The Perception of Depth 

Here is a technique that is suitable for both colour and black and white pictures. In this post, we will be looking at how to create the perception of depth in a picture firstly by choosing images that are suitable for the treatment and secondly how to create the effect in camera and with your post-processing workflow.

What is the perception of depth in a print?

The photo printing paper we use is generally less than 1 mm thick, there are some magical prints that look so very much deeper than the paper they are printed on. How is it that some pictures look as though you can walk into them and others not?

See my favourite Fotospeed paper for the illusion of depth below.

The perception of depth is all to do with how the brain perceives what is close to the eye. The human eye can only focus on one element at a time. If that element is full of texture, contrast and detail the brain perceives the object is closer to it than something that is lacking in texture and contrast. Consequently, we can use this human perception to give extra depth to our pictures.

perception of depth
perception of depth

The Blue Lagoon Aberreiddy, Pembrokeshire February 2018. The picture on the left is with normal post-processing with Clarity applied globally. Opposite to it is the picture with the post-processing workflow to increase the perception of depth. See the “how to” details below.

The picture criteria – How to create or choose pictures with depth
perception of depth

I have chosen two different picture compositions and aspect ratios to demonstrate the potential for creating the perception of depth in a picture. It must be said that not every picture will be suitable for this type of treatment. The perception of depth is not necessarily dependent on the focal length of the lens. I have specifically chosen the pictures above that were taken with a telephoto and a wide-angle lens. The picture of the girl in Bristol Docks was taken with the equivalent of a 450 mm mirror lens. The picture of the man on the Electric Road in the Ogwen Valley, Snowdonia was taken with a 24 mm lens. So focal length is not criteria.

perception of depth

Hot Hint

Viewpoint and choice of subject matter are much more important to create a perspective that has depth.

  • Choose a picture with a definite foreground subject and or strong lines as a compositional tool.
  • Ideally, the point of sharp focus should be in the foreground of the picture.
  • My personal preference is for pictures with limited depth of field. However, there will always be the case to try pictures with extended depth of field.

As you’ll see from examples above and below, the aspect ratio can be landscape or portrait. The perception of depth will definitely be increased by tilting downwards with a wide-angle lens in the portrait aspect ratio.

perception of depth
Fotospeed Platinum Etching 285 Paper – the most perception of depth friendly paper

Fotospeed brought out the Platinum Etching 285 paper 2 or 3 years ago. I have always been enchanted by its special quality to be able to give the perception of depth to a suitably chosen and processed picture. This medium is now one of my favourite Matt papers from Fotospeed. The only other media I know of that has this quality is the Hahnamuhle German Etching 310 paper but it comes at a premium cost.

Platinum Etching 285 is a new 100% acid free, fine art paper with a velvety, textured surface. A natural white base and state of the art ink-receiving layer, delivers a high D-MAX and wide colour gamut. Platinum Etching is 25% cotton and 75% alpha-cellulose. When used in conjunction with pigment inks, the paper will ensure a print life of more than 85 years.

perception of depth
Post-processing – How to create the perception of depth in a picture

To effectively enhance the perception of depth you must be able to selectively apply Clarity (mid-tone contrast) to a picture. My software of choice is Lightroom Classic. In normal post-processing, we apply approximately 30% Clarity globally to all areas of the picture. Where I want to create the perception of depth in a picture I do not apply Clarity globally. To create the perception of depth Clarity is applied only to the foreground and taken out of the background with a Graduated Filter or Adjustment Brush in Lightroom.

Here is how the technique is created

1 Do not apply Clarity to the whole picture.

2 Using a Graduated Filter selectively apply Contrast, Clarity up to say 50% and Sharpness to the foreground. This treatment gives more definition and makes the foreground appear closer to the viewer.

3 Using a second Graduated Filter applied to the sky of a landscape picture, darken the exposure of the sky and reduce the Contrast, Clarity and Sharpness by a minimum of 50%. These controls give the background less definition and hence make it look further away, increasing the perception of depth.

4 Selective Sharpening – my usual settings for sharpening a landscape picture are as follows: Amount 50, Radius 0.7, Detail 50, Masking – hold down the Alt key and move the Masking slider to the right. White areas are being sharpened, black areas are not being sharpened. The effect is best used to sharpen the foreground detail only.

5 Recommended percentages and settings given here are only a starting point, as I have said many times, the required settings for every picture are different so you may require more or less of each control. The hints given here are principles not pre-sets.

6 Warning – it is easy to over-egg the effect and to make it look unnatural.

For more hot hints on black and white printing

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