photography. It is important across all genres of photography.
But it is doubly important in forced perspective photography because in this genre planning is tantamount to a better image. The more planning you put into an image the higher the chances are that the image will turn out to be a compelling one.
The good thing is there are already many examples floating on the internet that you can use as inspiration. You can take any series of images, and then refine the ideas, use your own imagination to make your own forced perspective photos.
Posing can help create that visual perception
Posing helps to build an image. It is useful forced perspective photography. When you are using this technique, you are basically fooling the audience into believing something that is not actually true. You are creating an optical illusion, just like a magician does on a stage.
Just like a magician builds up his act the same way your images will look more realistic with the right pose.
Let’s take an example.
In the above classic repetition of ‘holding the sun in my hand’, this image would not have come through without the right pose. The image looks more believable because of the person posing.
This tip can be the easiest of ones to work with. There are countless different ways in which you can work with further work this technique.
For example, this is yet another shot, and look how the hands are placed –
Use a small aperture to achieve a large depth of field
Even before we delve into the various ways of achieving forced perspective in photography, we need to understand a simple thing. This technique works the best when we use a small aperture.
A small aperture will allow us to get an acceptably sharp background and foreground along with a sharp focus.
In other words, we need a large depth of field.
Which aperture is ideal for forced perspective shots?
Anything small enough to offer a large depth of field and yet at the same time won’t induce lens diffraction. This will depend on the lens you are using.
Cheaper lenses are prone to suffer from lens diffraction very early when you start to stop them down. Meaning, you will find that your images are getting softer as you stop down the aperture to a small number.
Thus, it is better to use an optically superior lens that does not show lens diffraction very early. You can then stop it down to f/11, even f/16, and capture those beautiful, optical illusions.
Put things at different distances to the camera
One of the simplest ways to achieve forced perspective in photography is to put the subjects in the frame at different distances from the camera. By choosing to place some elements farther away from the camera and others closer you can create the optical illusion that their comparative sizes have changed. In other words, you will have achieved forced perspective in photography.
So, you want to make a hobbit out of a perfectly grown man, simply place him away from the camera. But this is only going to work when you have something to compare the ‘hobbit’ with. Another fully grown man. For the best results place the second man closer to the camera. As you can see it is all about careful placement.
Space is the key
Forced perspective is best done when you have a lot of space to work with. I have seen in my experience I capture the best forced perspective image when I am working outdoors. For example, if you want to have that classic ‘the sun in my palm’ shot you have to work outdoors.
Or if you want to suddenly make your friend a Goliath and have everyone else running for their lives, you need space to ensure that they are positioned at different distances from the camera.
Once you have the space you need you can plan your shots, experiment with your ideas, and leverage the most out of the available opportunities.
The vastness of space is also an easy way to capture forced perspectives. A road leading into oblivion is a good example of how space in itself can be used to produced forced perspective images.
In the above image the two edges of the road, which are perfectly parallel to each other, appear to be meeting at infinity. Of course, this is not true and this is just an optical illusion, but it is a nice example of how you can use this simple technique to produce forced perspective.
Play with the angles
Another way to achieve forced perspective in your photography is to experiment with the shooting angle. We always recommend changing the shooting angle as much as possible. Shooting from the eye-level is not ok for this genre.
For example, you can shoot from a low angle to exaggerate the height of a tall person and take advantage of his height to use forced perspective. You may have to lay down on the ground and shoot pointing upwards to make it look as he is a giant. In other words, you have to create an illusion.
In the above image, the person has been photographed from a very low angle. The photographer was probably on his/her back and shooting up. But the result is pretty dramatic. It appears that the subject is a giant and has supernatural abilities.
Another interesting angle you can exploit is shooting from high up aiming downwards. This one is a bit challenging because you need to have a high platform to shoot down. You at least a small box or something to stand on and then be able to point your camera down.
This interesting camera angle can help you capture some very interesting images. E.g., you can place your main subject in the middle of the frame and ask someone to stand close to the camera with a prop in hand.
It will appear as if the giant hand is trying to intimidate the subjects in the image. I have shared an example like this below where a bucket has been used as a prop.
We have already read a little about the use of props in forced perspective photography. Props are a wonderful way to achieve the right results. Nothing is unusable as props in my experience. Even a tree branch that would normally appear useless can be used as props if you are creative enough.
A bucket may seem like an unusable item, but it is very useful if you are at the beach and want to capture a forced perspective shot.
Let’s say you hold the bucket high up and pretend that you are going to put it over your best friend. With you holding the bucket close to the camera and higher up and your best friend standing further away from you it will appear that a giant bucket is about to fall and completely cover your friend. Thus, you have a forced perspective shot.
The above shot can be replicated with a mug, a plastic cup, or anything that you can find.
The forced perspective technique is both simple and difficult at the same time. This is one genre that is dependent more on the skills and visions of the person holding the camera rather than the camera or the lens.
What you need is careful placement of the object(s) in the composition, closer or farther away depending on what your vision is, and then making the exposure. If your vision and planning are excellent you will walk away with excellent shots. If not, you will struggle. In that sense, this technique is not every photographer’s cup of tea.Back to Top