10 Jan. 2011

Perspective Pershmective

Just before Zahra threw us out into the lonely world of taking photos without set lessons and themes, we had a little chat about photographing architecture. Now this fits quite well with Photo Friday's theme "suburban" this week, so I'm going to have a little yarn about it. In addition, Round Robin are asking us to go and take that photo that we have always wanted to. A few months ago I saw this photo on momentary awe, and have wanted to pop down to the DIFC since and see if I could capture the same. (Sorry Catalin, I'm a big copycat, but imitation is the highest form of flattery, and you are quite awesome). Here are my versions on the theme:

 And before all the photo fridayers tell me this is urban, not suburban, I will remind you that I live in Dubai, and the DIFC actually exists in the suburb known as "Downtown", which is about 6km away and over a creek from the Dubai City Centre. In Dubai, the closest you will find to the western idea of suburban is here, and it's not pretty. Otherwise it's a bit more like this, which is far too exotic for the chosen subject.

OK - so here comes the technical stuff...

Perspective has two different meanings in a photography sense:
  • Linear perspective, which refers to the mathematical system whereby three-dimensional objects are represented on a two dimensional surface, and
  • The view, in both a physical (ie. what you can see from where you're standing) and emotional (ie. the meaning you are giving the scene that you are taking) sense.

Let's start with the first, because I'm out taking pictures of buildings today. There are a couple of rules that it's pretty hard to get past when making the world flat. One, parallel lines have a habit of converging, and two, things get smaller the further they are away from you. Below you will find some astounding vector images demonstrating the mathematical principal. Basically, If you stand close, then the angle you have to direct the lens at to achieve an image of the full building forces the perspective lines to squish at the top.
Have a look at the first picture, where I was standing about 50m from the subject, and have taken a picture with an 18-55mm lens with no zoom.

The second picture is of exactly the same subject, and exactly the same size (level one to the tip), however I was standing about 120m away, and had zoomed in on the subject. Notice how the distances between the base of the building and the tips are almost the same, and they appear less like they are falling into each other.

Now I'm not saying that the first perspective is wrong. That's just one of the wonderful things about photography. We as the artist get to decide what makes the better picture - and this brings me into perspective meaning number two. Our view. As photographers, we are are showing the world how we see it, and pressing the shutter when we think it is beautiful. In the end, we decide the images that are the best. Some have more perfect mathematical perspective. Others are purely our own - and which one of us doesn't like to see the world just a little bit twisted....